While rumors and leaked press releases have been circulating for the majority of the year, Chicago soccer fans got an official confirmation this morning: the Chicago Fire will return to Soldier Field for the 2020 Major League Soccer season. The soccer club played several seasons in Soldier Field after it was founded in 1997, but it has been based out of SeatGeek Stadium (formerly Toyota Park) in suburban Bridgeview since 2006. The Fire's ownership has been working on a deal to bring the team back inside city limits for the past year—according to the Chicago Tribune, the Fire will pay $65.5 million to the village of Bridgeview to break its lease at SeatGeek Stadium.
The Chicago Fire's latest season at Soldier Field will commence with the club's home opener on March 21, 2020 against Atlanta United FC. Under the terms of the Fire's current deal with Soldier Field, the team will play home games at the stadium through 2022, with an option to extend the contract for eight more years. Local billionaire Joe Mansueto (full disclosure, Mansueto formerly held a stake in Time Out Chicago), who purchased full ownership of the Chicago Fire in September, seems to have served as the driving force behind the move to Soldier Field. In a letter announcing the team's new home, Mansueto stated "it is my pledge to deliver a world class club worthy of our city and one that represents all of Chicago."
Getting the Chicago Fire back inside of city limits is an accomplishment (albeit one that came with a hefty price tag), but it doesn't automatically negate the major challenge the team faces. According to MLS attendance numbers, the Chicago Fire has averaged only 12,324 people at each of its games this season—the lowest turnout in the entire league. With 61,500 seats to fill, there's no shortage of space at Soldier Field, but ownership will need to offer compelling reasons (beyond the more convenient location) for fans and newcomers to attend games.
The 2020 schedule hasn't been announced yet, but the Chicago Fire is allowing fans to place a $20 deposit that can be applied to season tickets, mini-plans and single games. Seat selection will begin on November 1, with renewing season ticket holders and mini-plan buyers getting the first crack at locking down a new spot in Soldier Field.