Fire lease at Soldier Field calls for sliding payment based on attendance

Obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request to the Chicago Park District, the Fire’s lease to use Soldier Field spells out the details of the deal to bring the franchise back to the lakefront.

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Exterior view of Soldier Field.

Sun-Times photo

How much the Chicago Fire will pay the Chicago Park District to play at Soldier Field depends on the team’s popularity, according to the team’s lease. For the most part, the team’s lease with the Park District calls for sliding payment scales based on attendance.

For example, the Fire have to pay a minimum $145,000 for operating expenses for games with 15,000 attendees or fewer. The fee rises based on attendance. It’s $162,500 for up to 20,000, $176,500 for up to 25,000, $201,875 for up to 35,000 and $253,000 for any crowd larger than 35,000.

The Fire also must pay the district a per-game “use fee” of $10,000.

These fees are supposed to rise by 3 percent per year over the life of the lease.

A copy of the lease was obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request to the Park District. The initial portion of the lease is three years, with two three-year extensions, then two one-year extensions.

The Fire can set their own ticket prices, but they will include fees remitted to the Park District. These amount to a $4 per ticket facility fee and, for larger crowds, a “capital improvement” fee. It will range from $1 per ticket for crowds larger than 25,000 to $3 for crowds larger than 35,000.

In addition, the Fire were required to post with a major bank a letter of credit covering the operating expenses and use fees they paid for their final season in Bridgeview. That amount was $2.635 million. The Park District can draw from it if there’s a breach of contract.

But the agreement gives the team a substantial cut of revenue from parking and concessions. For parking, the lease sets the per-vehicle rate of $35, higher for premium ticket holders and adjusted each year at the Park District’s discretion. The Fire will get 60 percent of parking revenue for crowds of 10,000 or less. The team’s share will gradually fall to 50 percent for larger crowds.

The same applies to the Fire’s cut of food and beverage money.

The Park District issued this statement: “The agreement between the Chicago Park District and Chicago Fire is financially sound and beneficial for both parties. The District utilized the expertise of its management, the Soldier Field management team and outside counsel to develop the terms.”

Scheduling

The Bears are the primary tenant and have a five-day scheduling window. The Fire can host games one day after Bears games. The Fire also do not have scheduling priority ahead of any event that had been agreed upon before Sept. 5 of the previous year.

The contract says that from March 1 until the beginning of the NFL preseason, the Park District will attempt to keep two Friday-Sunday windows and five midweek dates open per month.

The NFL and MLS have different calendars, which means the Fire schedule could change after the Bears’ slate comes out in April. Once it receives the Bears’ schedule in the spring, the Park District has five days to share it with the Fire. If there is a conflict, the Park District is compelled to help the Fire find a suitable replacement date. If a suitable date cannot be found, the Fire can reschedule at another venue.

As for potential postseason games, the lease recognizes the “inherent uncertainty” of scheduling those matches.

Playing surface

At the beginning of the MLS season the Park District is responsible for making sure the grass field is in a suitable condition to host a match. The Park District will pay for a full resod of the field one time either before or during the Fire season, and any additional full or partial resod will be at the Fire’s expense. The Bears also can request resoddings.

Honoring Schweinsteiger?

A clause grants the Fire a chance to hold a “friendly farewell game” in connection with the retirement of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who is mentioned by name. No date has been set, nor is an opponent for any potential event specified. If the match comes to pass, Schweinsteiger’s former club Bayern Munich would be an obvious candidate to serve as the opponent.

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