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Wednesday’s moves show Fire have a plan

The Fire announced their local broadcasts will be on WGN, and also signed Young Designated Player Ignacio Aliseda.

Fire owner and chairman Joe Mansueto greets season ticket holders after announcing the Fire will be returning to Soldier Field.
Fire owner and chairman Joe Mansueto greets season ticket holders after announcing the Fire will be returning to Soldier Field.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

While the Fire still have work to do, the new broadcast deal with WGN and the arrival of young designated player Ignacio Aliseda show progress is being made.

On Wednesday morning, it was announced the Fire’s local broadcasts will air on WGN-TV. Terms were not disclosed, but it is a multi-year pact. Fire games will still be shown on subscription streaming service ESPN+, which recently surpassed 7.6 million paid subscribers.

WGN will get the Fire into millions of Chicagoland households and back onto television after spending two seasons exclusively on ESPN+. Since taking over in September, owner Joe Mansueto has spoken openly about the importance of broadcast television and putting the Fire onto a more traditional outlet.

He’s gotten what he wants, while WGN gets back into live sports after losing the Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks and Bulls. With those teams gone, the Fire could be WGN’s star attraction, which can only help as they try to fill Soldier Field.

“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.”

Meanwhile, under sporting director Georg Heitz and coach Raphael Wicky, the Fire have made it clear they’re trying to create something to last. Wednesday afternoon’s signing of the Argentine winger Aliseda is more evidence.

The 19-year-old Aliseda joined the Fire as a young designated player (which are a lower charge on the salary cap than standard designated players). Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, and Aliseda is under contract through the 2023 season after joining from Argentina’s Defensa y Justicia.

Aliseda, the first young designated player in Fire history, will take an international slot.

“Ignacio is already such an impressive player despite being only 19 years old,” Wicky said in a news release. “He is very quick and technically gifted and has a great mentality. We’re very excited to add Ignacio to our roster and we expect him to be a key contributor for us moving forward.”

Both WGN and Aliseda represent changes from the Fire’s recent past.

While jumping to WGN is the Fire’s biggest move since officially shifting back to Soldier Field, it isn’t the only one to boost exposure. Their marketing has noticeably increased, and advertisements for the Fire on local television have been hard to miss. Beefed-up social media with videos such as Robert Beric’s Malort-infused introduction have been applauded.

Aliseda, meanwhile figures to slot into the left side of the Fire attack. He’s also a change from recent designated player signings by the Fire, and considerably younger than last year’s DPs Bastian Schweinsteiger, Aleksandar Katai, and Nemanja Nikolic.

That isn’t to say the project is complete.

The logo roll-out was unsuccessful and might be redone again for next year, which could undo much of the marketing featuring the new badge. The Fire are also looking to recover from a decade of on-field decline and a poor relationship with fans, and it remains to be seen whether they’ve done enough to recover in 2020.

Barring a surprise, the Fire roster will lack a glitzy name to draw fans to Soldier Field. Considering all the changes, it’s also unclear just how good the team will be, and they waited too long to dismiss Veljko Paunovic and shift Nelson Rodriguez to the business side.

But at least there’s a discernible plan both on and off the field. Wednesday made that clear.