Fire looking for ways to draw fans to Soldier Field

When the Fire moved to Soldier Field after the 2019 season, owner Joe Mansueto set a target of 25,000 fans per game at the lakefront venue. Since pandemic-related capacity restrictions were lifted in July, the Fire haven’t come close to that mark.

SHARE Fire looking for ways to draw fans to Soldier Field
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The Fire are trying to fill seats at Soldier Field.

Courtesy of the Fire

When the Fire moved to Soldier Field after the 2019 season, owner Joe Mansueto set a target of 25,000 fans per game at the lakefront venue.

Since pandemic-related capacity restrictions were lifted in July, the Fire haven’t come close to reaching that mark.

Through seven home games without limits, the Fire’s best draw was 14,898 on July 3 against Atlanta. They’re averaging 10,966 and have welcomed three announced crowds of under 9,000 to home matches, and Mansueto wants to see faster progress on that front.

“Work to do there, too,” Mansueto said in August. “I think we should be having much higher attendance numbers. It’s probably top of mind for [president] Ishwara Glassman Chrein and I when we talk. We need more people in Soldier Field.”

Mansueto said Glassman Chrein is working on plans to do that. During an interview with the Sun-Times, Glassman Chrein said increased marketing and winning would help drive attendance, and is looking to link the franchise’s work in the community to fandom and ticketing.

Winning, however, is not guaranteed, and the Fire have to find ways to build their numbers even if the on-field results aren’t good, a point Mansueto made forcefully in August when he referenced FC Cincinnati’s strong attendance compared to its lowly record. Glassman Chrein said the team must construct a resilient front office that can withstand the ebbs and flows of the sporting side.

“Joe and I talk a lot about this concept of sampling,” Glassman Chrein said. “We have this belief that if people will just come to the stadium once, they have a great experience. Soldier Field’s a beautiful place. There’s transit, we have this Burnham Downs [fan tailgate] experience where you eat and drink and play little games.

“If we get people to the stadium, they’ll have a great experience.”

Getting people to the stadium was a challenge for the Fire in Bridgeview, and it hasn’t been much easier at Soldier Field despite a more centralized location that figured to offset a glut of midweek matches this year. In 2019, the team’s last season calling SeatGeek Stadium home, the Fire averaged 12,324, the lowest in the league.

So when Mansueto made the 25,000 pronouncement, it looked like a lofty target, and early results have borne that out. But Mansueto still thinks the 25,000 mark is very attainable in an area with this many people. He’s convinced if people experience a game they’ll be hooked, and is confident the Fire’s fan base will grow significantly if someone tries a match or tunes in on Ch. 9.

“These things take time, but I think we’re doing the right things,” Mansueto said. “I think we’ll start to see the results over the coming year. Things never happen fast enough for my taste. I’d love to see bigger crowds, but we’re pushing on it. I have no doubt we’ll get there.

“It hasn’t diminished my confidence one iota on the potential for filling the stadium with Fire fans.”

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