Chicago Fire leaving SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview
The Chicago Fire announced Tuesday it is taking the first step back to Chicago from Southwest suburban Bridgeview.
The Fire and the Village of Bridgeview amended their lease for the village-owned SeatGeek Stadium to allow the Fire to play its home games "in other Chicagoland sports venues." Reports have the Fire investigating a move back to Soldier Field, at least temporarily until a new soccer-specific stadium can be built near downtown Chicago.
The news first was tweeted in early April by attorney James Vlahakis, a Fire fan and former club outside counsel.
"We are grateful to Mayor (Steven) Landek and the residents of Bridgeview for our partnership," Fire owner Andrew Hauptman said in a news release. "We're glad we are able to strengthen our relationship while exposing even more fans to our club and world-class soccer in a more centrally located Chicago stadium. Today marks the next chapter in the growth of the club and the opportunity to play for more fans than ever in one of the world's great cities."
The decision to leave Bridgeview follows a trend in Major League Soccer of building stadiums near the city center. MLS has found its greatest success in terms of fan attendance in Atlanta and Seattle, where teams play in downtown stadiums also used by the NFL's Seahawks and Falcons, respectively.
Atlanta is averaging 53,299 fans this season. Seattle draws 38,881, and expansion side FC Cincinnati is third with 27,954.
The Fire, now in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings, is last in the league in attendance. It averages announced crowds of 11,417, more than 2,000 fewer than 23rd-place Columbus, which also is planning a move closer to the city center.
The Fire initially drew well in Bridgeview but saw attendance drop along with the team's fortunes in league play. The Fire has played just two MLS playoff games this decade, losing both. It has scored just one playoff goal during the 2010s.
A franchise rebranding also is being considered along with the move.
The Fire played its first few seasons in Soldier Field, beginning in 1998 when it drew 36,444 fans to its first home game. The Fire played the 2002 season and most of the 2003 season at North Central College's Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium in Naperville while Soldier Field was renovated. It moved back to Soldier Field until SeatGeek Stadium opened in 2006 at the corner of 71st Street and Harlem Avenue.
The Fire will give $5 million to Bridgeview to refurbish and expand the two practice fields and soccer dome outside SeatGeek Stadium, formerly known as Toyota Park.
Bridgeview also will receive $60.5 million over the remainder of the 30-year lease, including an initial $10 million payment. The team will continue to train in Bridgeview and operate academy teams there.
The Chicago Red Stars play their home games in the National Women's Soccer League at SeatGeek Stadium. The stadium also has hosted concerts and other sports events.
The Fire hosted the 2017 MLS All-Star Game at Soldier Field, drawing 61,428 fans to see the all-stars take on famed Spanish club Real Madrid.