Major League Soccer franchise Chicago Fire has moved a step closer to playing at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears NFL team, as it announced that owner Andrew Hauptman has sold his controlling interest in the club to Joe Mansueto.
Hauptman oversaw the conclusion of an agreement between the Fire and the Village of Bridgeview that allows the team to move back to the city of Chicago. The Fire has now received approval from the Chicago Park District board to move toward an agreement to play at Soldier Field next season.
The Fire currently plays at SeatGeek Stadium, which is located in Bridgeview, but in July it reached an agreement with the village for an amended lease deal that allows it to explore playing future games at other local stadia. The deal included a “significant” contribution from the Fire towards the development of a multi-sport recreation and entertainment centre in Bridgeview, as well as higher annual lease payments to the village.
The team will contribute $5m (£4m/€4.5m) to the village, with the money to be put towards refurbishment and expansion of the existing facilities at SeatGeek Stadium. Bridgeview is set to receive $60.5m over the remaining term of the lease, which runs until 2036. The Fire will continue to train at SeatGeek Stadium and operate youth development programmes there.
The Fire played at Solider Field before moving to SeatGeek Stadium in 2006 and the latest development moves the team a step closer to returning next season.
The departing Hauptman, who spent 12 years as owner of the Fire, said: “What the Fire has achieved has been transformational for the club and the city of Chicago. We’ve significantly increased soccer’s presence and built an ecosystem that rivals any club across North America.
“I’m extremely proud of the positioning of the club at this historic juncture. I know that the next step of returning to Soldier Field will make Chicago proud and I look forward to cheering on Joe, the club and its supporters as they continue this legacy.”
Mansueto (pictured) added: “I joined Andrew as a partner because he developed a tremendous platform for continued soccer growth across Chicago and beyond. He and the entire organisation have worked tirelessly to dramatically increase the profile of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, MLS and the game overall and have left a wonderful legacy for our city.
“The timing of this transaction couldn’t be better as we return the world’s game to the city I love. Andrew and his family will always be part of the Fire family that he cares so very much about.”
Image: Chicago Fire