Chicago Fire, Red Stars welcome some fans back into stadiums a year after playing behind closed doors


Photo courtesy of Soccer Stadium Digest

The Chicago Red Stars are getting ready to welcome fans back into SeatGeek Stadium for limited capacity.

Chicago soccer fans will get to enjoy seeing their favorite teams in person this summer as both the Chicago Red Stars and Chicago Fire will allow a limited number of fans in their stadiums. 

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) announced that the start of the season is set to begin on May 15 with the Red Stars opening their campaign on the road before playing their home opener against NJ/NY Gotham FC a week later. 

“In accordance with Illinois health and safety guidelines, fans will be allowed to attend Chicago Red Stars home matches at a reduced capacity starting with the team’s home opener on May 22,” the club stated in a press release.

With the Cubs and White Sox being allowed to have fans in their ballparks, soccer fans in the city were hopeful that they too would be afforded the same opportunity.

“I was optimistic going into this season,” said Fire and Red Stars fan Jeffrey Thoman. “The Red Stars have an outdoor stadium and knowing the vaccine progress, it made my belief more secure.”

Other fans, like Steve Dennis, were less certain about being able to watch the team in person, but made the plunge to become season ticket holders with that hope in mind.

“We were unsure about the season happening, but [we] did buy the tickets back in December as a Christmas gift for my daughter,” Dennis said. “The Red Stars made it clear that they would try to adapt to the changing pandemic restrictions and refunds or transfer would be available in some form.”

The Fire already played their home opener against the New England Revolution back on April 17 with 8,102 supporters in attendance, according to the Chicago Tribune.

One of the main concerns with fans back in stadiums is trying to ensure they follow the Covid-19 guidelines. Thoman, who was one of the 8,102 Fire fans in attendance, saw mixed results when it came to fans adhering to the set guidelines.

“The Fire opener was great,” Thoman said. “I have United Club seats and noticed everything was well spaced out. Most fans adhered to guidelines, but some groups did not. It did not affect my experience and the atmosphere was electric — if a bit muted due to lower capacity.”

Both clubs have released protocols fans must follow when attending games. 

For the Fire, some of the protocols include mandatory face covering for fans ages two and older and mobile ticketing. Tailgating, a significant part of the pregame experience, is prohibited.

The Red Stars’ protocols will require everyone who enters SeatGeek Stadium to wear a mask and those who refuse will be turned away. In terms of tailgating, it will be subject to state guidelines and be evaluated month by month.

While fans will be able to attend Red Stars games, it might not be for the entire season for non-season ticket holders. The club is set to hold off on the release of single game tickets for games starting in August to “ensure they are making the best seats available and providing the best experience possible.”

Perhaps an overlooked benefit is how the game will come across on television with supporters back in the stadium. Broadcasts tried to recreate the atmosphere of a game with artificial crowd noise, but it left much to be desired. 

“The artificial crowd noise used by some networks last season was awful,” said Fire supporter Dan Nelson. “I preferred getting the on-field audio to hear the coaches and players more. The atmosphere conveyed on the broadcast from the 17th [home opener] was much better.”

In some respects, the return of fans symbolizes things “getting back to normal,” so to speak. It started with baseball, now with soccer and soon with the Chicago Bulls and basketball.

Aside from being able to acquire tickets, a person’s comfort level and whether or not they’ve been vaccinated will determine their decision to watch a game in person.

“I’m at a level now where I personally feel protected, and that’s mainly because I am fully vaccinated,” Thoman said. “But I will always wash my hands before touching my face wherever I go.”

For others, being able to regain that feeling of connection with their favorite team, player or sense of community with their fellow supporters is going to play a role, while keeping in mind we’re still in the middle of a pandemic.

“Right now, we’ll be happy to go to a game and be outside in the atmosphere with the fans and players,” Dennis said. “My daughter is the real reason for our support and she hopes to get as close as she can to some of her idols, like Alyssa Naeher. I’m not too bothered about additional in-stadium experiences if they compromise the pandemic comfort/safety levels — that can wait till next year.”