Why a Move to the City Is a Must for the Chicago Red Stars

After months of anticipation, the NWSL Wrigley Field spectacular finally took place on Saturday night. The Chicago Red Stars hosted Bay FC in front of a league record-breaking crowd of 35,038 people. The match itself was something of a letdown for the Red Stars, as they fell to a 2-1 defeat. From an organizational standpoint, however, the event was a smashing success.

Not only did Chicagoans pack the stands of the hallowed site that is Wrigley Field, they created a vibrant atmosphere matched at no other game in the club’s history. The takeaway is simple: the Red Stars must play all home games in the city of Chicago.

Dwindling Attendances at Seatgeek Stadium

Since 2016, the Chicago Red Stars have called home Seatgeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois. The football-specific venue seats 20,000 and is by most metrics an excellent place to watch a match. Its main drawback is its accessibility, or lack thereof – Bridgeview is located well outside the Chicago city limits, and public transportation access is severely limited.

Seatgeek was opened in 2006 as a long-term home for Chicago Fire FC of the MLS. Despite signing a 30-year lease with the Village of Bridgeview, the Fire called time on the failed experiment in 2019, amidst consistently disappointing turnouts.

The Red Stars have suffered a similar fate. They have a loyal fanbase that create an excellent atmosphere at home matches, but the overall attendance pales in comparison to the rest of the league. In 2022, the club drew in an average of 5,863 fans per home game during a post-pandemic boom, placing them 9th out of 12 teams in the NWSL.

Last year, they dropped to the bottom of that list, with an average attendance of 4,848. 2024 has been a similar story. More people attended the match at Wrigley than all six home games in Bridgeview this season combined.

A Night to Remember at the Friendly Confines

It seemed inevitable that the Red Stars would play a match at Wrigley Field (nicknamed the Friendly Confines) at some point. In September 2023, the club was sold to an ownership group led by Laura Ricketts, who is a long-time co-owner of Wrigley’s primary tenants, the MLB’s Chicago Cubs. It’s especially fitting that an event like this be held when considering another connection – Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson is married to Red Stars striker Mallory Swanson.

The week leading up to the fixture saw Red Stars defender Tatumn Milazzo throw out the ceremonial first pitch ahead of a crosstown baseball matchup between the Cubs and Chicago White Sox. The next day, teammates Cari Roccaro and Ally Schlegel served as guest bartenders for game two of the same series.

Come Saturday, the focus was fully on the Red Stars, with Wrigley transformed into a proper football ground. In the hours preceding kickoff, a fan festival was organized just outside the gates of the stadium. What’s more, the legendary flags reflecting MLB National League standings were replaced by the NWSL table. Wrigley’s historic scoreboard was also altered to show the most recent NWSL scores.

The game itself was a mildly entertaining one, but more-so for Bay FC fans than for the 35,000-strong in the stands. The visitors controlled possession and were a consistent threat to goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who was forced into some acrobatic stops. Chicago got a second wind in the second half, but couldn’t recover after conceding a second goal. Penelope Hocking’s fine finish in stoppage time wasn’t enough to earn the hosts a point, but it did give the raucous crowd something to celebrate before the full time whistle.

The Red Stars’ Future is in Chicago

There were a lot of footballing takeaways for manager Lorne Donaldson to consider after the match, but the major conclusions reached in the post-game press conference were regarding the fans and the venue. The Jamaican tactician, who took charge at the start of this season, praised the organization of the event. “I want to really thank the people of Chicago for showing up,” says Donaldson. “Laura Ricketts and everyone who was involved, they did a fantastic job.”

The general consensus amongst everyone involved at the club is that a permanent move to Chicago proper is imperative. Penelope Hocking, the Red Stars’ only goalscorer of the night, reiterated this, saying that “we want a stadium in the city.” Seatgeek Stadium’s flaws are not lost on the striker either: “It’s so hard for people to get to Bridgeview, it’s been such a problem over the years.”

Hocking recognizes how important the Wrigley Field match was in the plan to bring women’s football to Chicago on a full-time basis, claiming that “we’ll get the support we need if we get a stadium in the city, this is just the beginning.” There’s no denying that an all-time NWSL record attendance will help convince investors to commit to the project.

Whatever ultimately happens with the stadium situation, the Red Stars have shown just how popular they are or can be in their (nominal) home city. Women’s football is on the up and as Hocking puts it, “people want to watch women’s sports.” Now, it’s on city officials and club ownership to give Windy City residents the opportunity more often.

Related articles



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share article

Latest articles