Chicago Red Stars aim for attendance record with Wrigley Field game and lead battle for public funding

Chicago Red Stars and Bay FC face off at Wrigley Field on Saturday in a historic match. It is the first-ever women's soccer event to be held at the historic major league baseball stadium and could be a benchmark for future one-off events in NWSL.

Ticket sales are positive and a record number of visitors are expected for the event. The NWSL recently set an attendance record of 34,130 during the 2023 season, when Seattle Reign FC held a celebratory match for Megan Rapinoe. Wrigley Field has a capacity of approximately 41,000 people, making it a must-see event to start the summer.

Here's everything you need to know about the upcoming match:

View information

  • Date: Saturday June 7 Time: 7:30 PM ET
  • Place: Wrigley Field – Chicago, Illinois.
  • TV: ion

How an idea became reality

The Chicago Red Stars are in their first season under new ownership, a mostly female investment collective led by Chicago Cubs co-owner and minority investor Laura Ricketts.

Ricketts, who is also a minority investor of the Chicago Sky, immediately began implementing changes ahead of the Red Stars 2024 season. The first was making sure she had an introduction to players to build trust, the next was hiring people to support the players. club is moving forward. Club president Karen Leetzow, head coach Lorne Donaldson and general manager Rick Feuz were added to help guide the Red Stars into 2024 and beyond.

The connection between the Red Stars and the Cubs is now linked, but that doesn't necessarily mean a Wrigley Field game would happen in the first year of new ownership. The effort to change the date and location of the match was made with both clubs, the league and the cooperation of the NWSL Players Association, and the response since the announcement has been met with enthusiasm.

“It's hopefully a realization for this team that we can and do in fact have tens of thousands of fans in the city who just can't get out.” [to Bridgeview] regularly to see us,” Leetzow said.

“It is a testament to the league that if we are not selling tickets it is partly due to the difficulty of our venue for our young city fans who are working. It's a $30 Uber ride there and a $30 Uber ride back and that feels prohibitively expensive on top of the ticket prices.”

The Red Stars currently play their games at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois – a facility they have never been the anchor tenants of – and the new ownership group is exploring unique ways to demonstrate attendance for women's soccer in Chicago. Previous partner events took place alongside Chicago Fire FC, as a doubleheader, with attendance measured over two games.

This time, when several thousand are in the stands at Wrigley, it will be unmistakably for women's soccer.

“And it's a testament to the players that they have a lot of support in the city. It's also a brand-building exercise… there's just a whole population of people who haven't been exposed to our sport. So for us, it's so much more than a game. It really is proof that we deserve to be here. We deserve to be invested in. We really want people to come out, not just for fun, but to show their support for women. to play sports. And if we succeed, it will be a successful day.”

A new frontier for women's sports in Chicago

The Red Stars are no strangers to managing facilities that aren't their own. There is only one club, Kansas City Current, that owns its own stadium and training ground. It's market real estate and NWSL-specific grounds that are the next frontier for the league. It has become a unifying factor for clubs, a collaborative perspective that Leetzow says does not often occur in professional men's sports.

“In other leagues it feels very competitive with each other. In this sport it feels very collaborative. So people talk all the time about 'what's the right way to sell the sport?' and they pick up your call asking 'what do you think about this?' and there are a lot of relationships between us and others, and they've been super helpful, super nice, very patient – ​​and we try to reciprocate, obviously whenever we can.

But that's something that I think is unique in women's sports, this idea. It's a bit us against the world. Because we are building something, in an infrastructure that exists, a kind of sport in America, but we are definitely the underdog. People said we're a challenger sport, and we know it. And so sometimes helping each other get all the opportunities that we deserve is really about collaboration and there's a lot of that in this league, which I love.”

Including women's sports in funding discussions

Chicago is obviously home to several sports teams and professional leagues in men's and women's sports, so there isn't any fighting for the Red Stars at the moment. They fight in many arenas for equality in women's sports, the visibility of their team and the sport in the city.

Men's professional sports have dominated the city and local media for generations. Even as the Chicago Sky experiences breakthroughs in brand recognition and fan engagement, it has been a steep climb from its inception as a franchise in 2006. Oftentimes, female sports teams have to prove their worth before receiving any kind of recognition or investment, which in a sports-infused city like Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles can feel tenfold.

Many iconic brands like the Chicago Bears and Chicago White Sox have no problem attracting the eyes and ears of government officials when it comes to the brand new, state-of-the-art facilities that may require government funding. So it should come as no surprise that when these organizations recently made headlines about potential future projects, women's sports in Chicago were an afterthought.

Although the Red Stars were initially missing from the headlines, they are now firmly part of the ongoing discussions.

“I would say we invited ourselves,” Leetzow said on whether or not officials and political representatives had contacted the Chicago Red Stars about meetings about public financing for stadiums.

“When we heard this was happening…I'm not originally from Chicago. So I literally [asked] What does this mean and why is this happening? And why are we not discussed? At which point Laura [Ricketts] said, we have to make some noise here, which we did. So now we have spoken truly, politely and calmly to anyone who would listen to us in the legislature, and to anyone who would listen. This shouldn't happen without women at the table and us not even in our conversations

“We're not even just talking about the Red Stars. When you have a bucket of government money, funded by the taxpayer. 50% of taxpayers are women. Women are usually the purse strings of the household. They decide most consumer spending and decisions. made about men's sports franchises in a way that does not include women's sports.”

It's just another item that the Red Stars' front office and ownership have taken on in year one, and something that will likely be a longer battle than other ongoing issues in women's professional sports.

“We have spoken to anyone who will listen and will continue to do so on this issue to make our case – which is that you cannot simply distribute public money if that is what you want to do. And a lot of states have decided not to do it, but if you're going to do it, women should have a seat at the table as well as a piece of the pie.”

In the history of men's professional sports, nearly 89% of the men's “Big Four” leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) have received some level of government funding for stadiums that have surpassed the $30 billion mark. The statistics of women's sports franchises that have received some form of government funding are simple. It's zero. It's a statistic the Red Stars included as part of a presentation they give when they get involved in discussions about public financing.

“It's grim, shocking, infuriating, but it's also an opportunity for us to learn and educate how we think people should think about sports. I mean, if you're a sports fan, more sports is great. And so here we have all these great women's leagues that are now ready, willing and able to produce these great athletes to showcase these great events and no place to play,” Leetzow reiterated.

“We have title nine which gave us equal opportunities in the amateur game, when you go to the professional world, and all the subsidies go to men's teams? It's crazy to me… So I'm happy that at this point in my life, You know, towards the end of my career I can usually say what I think politely, but I can say what I think and I think this is wrong, I just think it's wrong time.”

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