Chicago Fire Announce Return To Downtown Chicago; Sign La Liga Player

The Chicago Fire will return to Soldier Field.

MIAMI, Fla. (October 25, 2019) —

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.

Coach Veljko Paunovic and the Fire have completed the signing of Alvaro Medran.
 Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicago Red Stars' Elevated Shirt A Massive Hit

CHICAGO (April 27, 2019) —

At the beginning of the NWSL season, a professional soccer team in Chicago unveiled a new home kit. It took less than 24 hours for the Chicago Red Stars to sell out of every single size of this 2019 home shirt, known as the “Elevated kit” It has been an instant success. The club’s video launching the jersey already has over 100,000 views on Twitter within the first two weeks.

“It has a coolness factor too, of course.”

Sarah Gorden, Red Stars Defender

The finished product was the result of eight months of work from the team’s designer, support from the entire front office, over 50 versions of the design, and as Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler puts it, “the internal passion to get it right.”

This article discusses the design, process, meaning and reactions to the Red Stars’ Elevated kit.

The Goal

The goal was to design a kit that was visually appealing to both soccer fans and non-fans alike. The team was thinking of the design as being more of a “lifestyle brand.” They wanted someone who was not familiar with the Red Stars to see the shirt and learn more about the team.

“The battle we have as a town with eight pro sports teams is awareness and differentiation,” Whisler said. “We’re constantly looking for angles to get noticed.”

The team wanted something that would get noticed. A shirt so cool it could be sold in Michigan Avenue tourist shops and at O’Hare International Airport. Something maybe even Chance The Rapper would wear while performing.

The Design

The designer of the shirt is Anthony Guagliardo, a Chicago native. He had the good fortune of getting a job with the Red Stars about a year ago right out of college. He says he went through at least fifty different iterations and ideas over a period of several months. After narrowing it down to one or two, neither was selected by the team.

It was now October of 2018 and he was running up against a production deadline to be ready for the 2019 season. Guagliardo started again from scratch, and took inspiration from the city’s public transportation system. 

“I really wanted to do something with the L,” he said, referring to Chicago’s inner-city elevated train system, also commonly called the “El” in reference to the elevated tracks on which many of the lines run. “I thought, why not go a little crazy here and do something completely new? And that’s how I landed on this Elevated design.”

His design is a maze-like design of the city of Chicago itself. The L runs through the entire pattern on the front of the shirt with the city’s Inner Loop clearly visible. Whisler compared the design to every map of Chicago he’s ever seen, with Lake Michigan clearly featured on the right.

Guagliardo ruled out a more minimalist version of the L first. 

“That felt too incomplete to me,” he said. “It would look too weird, even if people would understand what it was.” 

The easy way was out. The pattern was in. The inspiration came from how the streets and transportation system of Chicago interlock and interweave.. Guagliardo spent an entire week (“nine to five,” he said) building the pattern. Then he spent the next week tweaking it. 

“He spent I don’t know how many days hand-connecting all those little streets,” Whisler said. “He was just dazed. He had been staring at that pattern, hand-connecting to make sure there are no weird dead ends, and his head had just been living that for days.”

With the pattern done, the distinctive stars from the flag of Chicago placed on the front of the kit, and the Nike and team logos put in their standard spots, one thing remained—the back of the jersey. Guagliardo didn’t want the back to feel like it was from a different kit. 

“We thought of the phrase, ‘put the city on our back.’” He said. “That sort of hit me. We should put the skyline there.” 

He had thought the skyline had been done by too many people, but the Red Stars had their own spin on it now thanks to the pattern. 

“That was the differentiator,” Guagliardo said.

Photo: Chicago Red Stars

The Process

The production phase presented its own challenge. Nike is the kit supplier to the NWSL. Similar to what adidas does with Major League Soccer, Nike provides each NWSL team with stock kits, onto which a small level of customisation is available. In this case, the elevated kit was a lot more complex, given that it wraps around the shirt and the pattern must interlock.

By mid-November 2018, Guagliardo and the Red Stars had pushed the new design concept over to Nike for approval. The team’s director of communication and marketing, Justyne Freud, was in charge of the proofing process. It took six or seven rounds with Nike, just to make sure everything—especially the pattern—was right.

The final element was the actual launch. With the mindset being that this is far more than a women’s soccer team kit, a bigger idea was needed. The kit’s launch video adopted the bigger way of thinking. It was produced along with creative agency The Times Chicago and features defender Sarah Gorden along with defender Casey Short and midfielder Julie Ertz.

“Justyne (Freud) said that she wanted to make a statement,” Gorden said. “And that’s the kind of person and group that we are. We want to make a statement. We’re not here to be average. We want to be in your face. We want to be loud. And the video was a great representation of that.”

Chicago’s new shirt is proving that custom kits can result in significant sales numbers.

The Meaning

Whisler said the kit puts the Red Stars on the stage. “We’re just doing everything we can to insinuate ourselves in the heads of Chicagoans.”

The players also like the new vibe.

“To me, a lot of the equality stuff is played out,” Defender Sarah Gorden said. “It’s a business. People are saying equality because they want to make money; they don’t actually believe in it! It is that F you attitude. I’m here to play soccer, and I’m here to kick ass on the field. If you want to come and watch badass women come together, then come to it! And if you have a problem with it, then stay at home.”

Sarah Gorden, Chicago Red Stars

The Reaction

Reaction to the Red Stars’ new kit has been phenomenal.

The pattern came out so well that the team has incorporated into their design elements, too. For example, it appears on the season ticket holder package sent out prior to this season, and it is used on in the team’s social graphics as well.

Whisler believes this could not have happened if the Red Stars had outsourced the design to an outside agency. “At the end of the day, you can’t outsource passion. I think what you see in this jersey, there’s a lot of love. There’s a love by people who have put an awful lot of work into this team and this brand.”

Gorden said she was “blown away” by the design. Even just imagining the finished product had her excited: “I was like, wow, these jerseys would be sick.” She also added that having the city embedded in the kit serves as a constant a reminder that “this game is bigger than just you,” she said. “You’re playing for a city, you’re representing a bigger group of people. I think it’s a great reminder of that, and it’s the culture of Chicago right on our jersey.

Source Credit

Chicago Fire Negotiating Stadium Lease Buyout And Possible Rebrand

Chicago Fire News:

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.

[Attorney Vlahakis is currently suing the team and president Nelson Rodriguez in an unrelated matter alleging assault, discrimination, conspiracy, and malicious prosecution.]

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. 

Bridgeview, Illinois And The Lease

The Village of Bridgeview is located some 24 kilometres (15 miles) outside of the downtown Chicago area, and depending on the time of day and where one is coming from, can be difficult to access. Google Maps, SeatGeek Stadium/@41.831867,-87.8385522.

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,” Garber said 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.

Chicago-Fire-Default-2

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.”chicago-fire-logo-png-chicago-fire-logo-vector-299

“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

Kansas_City_WizardsSporting_Kansas_City_logo

 

 

 

 

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.

Reviews of SeatGeek Stadium on Yelp