CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Fire will return to Soldier Field, beginning with the 2020 season, after 14 years playing in Bridgeview.
Chicago Fire owner Joe Mansueto, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Park District CEO Michael Kelly, and MLS Commissioner Don Garber made the formal announcement Tuesday morning at Soldier Field, on the 22nd anniversary of the club’s founding, and the 148th anniversary of the start of the Great Chicago Fire, for which the team is named.
“It is my pledge to deliver a world class club worthy of our city and one that represents all of Chicago — our neighborhoods, our people, our communities,” Mansueto stated in a letter to fans. “The game we love has a unique ability to unite us all — and when Chicago is united, we can accomplish anything. It is my honor to invite a new generation to stand with us, as we make our stand for you.”
— Mayor Lori Lightfoot (@chicagosmayor) October 8, 2019
The mayor’s office said the Fire has an initial three-year lease to play at Soldier Field, with two additional three-year terms and two additional one-year terms. Details of the lease were not released.
Mansueto bought full ownership of the Chicago Fire last month, after former owner Andrew Hauptman sold Mansueto his majority stake in the club.
The Chicago Fire originally played in Soldier Field from 1998 through 2001, and from 2003 until 2006, when they moved to Bridgeview. For 2002 and 2003, they played at North Central College in Naperville while Soldier Field was being renovated.
The Fire recently completed a $65.5 million deal with the village of Bridgeview to leave SeatGeek Stadium (originally named Toyota Park), which had been the soccer team’s home since 2006. The team will continue to use SeatGeek Stadium as a training facility and headquarters for Chicago Fire Youth development programs.
The team is hoping to improve their attendance with the move. They had the lowest attendance in the MLS in 2019, averaging only 12,324 fans per game.
“Our Club needs to be located centrally where all of Chicago can enjoy it,” Mansueto said in a statement. “Soldier Field is the perfect location. In my view, part of being a world-class city today is having a professional soccer team located downtown. You see what’s happening in Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and Atlanta. Their Major League Soccer teams are bringing their cities together and have become an important part of the cultural fabric of the city. We will make that happen for Chicago too.”
The Fire will open the 2020 season at Soldier Field on March 21 against the reigning MLS Cup champions against Atlanta United FC.