SOLDIER ON: The Chicago Bears flag is flown at Soldier Field during their game against Atlanta on Dec. 31. Levy is the stadium’s new concessionaire, pending Chicago Park District approval. (Getty Images)

Levy would add NFL venue to its Chicago stable

The Chicago Bears, in conjunction with the Chicago Park District, have selected hometown favorite Levy as the new food provider at Soldier Field. On Wednesday, the park district approved the selection during its April board meeting.

It’s a 10-year deal, according to the park district, which matches the number of years remaining on the Bears’ lease at Soldier Field, which expires at the end of 2033 season. The Bears are working toward building a new stadium in a parking lot south of their current home.

Aramark was the incumbent and its deal was a 10-year agreement.

The Bears declined to comment on their decision to go with Levy over Aramark and Delaware North Sportservice, the other two finalists.

Soldier Field’s retail operation, a separate deal, is also out to bid and the Bears have not yet decided on a vendor, sources said. Sportservice has run the stadium merchandise for 20 years.

The park district posted the proposed financial terms of the food contract on its website, which include Levy making a capital investment of $12 million to purchase a new point-of-sale system, plus renovation and expansion of concession stands and premium dining destinations. There’s also capital reserve fund tied to the contract, with 3% of gross receipts paying for equipment and future improvements.

The business model has two options. The first is a hybrid agreement in which Levy would receive a management fee tied to 1.5% of total sales and a 5% share of net profits, with the Bears and the park district collecting the remaining 95%.

The second option is a commission deal structure with Levy providing the Bears and the park district a percentage of sales for concessions, suites and clubs, which fluctuates depending on total revenue. Under the commission model, there are separate terms for non-Bears events.

It’s unclear which options will be implemented for Bears games and non-NFL events.

Mike Plutino, founder and CEO of Food Service Matters, consulted with the Bears during the  RFP process.

For Levy, which is headquartered in Chicago, winning Solder Field’s food service adds to its dominance in the market. The concessionaire also runs the food at Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, and United Center, where the Bulls and Blackhawks play.

Levy is the premium caterer at Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the Chicago White Sox. Forty-two years ago, Levy’s first client was the White Sox, where the vendor fed suite holders at old Comiskey Park.

The Chicago Dogs, an independent baseball team that plays at Impact Field in Rosemont, Illinois, is another Levy client.

The NFL is big business for food vendors. Levy alone has deals at multiple NFL venues, including Levi’s Stadium, Allegiant Stadium, and most recently, M&T Bank Stadium, where it’s making a major investment into upgrading food service as part of $435 million in renovations over the next few years.

NFL caps typically run from $28 to $40 a game, which is higher than Major League Baseball, NBA and NHL, said Chris Bigelow, who served as the Bears’ consultant the last time the food contract went out to bid more than 10 years ago.

“Levy went after it hard (at that time), so I’m sure it’s been on their radar since then,” Bigelow said. “I can’t say I’m shocked.”

The switch in concessionaires comes as the Bears meet with state and local officials to discuss a public-private partnership to build their proposed stadium, for which the Bears have committed $2 billion in private money. It’s unclear whether Levy would have an option to run the food at the proposed new venue.

“There could be a clause in there that gives (Levy) some type of opportunity for a new stadium, but normally, it’s a stand-alone deal,” Bigelow said.

Soldier Field is a busy building by NFL standards. Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire also play at Soldier Field, which is managed and booked by ASM Global. Over the next six months, in addition to 15 Fire matches, the 63,500-capacity stadium plays host to three international soccer contests and eight concerts, including two-night runs of Metallica and The Rolling Stones.

Plus, there’s a half-dozen civic events tied to charitable causes such the Special Olympics, Chicago Police Department, the Best Buddies program and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

One high-profile event takes place later this month. The Chicago Bears Miller Lite Draft Party is booked for April 24 at Soldier Field, the first night of the NFL Draft. The event is sold out, per Ticketmaster’s website, as Bears fans anticipate the team taking USC quarterback Caleb Williams with the No. 1 pick.

The Bears capped draft party sales at 4,000 in the United Club to ensure it’s a quality experience for all ticket holders, Hagel said.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.