We look at the potential rebrand and move of Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire.
On Tuesday, rumors surfaced on Twitter of an upcoming rebrand for the original MLS expansion franchise. With attendance dropping and a stadium location that each season becomes comparatively worse, the Chicago Fire might be in for their biggest shakeup to date.
First, a brief history lesson about how the club got here. The Fire began their MLS days playing at Soldier Field, home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears. They called that massive NFL stadium home until 2005, except for a two year period in Naperville, IL’s Cardinal Stadium. In that era, the goal for MLS and soccer fans was just having a team exist and survive. But then, MLS 2.0 saw a wave of new soccer-specific stadiums being built for new and existing clubs. Chicago built what is now SeatGeek Stadium to have their own home and one designed for soccer.
The main issue from day one and something that still limits the club’s potential was that the team no longer played in Chicago, but instead Bridgeview – 30 minutes southwest of the city. It’s a long trek out to watch the Fire play, even on a good traffic day. Between the distance, time of matches and the weather, Chicago has struggled to pull in impressive numbers. The club offers buses from the city—I’ve taken one—and while it’s nice to not have to make that long drive, you feel like you’ve traveled to Iowa.
It doesn’t help that the club has only made it to the playoffs two of the last eight seasons, losing in the first round both times. Nor does it help that since the Fire’s home was built the MLS ideal has shifted.
Seattle and Portland entered MLS with stadiums in their downtown areas, packed full of supporters. Atlanta United shattered expectations by regularly drawing crowds over 70,000. Los Angeles FC built a new stadium in downtown LA. Chicago Fire’s front office are just thankful that the New England Revolution still play in Gillette Stadium. Regardless most MLS fans know that Chicago is a bottom five combination of stadium and location—wasting the potential of such a big market.
Something has to change
A group was pushing to land a USL team in Chicago with a new 20,000 seat stadium, but it has since dropped from their radar. When the plan was announced, the quick thought was that the second division team would eventually outdraw the Fire. A better location and a new stadium would bring in more casual fans. It was to be a sad day in the MLS club’s future. It seemed like a given if Chicago did land a USL franchise, the Fire would play second fiddle attendance-wise. That told just as much about the Fire as it did about the belief in the level of support inside the city limits.
So it comes to no surprise that this rumor (claimed from a ‘solid source’) was inevitable for the Fire to have a chance to grow. The note calls for the organization to rebrand the team as ‘Chicago City Football Club’ (or ‘Soccer Club’ as the user highlights the names recently trademarked) and play in Soldier Field once again.
— J. Vlahakis (@jvlaha) April 2, 2019
Keep the name, move back to Chicago
Sure, they might not fill the massive 61,500 stadium. But, simply being in Chicago will lift the numbers beyond the last seasons’ 14,806 average. I have no issue with the Fire brand, but a rebrand should be left up to the fans. One thing is for sure: it is past time for a necessary location change.
If these rumors are true, fans who live near Bridgeview won’t be happy. Long term fans who are attached to the name Fire won’t be happy. Some might even prefer SeatGeek because it is designed for soccer, rather than Soldier Field.
But, Chicago is struggling, on and off the pitch. In the US’ third largest city, that is unacceptable. SeatGeek has had 13 years to become a fortress. MLS has changed. Soccer in America has changed. It’s time for Chicago to as well.