Things are changing, big time, for the Chicago Fire.
Owner and chairman Andrew Hauptman has sold the Major League Soccer franchise to Joe Mansueto “effective immediately” and the Fire also confirmed they have reached an agreement to play at Soldier Field for the 2020 MLS season and are in final negotiations to make that a reality.
This is huge news for soccer in the Windy City, as the Fire have played at Soldier Field before but maybe now is the right time to take the team downtown permanently.
After lining up the $65.5 million deal to move away from their home in the Bridgeview suburbs of Chicago in July, this is a rebirth for the Fire. And after 12 years at the helm, Hauptman believes it is the right time for him to move on.
“I’m extremely proud of the positioning of the Club at this historic juncture. I know that the next step of returning to Soldier Field will make Chicago proud and I look forward to cheering on Joe, the Club and its supporters as they continue this legacy,” Hauptman said.
As for Mansueto, who bought a 49 percent stake in the club last summer, he applauded Hauptman and added that “the timing of this transaction couldn’t be better as we return the world’s game to the city I love.”
This is a game-changer for this organization, as their stadium situation echoes the issues happening with the Columbus Crew and many of the older franchises across MLS. The fan experience on gameday just wasn’t there in Bridgeview and the location of the stadium wasn’t viable for people in downtown Chicago.
The likes of D.C. United and Sporting Kansas City have proven how transformational having a new stadium in the right location can be, but is Soldier Field going to be that for the Fire? Atlanta United’s success in having sell-out crowds at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is one thing, but can the strong soccer fanbase in Chicago rally around a rebirth of the Fire and produce decent crowds of 30,000+ each week?
Given sell-out crowds for the Gold Cup final at Soldier Field this summer and a recent friendly between Club America and Chivas, it is clear fans of the sport are in Chicago.
Do they want to support the Fire? That is the $66.5 million question…
Something drastic had to happen to kick the Fire back into life and it is going to be very interesting to see how this plays out.