BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Sunday will be a day three months in the making for the Chicago Red Stars, and a sellout crowd will be there to see it.
The Red Stars had been building hype about Sunday’s game against the North Carolina Courage, which will mark the return of the Red Stars’ four United States women’s national team players. And on Friday, owner Arnim Whisler announced the game is already a sellout.
The news came as he was introducing the team’s four World Cup champions — Julie Ertz, Alyssa Naeher, Morgan Brian and Tierna Davidson — before a press conference at SeatGeek Stadium. When Ertz heard the news she let out a “Hell yeah.”
The club only opens the lower bowl of SeatGeek Stadium for Red Stars games, so the sellout crowd will be about 16,500 seats. That is a record for women’s club soccer in Chicago. It is also bigger than any announced crowd for any Chicago Fire game in Bridgeview this season.
The Red Stars had a front office meeting three months ago and circled this game as one to capitalize on. They planned locations around town where they could market the team during the World Cup, including the viewing parties for the semifinal and final matches in Chicago’s Lincoln Park.
“We saw every element of this game lining up, both return of the players, the team we want to play — 14 World Cup players [total] — and we started with the entire front office. Every intern has been involved for weeks, targeting massive groups, to get them out, pull them in for this game,” Whisler said.
The team has been directing people to future games with Sunday sold out. Whisler said ticket sales for all future games have picked up as well.
“Yes, it’s great that one game can be this sellout celebration experience, but now the challenge is how can we continue to have that every weekend?” Naeher said. “Maybe not sell out every weekend, but how can we continue to bring people out to the games?”
Ertz joked that Chicago’s Sam Kerr returned from playing with Australia to score a hat trick in her first NWSL game back so the bar is high for what they can do in their returns. Ertz said it’s on them to “put on a show” Sunday.
“It’s a challenge for me to come back and really make an impact as well, thank [the fans] for coming because this is huge and this is what sustains …the possibility for young girls to have a professional league to play in,” Ertz said. “On top of that, it’s continuing to talk, continuing to fight, bring the viewership to us as well and keep growing it in that aspect.”
The Red Stars sellout is significant, but follows the growth of interest the players have seen since their return from France.
“I think a year before the World Cup, we were happy if we got 10,000 people at a game,” Brian said. “I think it’s awesome to see the growth in such a short time, and not just on the soccer field, but seeing that we’re reaching so many different types of people and women and we’re pushing the ceiling forward. I think it’s so cool to be a part of something beyond soccer.
“I think for me that was the biggest difference from 2015 to 2019 was soccer was huge in 2015 and pushing it forward. Coming to 2019 there’s so many more issues that our players and people are speaking out on. I think everyone is taking notice that women’s soccer is here to stay, and it’s obviously not just women’s soccer, but women in general.”
Davidson, the youngest player on the World Cup roster, called it a whirlwind. The spotlight of the World Cup is nice, but she said she was happy to be back in familiar surroundings.
“It’s been so fun to meet different people and speak with them about how much they loved watching us and how much they want to support women’s sports now,” Davidson said. “It’s also great to get back to your own bed and your own meals and driving my own car.”
Now that the World Cup winners are back with their clubs and in their own beds, there’s one thing they need to focus on, according to Ertz: “We need to win games.”