Rodriguez: Chicago Fire Not Concerned About Chicago USL Plans

In recent comments, Chicago Fire president Nelson Rodriguez dismissed concerns over a proposed Chicago USL team and stadium’s potential effect on the club. 

There has been considerable momentum in recent weeks for the Chicago USL plans, which call for the club to play at a new stadium in the Lincoln Yards development. It was announced earlier this month that Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts purchased a majority share of a proposed USL team, while a separate announcement shortly thereafter revealed that Live Nation was joining the development project as a partner.

Developer Sterling Bay is still seeking city zoning approval for the project, but its scope and prime location have raised questions about how it will affect the Fire’s operations. Aside from having the backing of a heavy hitter like Ricketts, the Chicago USL club will also boast a modern stadium that is located between the Lincoln Park and Bucktown neighborhoods. The Fire, meanwhile, play home matches out of Toyota Park in suburban Bridgeview.

When asked about the plans for the Chicago USL club recently, Rodriguez did not indicate any concern on the part of the Fire. His point was that, at the end of the day, the Fire will provide a higher level of competition in Division I MLS than the Division II club will offer, and that that will be a major advantage in the Chicago market. More from The Chicago Sun Times:

Rodriguez praised Chicago as a sports town and said the city’s fans ‘‘appreciate’’ all sports. But he also stressed the hierarchy of franchises and where he thinks the Fire fits in compared to a USL team.

Rodriguez brought up the Forbes franchise valuation that said the Fire are worth $240 million and pointed out the ‘‘minor-league expansion fee is $3 [million] to $5 million.’’ He recalled the Fire hosting Manchester United in 2011 at Soldier Field and MLS bringing Real Madrid and the All-Star Game to Chicago last year.

‘‘If a fan wants to see a hockey game, they can go see the Wolves,’’ Rodriguez said. ‘‘If they want to see the best in hockey, they go see the Blackhawks.

‘‘If a fan wants to see a baseball game, he could go see the new Chicago Dogs. If he wants to see major-league baseball, he goes and sees the White Sox,’’ he went on, leaving out the Ricketts-owned Cubs. ‘‘‘The same is true for us. If someone wants to see the best soccer, they’re going to see Chicago Fire Soccer Club.’’

Part of what has drawn so much attention to the Chicago USL club is that a heavy hitter like Ricketts would be expected to invest in MLS, rather than the USL. The location of the club’s stadium is also unique, as it is being envisioned as part of a larger development that had been pitched as a possible home to Amazon’s HQ 2 and is now the core of a multi-venue entertainment and sports complex. In the case of sports like baseball and hockey, the lower-level clubs are based in suburban locales–hockey’s Wolves and baseball’s Dogs both play in Rosemont–with the major-league team based in Chicago. With soccer, however, the dynamics would be reversed, with the Fire in Bridgeview and the USL club in a more urban location. Still, it appears that this potential situation is not something that worries the Fire management, who believe that the higher competition level is a major advantage.

Image courtesy Chicago Fire.

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