The Fire will finally welcome fans to Soldier Field.
After meetings between team executives and local officials, it was announced Wednesday that the Fire will be hosting supporters this year, beginning with their April 17 opening-night match against the New England Revolution when approximately 7,000 seats will be available. The 100 and 200 levels will be open that evening, fans will be required to wear masks or facial coverings, and there will be spaced seating pods to ensure safe social distancing. Other safety precautions include no tailgating and fully mobile ticketing.
Season-ticket holders can purchase seats April 5, other 2021 ticket holders can buy them April 6, and they will be available to the general public on April 7.
“Today is an exciting day for the club,” Fire owner and chairman Joe Mansueto said in a news release. “We’d like to thank Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Governor J.B. Pritzker for their leadership and guidance throughout the past year. We are looking forward to April 17, when fans will be able to cheer on the team in-person at Soldier Field. We welcome all Chicagoans to come see a game this year.”
The Fire are taking a phased approach and will have the ability to increase attendance to 25% of Soldier Field’s 61,500 capacity, which is 15,375 fans.
“One of the most exciting parts about our city being able to safely reopen is regaining our ability to get back to Soldier Field to cheer on beloved teams such as Chicago Fire FC,” Lightfoot said in a news release. “This announcement was made possible by the many months we have spent planning, strategizing and evaluating how to welcome fans back into the stands and we will continue to work in close partnership with the Chicago Fire FC team to prioritize fans’ health and mitigate risk.”
With vaccines becoming more available and the Cubs and White Sox getting clearance to bring fans into their ballparks, Wednesday’s news isn’t surprising. But that doesn’t diminish its value to the Fire.
After buying their way into an amended lease with the village of Bridgeview in 2019 that allowed them to leave SeatGeek Stadium and move back to the city, the Fire relentlessly hyped their scheduled March 21, 2020, home opener against league powerhouse Atlanta United. That gala affair, which the team said was tracking toward a sellout, was postponed March 12 of last year when MLS suspended its season for 30 days.
When the Fire finally played their home opener on Aug. 25, it was in front of 60,000 empty blue seats accompanied by piped-in crowd noise against also-ran FC Cincinnati. Now a year later, the Fire will play in front of some home fans.
“If there’s fans in (Soldier Field), it will be even better and hopefully at one point it will be even full and that will be amazing,” coach Raphael Wicky said earlier this month. “I’m pretty sure that our fans will push us to get even stronger. I think that’s always a big difference when you have home games with your fans behind you and pushing you. We are very excited and hopefully we can have fans.”
No, the atmosphere won’t be what the Fire hoped and a few thousand tickets won’t make up for the lost revenue or be a true test of whether the team’s marketing is helping them gain attention, but it’s something.
“It was a very weird process starting the season, having no fans, and then throughout the year,” goalie Bobby Shuttleworth said earlier this month. “You could start to kind of get used to it, but it never really feels correct or like it’s supposed to be. So I think, I know me personally, I’m very, very excited to play in front of fans regardless of the amount and hopefully as the season goes on, we can get more and more fans in there safely.”