Chicago Fire FC strikes deal with WGN, returns to broadcast TV

The Chicago Fire’s new logo, now knows as “Chicago Fire FC (football club)”.

MLS team brings live sporting events back to WGN.

It may not be one of the four major sporting leagues, but it’s good enough for WGN-TV.

The Nexstar-owned independent station announced Wednesday it has struck a deal with the Chicago Fire (now re-branded as Chicago Fire Football Club, or Chicago Fire FC)  to air 24 games locally beginning March 7 with a game against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., home of the NFL’s New England Patriots. Ten other games are scheduled for national television broadcasts, including ABC, ESPN, UniMas (WXFT), FS1, and Univision.

As part of the deal, WGN plans to air a monthly “all-access” show featuring the team and plans to air a special titled Chicago Fire FC: Homecoming. March 20 at 7 p.m. , a day before the Fire return to Soldier Field to play Atlanta on March 21.

The deal beings the Fire back to over-the-air television in Chicago; in the past, games were shown randomly over WPWR-TV and the former NBC Non-Stop Chicago digital subchannel (now known as Cozi TV.)

“WGN-TV has a rich history of broadcasting live sports and we look forward to continuing and building on that tradition with Chicago Fire FC,” said WGN-TV Vice President and General Manager Paul Rennie. “The Fire have found a new home at Soldier Field and now a new broadcast home at WGN-TV. We’re thrilled to bring the exciting action of Chicago Fire FC to our viewers and all of Chicago.”

“In this transformational year for our Club, we want to provide our fans with as many ways as possible to experience the Fire, both live at Soldier Field and on the broadcast,” said Fire Owner and Chairman Joe Mansueto. “We know WGN-TV’s powerful place on the City’s sports scene and we’re excited to be their new flagship sports property.”

A ceremony bringing the team back to Soldier Field.

The deal is great for both parties. For WGN, it fills a void after losing the rights to all four Chicago sports teams they carried for years – notably the Cubs, whose relationship with the team ended last September after 71 years as they moved to the Marquee Sports Network, effective this Saturday. The station has maintained a hand in the sports business by launching a nightly wrap-up show GN Sports at 10:30 p.m. last month.

For the Fire, the team gains an over-the-air outlet after their most recent deal saw the team banished to streamer ESPN Plus, restricting the reach of the team (ESPN Plus will continue to stream games this season.) The about-face is courtesy of new team owner Mansueto, as the Fire is moving back to Soldier Field for the 2020 season and beyond after 13 years at a money-losing stadium in south suburban Bridgeview. The Fire played in Soldier Field from 1998 to 2005, with the 2002 and part of the 2003 seasons being played in Naperville at Cardinal Stadium due to Soldier Field renovations.

The Fire is hoping to take the same approach the Blackhawks did over a decade ago when the team was looking to expand its fanbase after owner Bill Wirtz died. The team ended the home-blackout policy putting all games on TV and striking a deal with WGN to carry 20 games a season (The Blackhawks, along with former WGN tenants Bulls and White Sox, shifted all of their games to NBC Sports Chicago this season). The team decision to move back to Soldier Field is intended to make it easier for fans to attend Fire games, as the Bridgeview location was too remote for the team’s fan base.

In all, it’s a win-win for everyone involved – WGN gets back into the sports business, the Fire gets more exposure and promotion. Moreover, it’s a big boost for the game of soccer.

But the WGN telecasts will not feature longtime play-by-play voice Dan Kelly, who announced via Twitter he was not coming back this season. Kelly also handled play-by-play duties for the Blackhawks from 2005 to 2008.

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