In an area such as this, where professional teams such as the Bears, Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks have such a stranglehold on sports fans, it’s hard to break in and survive.
So when a new venture of a women’s soccer team popped up in 2009, I have to admit that I figured it would last three or four years before dissolving like many other sports ventures that dared to go up against the big five.
But the Chicago Red Stars are still around. They have gone through rocky times and I’m not actually sure how strong and stable the organization is financially, but I do know two things:
1—They are still here.
2—They are coming back home.
The team announced last Thursday that it will play its 2016 home games back at the 20,000-seat Toyota Park in Bridgeview. The Red Stars started there in 2009 and 2010 and left for the 3,000-seat Benedictine University venue in Lisle for the last five years.
Coming home will be like a new beginning for the franchise.
“In 2016, it’s time to return to our original home – Toyota Park. Our fans and sponsors will now enjoy an exciting game day environment in a major league stadium, while our players and the rest of the teams throughout the NWSL will enjoy the benefits of competing on a world class, natural grass pitch,” said Arnim Whisler, owner of the Chicago Red Stars in a statement. “It was hard to leave Toyota Park in 2010, but we are thankful for the warm reception and incredible support of Benedictine University and the Village of Lisle over the last three years. It gave us an intimate and affordable setting as our club and the league have grown.”
Bridgeview Mayor Steve Landek said Thursday he is glad to see the Red Stars back in his town.
“Women’s soccer has been growing and we think they can get a couple of thousand fans per game next year,” he said. “This is exciting.’’
The trouble with women’s soccer is that the casual fan only seems to get excited about it when the USA does well in the World Cup.
One selling point for the Red Stars is that the National Women’s Soccer League is so strong that fans will get to see every member of the 2015 World Cup champs on their respective team at Toyota Park in 2016.
Another selling point is the price. Officials say that more than 25 percent of the seating will be priced at $25 or less.
Also, parking will be free.
So in this second go-around at Toyota Park, the organization has a solid game plan.
But what is on the field will be just as important.
In 2009, the Red Stars won their first game of the year and then proceeded to go nine straight games without a win and built up an ugly 451-minute stretch without a goal. That doesn’t put fans in the seats.
The team has changed leagues a couple of times and had some decent seasons in Lisle and is coming off an 8-3-9 season and it made it to the semifinals of the National Women’s Soccer League Tournament. So the product on the field in 2016 should be pretty decent.
The Southwest Regional Publishing group, of which this newspaper is a part of, plans on giving the Red Stars coverage we hope to step up our coverage on the Chicago Fire as well. The Fire has done an outstanding job staying alive despite the big five.
All the ingredients are there for a better experience at Toyota Park for the Red Stars this time.
Will the Red Stars be able to start knocking off one of the big five? That’s highly doubtful.
But if they can put a product on the field that will bring fans back to Bridgeview game after game, perhaps they can carve a nice niche out for themselves and stay around awhile longer.