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Fire put ‘sampling’ theory to test in 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake

Thanks to giveaways and promotions, the Fire distributed an announced 31,308 tickets for their home finale, the third-biggest crowd for a stand-alone MLS game in team history and the largest since the inaugural 1998 season.

The Fire’s Federico Navarro receives the ball during Saturday’s game.
Courtesy of the Fire

Fire owner Joe Mansueto and president Ishwara Glassman Chrein use the word “sampling” when discussing getting new fans out to a match. Their idea is, if people take in one game, they’ll want to attend again.

Even with an unfinished product, the franchise put that theory into motion Saturday in a 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake at Soldier Field.

“That was a special night, and one [in which] we left a really good image for the fans,” interim coach Frank Klopas said.

After giving season-ticket holders two free tickets and other factors such as increased marketing, expanded group sales and fan appreciation night promotions, the Fire distributed an announced 31,308 tickets for the home finale, the third-biggest crowd for a stand-alone MLS match in team history, and the largest since the inaugural 1998 season. Before Saturday, the Fire had averaged 11,081 in nine games at Soldier Field since pandemic-related capacity restrictions were lifted, with a high of 15,915 on Sept. 26.

Though the Fire won’t know the effect for a while, some immediate dividends were apparent. The atmosphere was noticeably louder, with fans waving light blue flags with the new logo after Robert Beric’s 45th-minute goal and the final whistle provided a striking visual. Also, the parking lots were filled with people enjoying pregame festivities.

Unfortunately for the franchise, the Fire’s showcase match was the latest game played on a Soldier Field grass surface with noticeable issues. Despite being six days removed from the Bears’ loss to the Packers, the football lines and paint had only dulled somewhat, and the grass was chewed up in the middle of the field.

The team confirmed there have been ongoing discussions with ASM Global, the firm that manages the stadium, about the playing surface and its appearance.

What the Fire can address on their own before 2022 is the team’s quality. Saturday was the last home game in another lost year, one that cost coach Raphael Wicky his job and should foreshadow an offseason of change.

As the Fire understand, a better team would make it easier to consistently draw the types of crowds Mansueto wants.

“It was great to give the fans something really to be excited about for the future of the club because the future is bright,” Klopas said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t hit our goals this year, but a lot to build on.”

The Fire business side hopes a lot of the first-time customers will agree.

NOTE: The Fire announced the Homegrown signing of 16-year-old midfielder Sergio Oregel to a contract that runs through 2025 with a club option for 2026. Earlier this year, Oregel helped the Fire’s under-19 team to the MLS NEXT Tournament championship and earned the event’s Golden Ball, awarded to the most outstanding player in each age group.

The Fire have 10 Homegrown players under contract for next year; Oregel is the eighth that the team has signed since Jan. 2020.