Sweet Home Chicago: Red Stars Arrive

Girls wrapped in Chicago flagsTeam President Peter Wilt said that the new Chicago Women’s Professional Soccer league team would wrap itself “literally and figuratively” in the Chicago flag.

He was not kidding. Prominently seated at the announcement of the team’s name yesterday were over a dozen young girls curled up in Chicago city flags, with their blue and white stripes and four red stars each representing a historic moment in the city’s history.

Then, as music from Chicago blared appropriately and confetti was fired in the air, the name and logo of the team was announced: the Chicago Red Stars, their logo derived from that Chicago city flag. They will begin play in April 2009.

Civic pride, something Chicago is not short of, is the identity the team wants to build upon in an even more direct way than the previous soccer team Peter Wilt founded in this city, the Chicago Fire.

The logo was deliberately designed not to scream only “women’s soccer”, but to have a meaning that would appeal to a broader constituency and to that Chicago civic pride.

The Red Stars, Wilt said, intend to reach beyond the traditional women’s soccer audience: to embrace young adults, ethnic communities, the gay and lesbian community, traditional soccer supporters and the corporate dollar.

Red Stars Banner

Without a large marketing budget, the Red Stars will focus on developing an organic online presence, led by Peter Wilt’s revealing blog, building from the ground up. And ticket prices will not scare anyone away. Season tickets start as low as $99 – under ten dollars a game, for the team’s matches at Toyota Park, also the home of the Chicago Fire.

Inevitably, the question of how the new WPS league differs from the previous women’s professional league in the United States (the WUSA) was raised in the press conference that followed the announcement. General Manager Marcia McDermott, who experienced the WUSA firsthand, said that the league’s business plan was leaner and smarter than the WUSA, which attracted good crowds but sank as it had overreached itself on expenditure.

Meanwhile, Wilt expressed his pleasure that, compared to the skepticism which had surrounded the launch of the expansion Chicago Fire in the nascent MLS, he’d already received strong support from across the city for the venture. The packed crowd and considerable media presence at the announcement bodes well for the team’s launch, as does admirable assistance from MLS both league-wide and in this case, from the cooperation of the Chicago Fire and Toyota Park.

And hiring as Head Coach Emma Hayes, formerly the first team coach of England’s omnipotent Arsenal Ladies, represents quite a coup.

Red Stars confetti

League-wide, progress amongst the existing seven teams (an eighth franchise, Philadelphia, will join the league in 2010) is widely varied. The resurrected Boston Breakers seem to be set to go, for example, but concerns surround a couple of other teams, still lacking names and key staff ten months from kick-off.

In Chicago, though, those thoughts were far from everyone’s minds. The champagne flowed whilst Wilt welcomed every attendee personally, smiling kids ran around still wrapped in their Chicago city flags, and local supporters embraced the nation’s latest professional soccer team, the Chicago Red Stars.

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