Chicago Red Stars break NWSL attendance record vs. Bay FC at Wrigley Field

The Chicago Red Stars set the new NWSL attendance record on Saturday, with 35,038 fans in attendance for a match at Wrigley Field, home of MLB’s Chicago Cubs. The Red Stars just surpassed the previous record, set by Seattle Reign FC last season for Megan Rapinoe’s final regular season match in the NWSL, which had 34,130 fans at Lumen Field last October.

“Chicago has truly shown the country what’s possible when we level the playing field with a centrally located stadium that is easy to access, and give these world-class athletes the support they deserve,” Red Stars president Karen Leetzow said. “This historic match is not just momentous for the Red Stars, but for the NWSL and the future of women’s professional soccer. Tonight, Chicago proved once again that fans are hungry to witness the intense level of competition that exists on the pitch every week in the NWSL and around the world.”

The Red Stars scored late in stoppage time but ultimately lost the match to Bay FC 2-1. In better news for Chicago (and the U.S. women’s national team), goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher made her return from injury on Saturday night.

The last time the Red Stars played in Chicago proper was in 2022 at Soldier Field, hosting the San Diego Wave in front of 23,951 fans – a club record. Wrigley Field has a capacity of roughly 41,600, which is 18,000 more than the stadium in Bridgeview.

Historically, the Red Stars have struggled with attendance due to a variety of factors, including playing at facilities far from Chicago’s city center. Before SeatGeek, the Red Stars played at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL from 2013 to 2015, nearly 40 minutes from the city of Chicago. They had the league’s lowest average attendance in 2023 at 4,848 and were the only team to see a drop in average attendance from 2022. Their first home game in 2024 drew 5,494 to SeatGeek.

“Hosting the match at Wrigley Field is an effort to make women’s professional soccer more accessible to sports fans in Chicago,” the team said in the press release announcing the game.

The NWSL side has multiple connections to the baseball team that typically occupies the stadium. Red Stars owner Laura Ricketts, who purchased the club last August, also co-owns the Cubs. Forward Mal Swanson is married to Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson (who left flowers in her locker ahead of the match).

Ricketts has long been aware of the challenge that Seatgeek Stadium poses to the club, with a lease that runs through Dec. 1, 2025. When she first acquired the team, she told The Athletic, “In a sense, it’s a challenge, and in another sense, it’s an opportunity.”

Since then, she has publicly campaigned for equal access to public funding for women’s sports stadiums. The decision to host a match at Wrigley Field may have been a one-off move to prove the viability of the team if more accessible, but it was also a massive sign of ambition from Ricketts and the rest of the investor group.

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(Photo: Daniel Bartel / USA Today)

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