Since taking over in September, owner Joe Mansueto has spoken openly about the importance of broadcast television and getting the Fire onto a more traditional outlet.
He’s gotten what he wants. And a very recognizable channel is back in the sports arena.
On Wednesday, it was jointly announced the Fire’s local broadcasts will air on WGN-TV, which will show 24 games this season. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it is a multi-year pact.
Ten of the Fire’s 34 games are slated for national broadcasts.
Fire games will remain on streaming subscription service ESPN+, which recently surpassed 7.6 million paid subscribers. But ESPN+ is not WGN, which will get the Fire into households across Chicagoland and back onto television after spending two seasons exclusively on the streaming service.
“In this transformational year for our club, we want to provide our fans with as many ways as possible to experience the Fire, both live at Soldier Field and on the broadcast,” Mansueto said in a news release. “We know WGN-TV’s powerful place on the city’s sports scene and we’re excited to be their new flagship sports property.”
Adding the Fire also puts live sports back on WGN, which lost the White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks to NBC Sports Chicago and the Cubs to the nascent Marquee Sports Network.
“WGN-TV has a rich history of broadcasting live sports and we look forward to continuing and building on that tradition with Chicago Fire FC,” WGN-TV vice president and general manager Paul Rennie said in a news release. “The Fire have found a new home at Soldier Field and now a new broadcast home at WGN-TV. We’re thrilled to bring the exciting action of Chicago Fire FC to our viewers and all of Chicago.”
The Fire’s broadcast team will be announced before the season. At 7 p.m. on March 20, WGN will air “Chicago Fire FC: Homecoming.” There will also be a monthly show about the team on WGN, and they will be the star attraction on the outlet known for Harry Caray, Jack Brickhouse and seven decades of Chicago sports.
“I will say, I would love to see the Fire on, to complement ESPN+, on free broadcasts or cable to make it more accessible to people,” Mansueto told the Sun-Times in September. “Growing up in Chicago, I watched the Cubs on Channel 9 growing up. It’s how you get hooked on a team, that broad exposure and I think the Fire have a great product. Just more people need to see it. You start watching this team, it’s infectious. It’s a wonderful sporting experience. More people need to see it. A great way to see it is on free broadcast or cable.
“ESPN+ is terrific. We produce a great, compelling broadcast, but there’s other media outlets. Over time, I’d like to see it more widely available to sports fans throughout Chicago.”
That happened Wednesday.