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Looking Into The Soldier Field Lease for Chicago Fire

Fire’s lease at Soldier Field calls for sliding payment based on attendance

MIAMI, Fla. (January 27, 2020) —

The Fire will play its 2020 home opener at Solder Field on March 21, facing the visiting Atlanta United FC. The Fire reportedly agreed to pay the Village of Bridgeview about $65 million to break their lease at SeatGeek Stadium, in a structured payment schedule.

Lease Particulars

The commercial facilities lease spells out that amount that the franchise will pay the Chicago Park District to play at Soldier Field depends on the team’s popularity. Specifically, the team’s lease with the Park District calls for sliding payment scales based on attendance.

Term of the Lease

The initial portion of the lease is three years, with a series of options–including two for three-year extensions, plus a pair of one-year extensions. In total, there is a potential for up to eight years beyond the initial three-year term.

Attendance-Driven Per Game Payment Scale

The amount the Fire must pay per game is defined as “operating expenses.” The minimum per game is $145,000 for games with 15,000 attendees or fewer. The fee rises based on attendance: $162,500 for up to 20,000; $176,500 for up to 25,000; $201,875 for up to 35,000 and $253,000 for any crowd larger than 35,000.

Per Game “Use Fee.”

For every game played by the Fire at Soldier Field, the club must tender to the Park District a per-game “use fee” of $10,000.

Rent Escalation Clause

The fees contained in the lease agreement will rise by 3 percent per year over the life of the lease.

Ticket Prices and Related Fees

The Fire retain the right to set their own ticket prices, but they will include fees to be tendered to the Park District.

Each ticket will carry a $4 charge denominated as a “facility fee.” For larger crowds, defined as crowds in excess of 25,000, a “capital improvement” fee will range from $1 per ticket for crowds larger than 25,000 to $3 for crowds larger than 35,000.

Performance Guaranty

The Fire were required to post an irrevocable letter of credit with a major financial institution in an amount that represents the operating expenses and use fees they paid for their final season in Bridgeview. That amount was $2.635 million. The use of an irrevocable letter of credit (widely used in international business transactions) will to allow the Chicago Park District to draw on the letter of credit in order to recoup its damages in the event that the Fire breach the lease agreement.

Retention of Parking Revenues

The lease agreement provides the team a substantial cut of revenue from parking fees. For parking, the lease sets the per-vehicle rate of $35 — it will be higher for premium ticket holders.

The parking fees can be adjusted each year at the Park District’s discretion. The Fire are to receive 60 percent of parking revenue for crowds of 10,000 or less. The team’s share will gradually fall to 50 percent for larger crowds (> 25,000).

Concessions F&B , Merchandise Sales Revenue To Accrue To Fire

The same percentage distribution applies to the Fire’s cut of food and beverage money and merchandise sold at the stadium.

Scheduling Priority and Conflicts

The Fire go from being the primary tenant in Bridgeview to being a secondary tenant in Chicago. The Chicago Bears of the NFL (American Football) are the primary tenant and have a five-day scheduling window, meaning that the Fire cannot play a game at Soldier Field that falls on a date that is less than five days from a Bears’ home game. The Fire can host games one day after Bears games. The Fire also do not have scheduling priority ahead of any event that had been agreed upon before Sept. 5, 2018.

The agreement states that from March 1 until the beginning of the NFL preseason, (generally in August), the Park District will attempt to keep two Friday-Sunday windows and five midweek dates open per month.

The NFL and MLS have different calendars, which means the Fire schedule could change after the Bears’ release their 2020 calendar, which comes out in April. Once it receives the Bears’ schedule in the spring, the Park District has five days to share it with the Fire. If there is a conflict, the Park District is compelled to help the Fire find a suitable replacement date. If a suitable date cannot be found, the Fire can reschedule at another venue.

As for potential postseason games for the Chicago Fire (which would be in October-November), the lease recognises the “inherent uncertainty” of scheduling those matches.

Playing Surface

At the beginning of the MLS season the Park District is responsible for making sure the grass field is in a suitable condition to host a match. The Park District will pay for a full resod of the field one time either before or during the Fire season, and any additional full or partial resod will be at the Fire’s expense. The Bears also can request resoddings.

Special Clause: Honouring Schweinsteiger?

A clause grants the Fire a chance to hold a “friendly farewell game” in connection with the retirement of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who is mentioned by name. No date has been set, nor is an opponent for any potential event specified. If the match comes to pass, Schweinsteiger’s former club Bayern Munich would be an obvious candidate to serve as the opponent.

Photo: Chicago Sun-Times

The Park District issued this statement: “The agreement between the Chicago Park District and Chicago Fire is financially sound and beneficial for both parties. The District utilized the expertise of its management, the Soldier Field management team and outside counsel to develop the terms.”

In July 2019, team president and general manager Nelson Rodriguez said that a while move to Soldier Field wouldn’t heal all issues for the Fire, its location presented some clear advantages for the club and its fans.

“I do think the location of the venue matters, and it’s been challenging to get [to SeatGeek Stadium] for many fans,” he said at the time, adding, “we do not believe that moving to the city is a salve for all our issues. We have to do a better job of connecting to people where they live.”

By Ken Russo

My work in the business of soccer applies skills acquired in law practice with a focus on the sport's commercial, communications and sporting components. Russo Soccer aims to inform, educate and engage in dialogue on news and relevant issues in the game.

Um advogado por formação, concentro meu trabalho nos negócios, comunicações e operações de equipes no futebol mundial. | Abogado con fundación avanzada en comunicaciones, enfocado en los negocios del fútbol y las comunicaciones. | Je suis un avocat experimenté dans les affaires de football.

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