Fire Reach Agreement With Bridgeview To Break Stadium Lease
The Fire and the village of Bridgeview, Ill., have reached an agreement for the team to "amend" its lease at SeatGeek Stadium, with the Fire agreeing to pay $65.5M to "break their lease," which originally ran through the '36 season, according to Jeremy Mikula of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. As part of the deal, the Fire will put money toward a "multisport recreation and entertainment center" in Bridgeview. The Fire will pay $10M upfront plus $5M for "upgrades to the existing soccer facilities around SeatGeek Stadium." The "remaining balance" will be paid through '36. The team will "continue to train at the facility, and the club's youth academy also will be based in Bridgeview." The Fire have reportedly been "seeking a return to Soldier Field," where they played from '98-'01 and '03 through part of '06. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office "declined to comment on whether the Fire are close to finalizing a deal to play at Soldier Field" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 7/10).
WINDS OF CHANGE: In Chicago, David Roeder noted the Fire will "be able to host matches and conduct team operations" at other Chicago-area facilities under the agreement. This "opens the door for the Fire to finally make a move to the city after years of playing exclusively in the suburbs." The Chicago Park District, which owns Soldier Field, said that it "has no deal with the team" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 7/10). THE ATHLETIC's Guillermo Rivera reported negotiations between the Fire and the CPD for use of Soldier Field have been "ongoing for some time but have not yet been finalized." The formalization of a deal with the city of Chicago and the park district "remains a matter of time at this point with sources indicating that the park district has already begun planning" a '20 schedule that "includes the Fire at Soldier Field." While playing games at Soldier Field "may provide a short-term attention boost for the Fire, the move should not be considered a long-term solution for a home field." The "biggest question will be what's considered a reasonable amount of time to spend in a temporary home that you've already vacated once." It is "not out of the question to expect that the Fire could spend at least four to five years without a stadium dedicated to soccer and MLS" (THEATHLETIC.com, 7/9).
NUMBERS GAME: In Chicago, Orrin Schwarz notes the team's decision to leave Bridgeview "follows a trend" in MLS of "building stadiums near the city center." MLS has "found its greatest success" in terms of fan attendance with the Sounders and Atlanta United, where they play in downtown stadiums." The Fire "initially drew well in Bridgeview but saw attendance drop along with the team's fortunes in league play" (Chicago DAILY HERALD, 7/10). SOCCER AMERICA's Paul Kennedy noted the Fire have "made the playoffs in only two of the last nine years." The team averaged 14,806 fans in '18, the "lowest average in seven years." This season, the Fire have drawn just 11,417 fans a game, which is "last in MLS in attendance" (SOCCERAMERICA.com, 7/9).