The Fire are trying to move back to Chicago. And perhaps with a different identity.
The Athletic first reported Friday the Fire, MLS and the Village of Bridgeview are negotiating to end a lease that brought the team to the southwest suburb in June 2006. It is unclear how much the Fire would have to pay to exit the lease — which runs through 2036 — to move back to Chicago and Soldier Field.
Rumors of the Fire’s move picked up steam Tuesday afternoon when James Vlahakis tweeted the team was going back to Chicago. Vlahakis also tweeted the Fire would be rebranding, changing their name to Chicago City Football Club. Vlahakis, a supporter of the team and attorney, is currently representing a fan in a lawsuit against the Fire due to an incident with stadium security that allegedly led to an injury.
Sources indicated the Fire have explored changing their name and their look, but nothing has been decided.
“We don’t comment on social media speculation from individuals outside the organization,” the Fire said in a statement.
Last year, Chicago billionaire and entrepreneur Joe Mansueto bought a 49 percent share in the Fire from chairman Andrew Hauptman. It was hoped that Mansueto’s introduction to the Fire would bring a change in fortunes for the team, which has struggled to win games and contend for trophies in MLS.
A move to Chicago would likely be embraced more by Fire fans than a name change. Mansueto is believed to be a key driver in a shift back to Chicago.
Despite playing in the United States’ third-biggest market, the Fire have been unable to attract fans to SeatGeek Stadium. They drew an announced average of 14,806 last season and fans have bemoaned the lack of public transportation options to the stadium, which has fallen behind as other MLS teams have built new and more modern facilities.
MLS has also viewed the Fire’s stadium situation as a problem.
“I think we need new stadiums in New York and in Boston. We need a new stadium solution or a different stadium solution in Chicago,” commissioner Don Garber told ESPN in February. “Those are three of the top markets in the country and if they’re able to solve what are legacy stadium projects and move to the downtown urban core I’m convinced that those teams in large cities will give the league even more wind its sails.”