Chicago Red Stars schedule summer match at Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field, the iconic baseball stadium and home to MLB’s Chicago Cubs, will host a National Women’s Soccer League match for the first time on June 8 when the Chicago Red Stars play Bay FC.

Hosting a match at Wrigley Field is part of an effort to make the Red Stars “more accessible to sports fans in Chicago,” the team said in a press release.

Since 2016, the Red Stars have played home games at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois, 15 miles southwest of downtown Chicago. They averaged 4,848 fans in 2023, the worst in the NWSL. MLS’ Chicago Fire moved out of SeatGeek Stadium — which was primarily built for that team in 2006 — after the 2019 season in an attempt to restore its fan base.

Laura Ricketts, of the Ricketts family that also owns the Cubs, became majority owner of the Red Stars in August as part of a $35.5 million purchase of the team. She said then that the stadium situation needed to be addressed.

“The stadium and the location is one of the biggest challenges slash opportunities for this team and absolutely something that we’re going to be looking at,” Ricketts said at the time, noting that the team’s lease there ran through 2025.

“The ideal place would be much closer to the city, perhaps in the city. These are all things we are going to look at. It’s definitely a challenge slash opportunity — perhaps the biggest challenge slash opportunity for this team. It’s going to require work. It’s not daunting to me at all because of the experience that I’ve had with the Cubs, but it will be work and it will take time.”

Ricketts and new Red Stars president Karen Leetzow have recently lobbied for the team to be part of any conversations around public funding for new sports stadiums, which are currently being sought by Chicago’s other MLB team, the White Sox, and its NFL team, the Bears. The Fire also needs a longer-term solution after moving back to Soldier Field.

The Red Stars have reportedly done preliminary research into potential stadium sites within Chicago.

“Women’s sports need to have a seat at the table,” Leetzow told the Chicago Tribune. “We need to be in the mix because otherwise we’re just going to end up chasing our tail around how to grow women’s sports.”

The most infamous game in NWSL history was a one-off game played on a minor league baseball field in Rochester, New York, in 2016. The Western New York Flash (now the North Carolina Courage) hosted the Seattle Reign on a 58-yard-wide pitch that was squeezed into the outfield. The match drew global scrutiny and sparked outrage from players and coaches across the league.

The Kansas City Current played a full season of home matches at a minor league baseball stadium in 2021 after launching the franchise only a few months earlier. Last month, the Current opened a mostly privately financed $120 million-plus stadium that is the first built exclusively for an NWSL team.

Wrigley Field has hosted other sports with mixed success, including a 2010 college football game that had to have all offensive plays move toward one end zone due to safety concerns over the tight confines.

The last time a soccer game was played at Wrigley was in 2012, when Italian men’s side AS Roma played a friendly match there on a narrow field. The pitch was reportedly 62 yards wide. A Red Stars spokesperson told ESPN that the field layout will be announced in the future. FIFA recommends a pitch that is 74 yards wide and 115 yards long.

One-off games have been rare to date in the NWSL. In 2022, the NWSL’s Orlando Pride hosted a game on a temporary field built over the racetrack’s pit row at the Daytona Speedway. The game drew fewer than 8,000 fans.

The Red Stars hope that June’s match is the start of building a bridge to a Chicago soccer market that is still largely untapped.

“We look forward to representing our great city and showing Chicago fans and the country how talented this club is and the intense level of competition that exists on the pitch every week in the NWSL and in Chicago’s backyard,” Leetzow said in a statement.

Red Stars captain Alyssa Naeher added: “Wrigley Field is one of the most iconic sports venues in the country. This is a unique opportunity for us to bring further visibility to our team and women’s soccer.

“Chicago has always been an incredible sports town with such a rich history; I can’t wait to compete on the field, under the lights, in front of our dedicated Chicago fans from every part of the city!”