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Fire, fans wrestle with potential name change

The Fire are exploring changes to their brand, which might even include a new name.

Fans unfurl a large Chicago Fire jersey after the Fire scored a goal against the Colorado Rapids at SeatGeek Stadium on April 20, 2019 in Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire defeated the Rapids 4-1. 

What’s in a name? The Fire and their fans are working on an answer.

On Wednesday, president and general manager Nelson Rodriguez gave an update on a potential rebranding. He said the team has conducted two surveys, has another remaining and will have small focus groups and even one-on-one conferences. The Fire are working with MLS and an outside agency and are looking for something that “encapsulates everything we want to be and who we are.”

“It’s been interesting, the range of answers that we’ve been getting,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve focused on asking about the current name, the current logo, our current colors, our current uniform and even the meaning of the name and what among those things are really important to people, what among those things are they more open to changing.”

The Fire moniker was unveiled Oct. 8, 1997, 126 years to the day after the Great Chicago Fire began. As any -Chicagoan knows, the blaze ravaged the city, but the area rebuilt to become a leading metropolis.

To some, changing the name would abandon that heritage of resilience.

“Chicago Fire itself is the history and the legacy of the city, and it shows the rebuilding of this city, which is also very tied to our community as a whole,” said Nicole Hack, the chair of the Section 8 supporters group.

Fellow fan Joshua Norgaard said he’d probably support the team with a new name but “would be upset about it.”

“I can more understand changing the branding than changing the name,” he said. “The logo is 20 years old. The colors, they could be updated to something else. I understand that. I don’t understand ditching the name the Fire because of a television show. It seems like it’s been bad brand management more than an actual problem with a name.”

Whatever the Fire change to — if they change at all — won’t please everybody. The most popular answer the club is getting during its research is that the name must represent all of Chicago.

“Beyond that, you have diehards who want everything to stay the same,” Rodriguez said. “You have people who say, ‘I still don’t understand why we’re named after a disaster.’ You have others who say, ‘Bring back the firetruck,’ and others who say, ‘Get rid of this whole association with firefighters altogether.’ We’re working through that.”

If the Fire name is changed, fans will have to work through what the club means with a different moniker. Norgaard said the name is the club’s basis and gives it a foundation — and going away from that isn’t the Fire.

“It’s not the same club,” Norgaard said. “It doesn’t represent the same ideals that we as fans who are there year-in, year-out as players leave, as coaches leave, as ownership changes … it’s the fans’ team. They’re the ones that give it any type of actual justification or validity, and the authenticity is the fans. That’s what we have.

“The name is the continuity through the years that brings you back.”