The Chicago Fire announced a significant step in the process of moving out of SeatGeek Stadium Tuesday.
The Fire and the Village of Bridgeview, where SeatGeek Stadium is located, have agreed to amend the club’s lease on the stadium. The village and the Fire are still working towards definitive legal agreements, according to the team’s press release.
What this means is the Fire can play home games outside SeatGeek Stadium. While the team won’t acknowledge it publicly now, sources have previously told Pro Soccer USA the Fire are working towards a move to Soldier Field in Chicago.
As part of the deal, the Fire will pay $60.5 million to Bridgeview over the remaining term of the lease, including $10 million up front. They will also be making higher annual lease payments. The original lease was set to run through 2036. The Fire have played in Bridgeview since 2006.
Team offices for the staff are in the stadium. The team practices on a field adjacent to the stadium. The Fire will be contributing $5 million towards updating and expanding practice facilities. While the practice facilities pale in comparison to the importance of a stadium move, upgrading practice facilities is something team president and general manager Nelson Rodriguez has brought up on multiple occasions.
Additionally, the Fire will contribute toward the development of a multi-sport recreation and entertainment center in Bridgeview.
“SeatGeek Stadium will now have year-round availability for consistent high-revenue generating entertainment events for years to come,” Bridgeview mayor Steven Landek said in a statement. “Additionally, the expanded recreation venue will create even more growth opportunities for the village. I’m extremely excited about the benefits this agreement will bring to our community and for the future of a sports team that all of us in Bridgeview and the region have come to love.”
Fire owner Andrew Hauptman acknowledged the team’s desire to play in Chicago.
“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,” Hauptman said.
Soldier Field just hosted the Gold Cup final between the United States and Mexico Sunday. It was a sellout crowd of 62,493 in attendance that was a predominantly pro-Mexico crowd.
That crowd shows that there is interest in soccer in Chicago. However, a continental final between the top two teams in Concacaf and chief rivals is a big step up from watching MLS games. Getting those Mexican and U.S. Soccer fans to care about the Fire will be the challenge.
The Fire started playing at Soldier Field in the team’s inaugural season in 1998. They remained there until moving to suburban Naperville while the stadium was renovated in 2002 and part of 2003. The Fire moved from Soldier Field to Bridgeview in 2006.
The next step for the Fire is to finalize this agreement and work on a new one with the Chicago Park District to rent out Soldier Field.