BRIDGEVIEW – When news dropped July 9 that the Chicago Fire were amending their lease with the Village of Bridgeview, it confirmed the club could move out of SeatGeek Stadium as soon as next season. But the announcement left a long list of questions on the table.
Chief among them, would the club confirm that Soldier Field was their destination? Would the team still be called the Fire when they get there?
“We’ve had a preliminary conversation with the folks running Soldier Field and we’ll continue to look at all options, Fire president and general manager Nelson Rodriguez said on Wednesday at a media roundtable. “There’s no timeline designated but every minute and every day matters, knowing where we end up, where our fans can find us. So we’re planning for that future and no other decisions at this moment have been made.”
There's also the question of a long-term venue solution for the Fire, whether it's at Soldier Field or at another facility. In both cases, Rodriguez sees blueprints for success elsewhere in MLS, whether the Fire share a football facility long-term (Atlanta, Seattle, New England) or use it as a stepping stone to a new soccer-specific stadium (with recent examples including Orlando, Minnesota, and soon Cincinnati).
“It’s not about the size of the venue,” Rodriguez said. “I do think the location of the venue matters, and it’s been challenging to get [to SeatGeek Stadium] for many fans.”
He praised Soldier Field for its superior location to their current stadium, which also has a significantly smaller capacity (61,500 vs. 28,000). But Rodriguez also doesn’t view playing at Soldier Field, home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears, as a cure-all for issues the club faces.
“We do not believe that moving to the city is a salve for all our issues,” he said. “We have to do a better job of connecting to people where they live.”
Rodriguez emphasized that the club needs to have an “all 77-neighborhood” strategy, a reflection of the feedback they’ve received regarding a potential rebrand.
“The answer that has had near-unanimity is everybody just wants us to represent all of Chicago and be limited to one particular geographic area,” Rodriguez said.
Discussion of a rebrand has been limited largely to speculation over the last several months, but Rodriguez detailed Wednesday how the Fire have made significant progress. According to Rodriguez, two broad fan surveys have been completed, with a third on the way, in addition to focus groups and a handful of one-on-one interviews.
They’ve found that there is significant split on a range of topics: name, colors, crest, and whether there should be a rebrand at all. Rodriguez set no timetable for an announcement on that front, instead emphasizing the need for patience.
“When you create an environment … where someone believes they are affiliated with a tribe yet can maintain their individuality, you’ve got it all,” Rodriguez said. “When we feel we’ve got something that’s a winner and encapsulates everything we want to be and who we are, we’ll bring it forward.”