Fire’s lease at Soldier Field calls for sliding payment based on attendance
MIAMI, Fla. (January 27, 2020) —
After it was announced that the Chicago Fire were returning to downtown Chicago to play at Soldier Field, the Chicago Sun Times secured a copy of the team’s new lease with the Chicago Park District via a Freedom of Information Act request.
Here’s a look at some of the items agreed to between the city and the MLS club:
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“It’s a 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes; it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it!” The Blues Brothers
MIAMI, Fla. (December 1, 2019) —
The franchise is named after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and was founded as the Chicago Fire Soccer Club on October 8, 1997, the event’s 126th anniversary. The team began play in 1998 as one of Major League Soccer’s first expansion teams.
Now, they have just undergone a rebrand, one which has drawn the anger of many of their most loyal fans. Just how bad is the new look? It’s bad, and not in the sense of it’s cool, or good, or “that’s sooo bad, take my money now.” No, it’s just plain bad.
Driving in the dark with sunglasses while smoking something may be a good metaphor for this rebrand.
If you’re considering a brand redesign, don’t stray too far from what made your brand successful and distinct in the first place. You want your current audience to recognise you post-redesign. Big, abrupt changes can alienate even loyal fans of your brand.
The Chicago Fire have been in existence over twenty years, long enough to build up a strong and dedicated fan base that takes pride in the team’s image, both on and off the pitch. Their fans have cultivated traditions just like fans of so many other clubs have done. The Chicago Fire are also largely under publicised in their market, the third largest metropolitan area in the U.S. They are a club that could use more attention and more fans, and this was the motivating factor behind why they negotiated their way out of their lease in suburban Bridgeview for a return to the downtown lakefront.
With the Fire moving back to Soldier Field for the 2020 season, there had been rumours that a rebrand was forthcoming. Again, something that could be considered very reasonable given the club’s objectives. An update to their look. What actually happened though, looks more like a complete makeover, one that has been sharply criticised by professionals and fans alike.
Making their new look official, the Fire unveiled a new logo along with the rest of their visual identity, complete with videos and stories created to support the change.
In the Fire’s press release, the team explained “The change from ‘soccer’ to ‘football’ reflects a long-term vision for the club as Chicago’s global ambassador to the world’s game.”
Call me a sceptic, but I find it unlikely that anyone in Tokyo, Krakow or Belo Horizonte will suddenly become a fan of the Fire just because Chicago is now a “football club,” rather than a soccer club. It makes no sense to change it after over 20 years of existence and it makes no difference in terms of fan support or identity. People will still just call the team the Chicago Fire.
There were also arguments that people confuse the badge for the actual Fire department. Again, this misses the mark. The use of a Florian cross, which is a symbol of firefighters the world over, was exactly the point of the Chicago Fire logo, to honour the Fire department, and it gave the Fire a thoroughly distinctive look. A much bigger problem from a branding perspective might be the name Chicago Fire itself. The popular NBC television show “Chicago Fire” appears on Google searches before the soccer team.
Discussing the elements of the logo, the team press release played up the fact that the oval-shaped logo is “first of its kind” in league history. I don’t find an oval logo particularly groundbreaking. It’s commonplace in Italian soccer, for example. It’s also very hard to use an oval logo well. I’ve tried. The most interesting part of the logo is the crown/flame element that is front and centre. The press release states that it’s supposed to represent “flames inverted to become a crown.” The team included a .gif in its official “Stand for Chicago” unveiling package on their website.
This reaction to the above tweet pretty much sums up what most people think about the new look and logo:
The choice of colours is also quite odd. It’s true that MLS has far too many teams with red and/or blue. But the Fire already have two decades in the books and people expect to see them dressed in red. The new colours also already exist in MLS: they look to be identical to those of Real Salt Lake. And with a new team coming to Saint Louis, preliminary images the investment/ownership group released give a strong indication that the team may well adapt the colours of that city’s flag: blue, red and yellow.
Going back the the so-called “fire crown” element, it looks more like mountains than a flame. Not to mention that flames are never geometrically perfect or form triangular shapes. Like the colours, this shape already exists in MLS in the logo of the Vancouver Whitecaps. All of this has led to more than one comment that the mirrored triple peak combined with those colours “makes it look like a bastard child of the Whitecaps and Real Salt Lake.”
If that wasn’t enough, then there is the not so little issue surrounding the crown itself. First of all, Chicago’s image is that of a hard-working city, not a place of royalty in any sense of the word. Second, there is a serious connotation that the crown symbol is connected to in Chicago. It has been a symbol of one of America’s most notorious gangs, The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, a/k/a the Latin Kings, the oldest and largest Latino street gang worldwide. The Latin Kings were, you guessed it, founded in Chicago. The press release announcing the new identity says this:
The branding exercise included consultation, focus groups and surveys with fans, partners, staff and MLS conducted over a period of more than 18 months. The process reviewed every aspect of the Club’s existing brand identity. The survey considered the original context of the Club’s name, crest and colors and the needs of a team building for future decades in a rapidly expanding league. Upon completion of the research, the badge, secondary marks and a new typeface were designed by creative agency Doubleday & Cartwright.
How does an 18-month-long “branding exercise” that included “consultation, focus groups and surveys with fans, partners, staff and MLS” not turn up this problematic information, anyway? Assuming this information did become known, wouldn’t it have been a better course of action to avoid using such symbols, in order to steer clear of the negative connotations?
The reaction on social media has been nothing short of disastrous. It seems as if the supporters are standing for Chicago alright, but in a different way than what the team would have hoped for. All you have to do is take a glance at the replies to the Fire’s tweets concerning the new logo and it’s quite clear that this new look has resulted in an overwhelmingly negative response from their fan base.
Despite the new logo being a daring attempt at trying something new, it nevertheless falls far, far short of the standard that you would expect from a rebrand at this point in MLS’s history. Gone are silly names like Clash, Burn and Wiz. Instead of being on a level similar to that of LAFC or Inter Miami, the Fire have fallen back into the MLS logo abyss, where they will keep company with the New England Revolution.
The logo reminds me of one of those generic video game soccer logos seen in the PES video game series for teams that the developers could not obtain licenses for. Think Manchester Red, Manchester Blue, West Midlands Village, North London, London FC, etc.
This is simply a poor look for the Fire. It defies credibility that this could be the end result of eighteen months of work. Supporters are right to reject the logo since it’s a sizeable downgrade from what they already had since their inaugural 1998 season.
I reached out to the Chicago Fire executive vice-president of communications and media to see if the team had any official position with regard to the overwhelmingly negative fan reaction. As of this writing I have not received a response.
Obvious Symbolism In Chicago
It wouldn’t have taken much to update the existing look without, excuse the pun, “burning it to the ground.” For starters, any designer who took time to really study Chicago, spend some time there on the ground, would have noted just how popular the city’s flag is. With its distinct light blue and white stripes and red six-point stars, the flag is commonly found throughout the city, and for good reason. The City of Chicago flag was rated the 2nd best in all of North America by the North American Vexillological Society. These people know their flags. In 2017, the flag celebrated its 100th anniversary of its adoption as the official city flag.
Symbols are important to Chicagoans, and the city’s municipal flag is no exception. The city also has its own municipal device, a Y-shaped symbol that is often found on older buildings.
A Study In Contrasts
Earlier this year, the Chicago Red Stars, the oldest professional women’s soccer club in the United States and a founding member of the NWSL in 2012 (after previously playing in several other leagues), unveiled a new home kit. Referred to as the “Elevated kit,” it is a raging success, both in terms of fan reactions and merchandise sales. Almost half the stock had sold on that first night of the release alone.
The kit was also the product of months of design ideas and in-house study aimed at portraying an image that would be unique to Chicago. The result was a home kit that incorporated the elevated train lines in Chicago, including the famous inner loop, as well as streets and the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Sweeping around the back, the pattern also uses the imagery to incorporate the city skyline. The kit also takes the famous stars from the city flag. It is pure Chicago.
The Red Stars’ kit, which is sold in both women’s and men’s cuts, has become so successful that it can be considered more than just a soccer shirt: It has moved into the category of lifestyle apparel, an achievement relatively few sports teams’ brands attain. When the team reached the championship of the NWSL last month, the Chicago Transit Authority even posted the following message on its twitter account, attaching the video the club had made earlier prior to the kit’s launch.
It’s normal for a segment of the population to be critical of and resist change. It may be human nature. However, this rebrand has been so overwhelmingly poorly received that the club should give serious consideration to being responsive to fans’ reactions.
In the wake of the failed rebrand, scores of ideas have emerged. Artists, fans and amateurs alike have posted their renditions and ideas on social media. Here are two of the many ideas, both of which merit consideration by the Fire:
If you’re a fan of the Chicago Fire but not a fan of the new logo, the best advice is to not give up and do not be silent. Let your feelings be known vocally. Do not buy the new merchandise. Continue to wear the old shirt to games. There is precedent in the world of football for teams realizing that they’ve made a mistake with their logo.
In England, for example, Leeds United unveiled a new logo that depicted a supporter doing a “Leeds salute.” The fans revolted to such a degree that Leeds thought better of it and just continued using their current logo, even though it is also really terrible itself. In that case, Leeds officials claimed they had undergone a rigorous design process that lasted six months and saw over 10,000 people affiliated with the club consulted. Thousands of fans signed a petition calling for it to be scrapped.
“As we look at the feedback today I think it’s clear that the consultation process that we embarked on, that we were very confident had delivered a result, wasn’t extensive enough,” Angus Kinnear, Leeds’ managing director, told BBC Radio Leeds. “We need to reopen that consultation process very clearly.” In response to the wave of criticism, Leeds released the following statement:
“The volume and depth of opinions expressed reinforced the level of passion our fan base has for our club. While the current board of directors are custodians of Leeds United the fans will always be at the heart of everything we do, and you will be listened to. We conducted thorough research into the desire for a change to the crest to symbolise a new era for the club. However, we also appreciate the need to extend the consultation with supporters and we are committed to working with you to create an identity we can all be proud of.”
Staying in England, Everton FC only lasted one season with an updated crest before going back to the drawing board and working up a better look. Both of those situations are strong examples of clubs listening to their fans and doing better by them after revealing a disappointing look.
Mark Willis is an established artist, designer and soccer fan. He has designed what would be a far stronger crest for the Chicago Fire. See his work here: Identity Sketches For The Chicago Fire
If Fire fans continue to make their displeasure known, then this new logo may have a short shelf life. Naturally, the club itself is clearly proud of what they came up. Through silence, they have implicitly stated that they are not considering any changes at this time. The strength of the club’s position and its resolve not to listen to its supporters will be tested both by the degree and duration of the protests against the new identity. In situations where fans’ response is so overwhelmingly negative like it has been thus far, it’s worth at least revisiting the whole idea of a change, even if it’s done quietly and behind the scenes.
It’s fine to admit making a mistake and that may be what the Chicago Fire ultimately need to do in this situation.
In the meantime, Chicago Fire fans have also launched their own petition on Change.org which can be found here: Save Our Fire Identity. As of Tuesday, this petition had more than 4,500 signatures.
One other piece of advice: save this redesign for the Esports team.
The club announced its return to the iconic downtown stadium, where their home opener will be versus Atlanta United on March 21, 2020. As earlier reported on Russo Soccer, the plans have been known for months, but the Fire waited to announce the official news on the anniversary of the club’s establishment in 1997.
In an open letter to The Chicago Suntimes Fire owner Joe Mansueto wrote: “On this anniversary of both the Great Chicago Fire and the founding of our team, it is my pledge to deliver a world class club worthy of our city and one that represents all of Chicago – our neighborhoods, our people, our communities.” He added what has by now become a familiar theme about soccer uniting people, saying, “The game we love has a unique ability to unite us all – and when Chicago is united, we can accomplish anything. It is my honor to invite a new generation to stand with us, as we make our stand for you.”
The Fire previously played at Soldier Field from 1998-2001 and 2003-2005 before relocating to SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois, where they have played for the last 14 seasons.
The club did not qualify for the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs and have already seen veteran Bastian Schweinsteiger announce his retirement this offseason.
Moving back to Chicago is a logical and needed step to reconnect with the city. Bridgeview was hard to get to from the urban core of Chicago and few people made the effort.
There was some talk about rebranding the team away from the megapopular NBC TV show and away from the worst disaster in the city’s history. This author thinks that would be a good move, and the rebrand would not even have to be that dramatic to present a stronger, more positive image.
Chicago Sign Spanish Midfielder Álvaro Medran
In other Chicago Fire (the MLS club) news, in early October the Fire completed the signing of the 25-year-old Spanish midfielder. Medran had played the previous five seasons in LaLiga, making 91 appearances and scoring 11 times. He was developed in the Real Madrid youth academy and signed with Los Blancos for the 2014-15 season, making six appearances that season. He was part of the Real Madrid side that won the 2014 Club World Cup.
Medran eventually played for Getafe, Valencia, Deportivo Alavés and spent last season with Rayo Vallecano. Medran was also capped three times for Spain’s U-19 team, and once for their U-21 team.
A free agent, Medran was signed using Targeted Allocation Money (“TAM”) and his contract runs through 2021, followed by two club options. As is the case in MLS. the financial terms of his contract were not disclosed.
The Chicago Fire will pay the Village of Bridgeview $60.5 million to break its SeatGeek Stadium lease, per a local report, paving the way for a move to Soldier Field in the short term — and a new home for the MLS team potentially down the road.
The Bridgeview Village Board unanimously agreed to the terms of a buyout of the lease yesterday, providing financial certainty to both the team and the village. Under the terms of the agreement, the Fire will pay $10 million upfront and the balance paid off over the next 15 years. In addition, the team will pay $5 million annually for the use of the stadium for practices. From the Des Plaines Valley News:
Mayor Steve Landek called the agreement “a fair deal for everybody.”
“We like to see the Fire unleash its potential out in the whole market. I think it’s good for the Fire. I think it’s good for Bridgeview. Most of all, it relieves any of our angst over the stadium debt.
“Sometimes, we live and die with the success of the Fire. If they have a good year, we have a good year. If they have a bad year, we all are suffering. This, I think, will be a good idea for everybody,” Landek said.
The agreement, according to Bridgeview officials, allows for SeatGeek Stadium debt to be paid off without the need for additional property taxes. In addition, there’s potentially more revenue down the road if the Fire develops a new stadium within 35 miles of SeatGeek Stadium.
For the Fire, the lease buyout frees the team to make both short-term and new long-term plans. Short term, the team is likely to commit to Soldier Field, home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears, until a new stadium is prepped. The former Michael Reese Hospital site on Lake Shore Drive, just south of McCormick Place, has been under city ownership since it was purchased as part of a failed bid for the 2016 Olympics. It has not been redeveloped thus far, but a new Fire stadium could be part of the solution. Chicago Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman, who is resigning from his post, mentioned a potential Fire stadium during an interview on Monday. However, he labeled it a “long-term idea” and cautioned that any future redevelopment of the site will be complex, likely requiring multiple uses. Sounds like the sort of large-scale development challenge MLS officials love.
Will There Be An Early Termination Of The Lease at SeatGeek Stadium?
According to the sports publication The Athletic, citing multiple sources with knowledge of the negotiations, Chicago Fire and Major League Soccer are in discussions with the Village of Bridgeview to arrive at an early termination of the lease with the municipality, thus allowing the team to move out of SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois.
The discussions began last year and are ongoing, and it is unclear what the potential price of the buyout would be.
Some details of the deal first emerged on social media via the Twitter account of a Fire fan, James Vlahakis. From 2013 to 2016, he worked as outside counsel for the Fire while at the firm Hinshaw and Culbertson LLP. His Twitter activity suggests that he is a passionate fan who is sometimes critical of the team’s management.
The Fire Soccer Club are currently in the fourteenth year of a stadium lease that was signed in 2005 and runs through the end of the 2036 season. An agreement to buyout the lease would allow the Fire to relocate to Soldier Field in downtown Chicago.
The club refused to provide any details, telling The Athletic: “We don’t comment on social media speculation from individuals outside the organization.”
One source indicated that Chicago billionaire and Fire minority owner Joe Mansueto has been instrumental in these negotiations. It is always difficult to obtain any financial date from the respective clubs making up MLS, which is organized as a limited liability company. It is known however that Fire majority owner Andrew Hauptman sold a 49 percent ownership stake to Mansueto for an undisclosed amount in 2018.
Mansueto is an influential player in the Chicago commercial real estate arena, having bought the historic Wrigley Building in downtown Chicago for $255 million last year.
Further evidence of the team’s desire to leave Bridgeview comes from the fact that public records show the Fire have been active in dealings with the City of Chicago in recent months. For example, lobbyist filing data shows that, “Chicago Fire Soccer Holdings, LLC” paid three lobbyists from the firm Fletcher, O’Brien, Kasper & Nottage a total of $72,000 for activities between October 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018, seeking administrative action from the mayor’s office regarding “real estate matters.”
The Fire also declined to comment on the lobbyist activity.
For this reason, escaping from the lease at SeatGeek Stadium would be an important boost in the team’s ability to reach new fans. The Fire’s stadium in Bridgeview is also not easily accessed via public transportation — it requires a train ride to Midway Airport followed by a bus ride from the airport to the stadium, a commute that takes over an hour from the city. It is also a traffic-filled 45-minute drive from most places in the city.
MLS is a party to the stadium lease, a practice that was commonplace with third-party leases in the early days of MLS, but is no longer a regular practice. Rumours circulated that other league owners will be contributing toward the buyout of the SeatGeek Stadium lease, but league sources said there are no plans for other team owners to contribute. Three separate sources familiar with ownership discussions said no such arrangement has been presented to owners of other MLS teams, and that it would be unlikely other teams would agree to such a plan.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated last month, MLS commissioner Don Garber hinted a move back to Soldier Field could be in the works for the Fire. The team played at Soldier Field from its inaugural season in 1998 through 2002, then again from 2003-06 after a brief hiatus during the NFL stadium’s renovations. SeatGeek Stadium opened midway through the 2006 season.
“We were playing in Soldier Field and we ended up going into a stadium that is not downtown, does not have the things around it that many of our other urban parks do,” Garbersaid on the Planet Futbol podcast. “And if things could work out properly maybe we end up back at Soldier Field at some point.”
MLS Commissioner Don Garber
But while moving into the city of Chicago would certainly help access a millennial demographic that has been vital to the growth of MLS around the country, it should not be considered a cure-all for a team that has struggled mightily on the field. The Fire have finished ninth or tenth in the Eastern Conference in four of the past five years, creating a mix of frustration and apathy even within its most diehard fanbase. And while the team has spent more on its on-field product, signing players like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Nemanja Nikolic, it lacks in several areas of infrastructure and support, including training grounds and a scouting network.
The lease with the Village of Bridgeview imposes a significant restriction, one which prohibits the Fire from playing any MLS home games outside of Bridgeview, without the express permission of the Village. According to two sources, MLS commissioner Don Garber flew to the Chicago area to meet with Bridgeview mayor Steven Landek ahead of the MLS All-Star Game announcement in 2017 in hopes of securing a Chicago Fire regular season match at Soldier Field during that season. League officials held off on an announcement that the All-Star game would be held at Soldier Field in order to pair that announcement with the Fire game, and team and league officials were optimistic a deal had been struck. In the end, however, Bridgeview declined to allow the game.
Possible Rebrand Also In The Works?
“We’re still in that process, and I think refresh is the word we like.”
Nelson Rodriguez, Fire GM
Multiple sources confirmed meetings have also been held regarding a potential team rebranding, though no decision has been finalized on whether that will include a new team name. Vlahakis’ tweet indicated that the Fire would rebrand as “Chicago City Football Club” as part of the move back downtown.
Fire general manager and president Nelson Rodriguez said on the record in a roundtable discussion with reporters last summer that the team has considered a brand “refresh.”
“We’re just still in that process, and I think refresh is the word we like,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not an overhaul, it’s not a major change. It’s an iconic badge. There’s a lot of great history at the club, a lot of great work from people that came before (COO John Urban) and I arrived, which we think should be honored. We will continue to honor that, but times change, there needs to be a little bit of an evolution and I think we need to hone in on what our voice is for today, and that’s what we’re working on.”
The Fire, which won MLS Cup in its inaugural season in 1998, holds a historic place in the league’s history. Conversely, the brand has almost no resonance in the city of Chicago, where game days are mere blips on the radar of most city residents and bigger media outlets in the market do not provide regular coverage. That lack of market penetration, paired with the dreadful management of a franchise that has made the playoffs just twice in the last nine seasons, has created a massive problem for the league as a whole. MLS, which is eyeing a new media rights deal in 2021, needs to remedy its lack of interest in the third-largest media market in the country.
A Fire rebrand would follow the model set by the MLS franchise in Kansas City, which rebranded from the “Kansas City Wizards” to “Sporting Kansas City” in 2010. That rebrand, paired with a new stadium opened in the summer of 2011, has been one of the success stories in MLS. That rebrand and new stadium, however, was buoyed by the consistent success of the team and charismatic coach and Sporting Director Peter Vermes, supported by a large infrastructure investment on the part of the investors owning the team. Kansas City’s MLS franchise, which won an MLS Cup as the Wizards in 2000, stands out as one of the league’s few “original 10” teams that experience success in their home market.
Before And After: Kansas City Rebrand
Other MLS original clubs have struggled to keep pace with recent expansion teams, including two other teams that have rebranded: FC Dallas, originally the Dallas Burn, and the New York Red Bulls, originally the New York/New Jersey Metrostars. The Red Bulls, while a success on the field and with a top-class stadium, have not seen that translate in its attendance figures. Other MLS original franchises that are struggling to make a big impact within their market include the New England Revolution, Colorado Rapids and Columbus Crew. Columbus nearly relocated before being saved by new ownership, while Colorado and New England, like Chicago, have struggled in most seasons over the past decade; New England has just three playoff appearances since 2010, Colorado has four, and the Fire have just two.
Those on-field struggles have showed themselves at the gate. The Fire has an average announced attendance of 15,723 over the past nine seasons, and has averaged just 11,029 in three home games this season, the worst in MLS—just below Colorado and New England.
A chance to get back into the city could provide a jumpstart, but negotiations with Bridgeview have been tricky in the past. One source pointed to a recent example to show that no deal is done until the papers are signed.