MLS's Chicago Fire will be leaving
SeatGeek Stadium, its home in suburban Bridgeview since June 2006, after it paid a hefty fee to get out of its long-term lease.
The Fire has not announced a home for the 2020 season, but it is expected to return to Soldier Field while it seeks to find a permanent home, which could take years to secure and build.
The Fire will pay Bridgeview:
-- $60.5 million over the remaining term of the lease, including an up-front payment of $10 million;
-- $5 million to be used to refurbish and expand the existing soccer facilities around SeatGeek Stadium.
The Fire will continue to train in Bridgeview and operate Chicago Fire youth development programs there.
Plans for the Fire's exit were first revealed in early May after a memorandum of understanding was approved by the Bridgeview village board, which agreed to rewrite the lease, effectively freeing the Fire to move from SeatGeek Stadium (previously named Toyota Park).
In a statement released to the media at that time, Fire president Nelson Rodriguez said the club had been negotiating with Bridgeview Mayor Steven Landek and the Village of Bridgeview for some time without confirming the details.
The Village of Bridgeview built the stadium at a cost of $98 million, but it has been an albatross around its neck. Bridgeview owed $260 million in long-term debt and doubled property taxes, in part to make up for short-falls in revenues from the stadium. The Fire payments will allow Bridgeview to make payments on the debt service without raising taxes in the future.
At a media roundtable held just after the board meeting, Rodriguez addressed many of the club-specific issues the Fire was facing.
-- He confirmed the club was considering a rebrand (new name, new colors) but no decision had been made.
-- He said the club had lost relevance in the market as a consequence of the club's poor record.
The Fire has made the playoffs in only two of the last nine years after reaching the conference finals in four of the five years before that. It averaged 14,806 fans in 2018, its lowest average in seven years, and has drawn just 11,417 fans a game in 2019, putting it last in MLS in attendance. It is in 10th place in the Eastern Conference though only one point below the playoff zone.
“We are grateful to Mayor Landek and the residents of Bridgeview for our partnership,” said Chicago Fire owner and chairman Andrew Hauptman on Tuesday. “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 NWSL's Chicago Red Stars play to remain in Bridgeview.