We end 2019 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Soccer Stadium Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #8: an overhaul of MLS’s Chicago Fire yields a new home and new look for 2020.
At one point the Chicago Fire was considered a model MLS franchise, playing out of a soccer-specific stadium in suburban Bridgeview. But when new owner Joe Mansueto took control of the team, he embarked on a new route for the Fire featuring a total makeover of the team. First, the team announced a move to Soldier Field, the team’s original home, from Bridgeview’s SeatGeek Stadium. For the Fire, an immediate priority will be reversing the attendance issues they have had at SeatGeek Stadium, as the club finished the 2019 season with a per-game average of 12,324 fans–good for last in the 24-team MLS. With Chicago’s central city proving to be a high-growth area, the belief is that an MLS team playing at an NFL stadium will be a better draw than the suburban SeatGeek Stadium.
That theme of change continued in late November, when the team unveiled new branding and primary badge prior to the 2020 season. As part of the new identity, the club will now be formally known as Chicago Fire Football Club, with Chicago Fire FC serving as the club moniker on first reference and on the badge itself. The rebranding—and particularly the new primary badge, which does away with the classic Chicago Fire badge—stirred up plenty of opposition from the Twitter faithful but does fall in line with ownership’s desire for a total makeover for the 2020 season.
Exhibitions at Soldier Field show there’s an appetite for high-level soccer in the Windy City. The challenge for Mansueto and his new front office will be to seize on this appetite and translate that into solid gains at the box office.
Here’s the rest of our Top Ten of 2019: