Reports, rumors and speculation about where the Chicago Fire will play next year, and if they will even be called that, have really started to gain steam over the last few weeks. I haven’t had a chance to weigh in, and I wanted to take the opportunity to do so this week because there isn’t much to write about this team on the field that hasn’t been already said. They should be good, they’re not, it sucks.
The move to Soldier Field seems imminent, especially with what looks like a premature launch of the STH sign-up portal on the Fire’s website last week, and more and more the rebrand feels like it will follow. It’s becoming apparent that the conspiracy theories that Nelson Rodriguez was the man to guide the Fire into MLS 2.0 under a new name, stadium and entirely new way of operating may not be a sick joke after all, and very might well be the reality when it comes to professional soccer in the city of Chicago.
The stadium move impacts will certainly be felt by many fans, but those who care will continue to make their voices heard. But in my eyes, if current ownership overhauls the name, crest and club, they will destroy the little that is left of a community and team that was once shaping United States soccer culture as much as anyone. The club that helped build MLS into what it is today, that commanded attention in an enormous sports city before soccer was even a blip on the radar of the casual sports fan and was a springboard for some of the best young American players this country has ever seen will cease to exist soon and I can’t stand behind that.
What’s in a name? What’s in a brand? What’s in a club? Those outside of Chicago commonly misunderstand why the club bears the name of the Great Fire of 1871 , but the story of the disaster does not begin and end with the destruction that was left at the feet of the people in this great city. It’s a story of rebirth, a city literally rising from the ashes to become the center of a cultural and economic revolution the likes of which this country has rarely seen. It’s weaved into the fabric of the city, from the architecture in the city’s buildings, to the flags they proudly display.
Way back in 2012, HTIOT founder Tweed Thornton told the story of those that stayed in Chicago, not fleeing to the likes of St. Louis or Kansas City, to resurrect Chicago. On their broad shoulders, they built what is now known as the Second City. What’s in the Chicago Fire name? That spirit. That desire. That Tradition, Honor, and Passion.
This club has been broken for years. On the field. Off the field. There is no denying that the team’s best days are behind them, and something needs to be done. Current ownership’s answer is to strip the club down back to its base, create a shiny new brand and set of fans to go with it. They want to own a franchise, not a club, that has better SEO, one that secures more corporate sponsorship's, will gain more impressions on social, and attract their target demographic.
Maybe the irony is lost on ownership, but it certainly isn’t on me; to be successful, they need the people of Chicago to join arms and brick by brick, game by game, rebuild professional soccer and its culture in this city. They need those supporters who have suffered through 10 years of mediocrity not to flee, but to stick around and help drag this club back to relevance. They need the spirit of those who refused to accept defeat after the great disaster that this club is named after. Changing the name, the crest, and the club won’t just push away the ashes of the dumpster fire that’s been this club the last ten years, it will push away the fans who were part of the story of this team’s success when the league was born.
So, I ask Andrew Hauptman, Joe Mansueto, Nelson Rodriguez and the rest of what is currently the Chicago Fire: Don’t change the name. Don’t change the crest. Don’t rebrand this club.
Use the brand for what it’s supposed to do: rebuild.