After months of speculation among MLS fans and pundits, like Vanessa Carlton, the Chicago Fire are making their way downtown to play at Soldier Field. As you may be aware, the Fire have played in suburban Bridgeview since 2006 and have had up-and-down success both on the field and in the stands since that time. As a result, attendance and overall team interest has suffered while support for teams like the Cubs and Blackhawks have seemingly increased in that same period thanks to championship seasons.
For a team already in a crowded sports market, the Fire have gotten lost in not only the local sports crowd, but having a hugely popular NBC show bearing the same name doesn’t help. The return to Solider Field, where the team played from 1998 to 2002, as well as 2005 (the team played in Naperville in 2003-2004 due to Soldier Field renovations) comes at an interesting time for the Fire – a team and franchise that, at surface level, appears very much at a crossroads.
GESM Office Shootout
This topic has long been the subject of water cooler talk at our office. After a long break thanks to a busy summer, we decided to jump in our conference room and record our thoughts.
- What does the move mean for the Fire? – 0:50
- Ranking MLS teams that play in NFL stadiums – 12:34
- Should the team rebrand? – 18:05
- Final thoughts – 26:37
Here are our headline thoughts:
Why the move to Soldier Field is good
- Most simply, it allows the franchise to hit the reset button and regroup, re-think, and revitalize with new ownership
- The move to the city makes the team more accessible to more people at a place Chicago residents are abundantly familiar. The move also gives the city more access to the core Millennial / Generation Y audience who are predisposed to the sport and driving fandom
- From a league perspective, the 2005 version of MLS when the Fire were last at Soldier Field is hardly the 2019 (or 2020) version of the league. The demographics have changed and the league has more than doubled its number of teams
- There’s now a “rebirth” blueprint to follow thanks the Kansas City Wizards / Sporting Kansas City transition
Why the move to Solider Field is questionable
- Just because they’re moving back downtown to a big stadium doesn’t mean a big crowd will follow. Not every team that plays in an NFL stadium can be Atlanta or Seattle – just ask New England
- While the move to the city gives you access to more people (if they come), it also can now alienate you from a portion of the suburban audience the team built for 10+ years
- At Soldier Field, the Fire are at best second in the pecking order behind the Bears and concerts/events
- What is the revenue streams situation? In their previous stint, the Fire received no money from parking and concessions – has that changed?
- Is Soldier Field a viable long-term solution if a permanent soccer-specific solution is never found?
Whether excited or cautiously optimistic, the good news for the franchise is the move back to Soldier Field has several of us on the verge of buying season tickets – something us public transportation-reliant, city-dwelling Millennials hadn’t considered previously while the team was in Bridgeview. If that is a sign of things to come, then the Fire have us preliminarily hooked. Now they need to take advantage.