By: Chris Olszewski
Current rumors revolving around the 2017 MLS All-Star Game point to the game being held at Soldier Field in Chicago. Chicago has held the event once before, at Toyota Park in 2006. That was the tail end of the glory days for the stadium’s resident Chicago Fire. The Fire would win the U.S. Open Cup that year, and have gone without a major title since, despite reaching the MLS Cup Playoffs five times since then and reaching the U.S. Open Cup semifinals every year since 2013.
Now the club is in a dire state. The Fire are about to finish with the worst record in team history once again, and things are not looking up. Their owner, Andrew Hauptman, is on the verge of selling, and the team are locked into Toyota Park for the foreseeable future. The team has looked miserable on the pitch this season, lacking key pieces.
So what will the MLS All-Star Game coming to Chicago have to do with any of this?
One of the Chicago Fire’s major problems throughout its existence has been exposure in an already saturated sports market. The Fire can only be found under the avalanche of year-round content in the four major sports; they’ve become lost in the shuffle. Local TV ratings are some of the worst in MLS and the Fire were the team with the fewest appearances on national TV this season.
To add on to this, only just this season have the Fire started to even attempt to advertise on a large scale. Most of their advertising effort has consisted of a few billboards on expressways outside the city. When walking around the city, one is more likely to see Club America, Bayern Munich, or FC Barcelona kits than the Fire.
Of course, nothing will put people in seats, eyeballs on television, and kits on backs like a winning product on the pitch. But hosting an event like this could be of benefit to the Fire. The MLS All-Star Game is more than just a 90-minute match; it’s a series of events spread out over a few days that Chicago, and Soldier Field in particular, is well equipped to handle.
But it has to be done right. If Chicago and Soldier Field are to hold the 2017 MLS All-Star Game, then the organizers must make it about Chicago. This extends far beyond having Fire players on the All-Star roster. It means having Fire players in the Homegrown game and Chicago recording artists performing at the event.
At the same time, MLS will have to find a way to tie the Fire into this as well. Despite their recent struggles, the Fire have some of the pieces of a winning product. US Men’s National Team callup Brandon Vincent mans the back line alongside recent signee Johan Kappelhof, and Michael de Leeuw has been great at the forward position. But it hasn’t been enough to save the season, or get people to care about the Chicago Fire.
If MLS and the Fire play their cards right, the MLS All-Star Game being held in Chicago might very well be the start of a turnaround for the club. It would be a big event that would draw the attention of a lot of people in the city as well as functioning as a showcase for the present and future of American soccer.
(Featured Image: Jona Park, Flickr)