For all of the excitement the new-look Chicago Fire FC was hoping to generate with its move to its new home along the city’s lakefront, the debut – along with seemingly every other sporting event – has been put on hold.
At a time when the coronavirus pandemic has suspended sporting life as America knows it, when professional sports returns both to the country and to the nation’s third largest market remains anyone’s best guess.
On Thursday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that he is recommending that the owners of the city’s professional sports franchises either shut down or play in front of spectators until as late as May 1.
The news, which was broken by The Athletic, was announced officially in a joint press conference involving Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle.
Pritzker told reporters he had spoken with each of the city’s professional sports franchises he had spoken with “completely understood” and are willing to comply with his recommendation. Exactly when the NBA, NHL, MLS and Major League Baseball either return to action or begin their respective seasons has not yet been determined.
Of the city’s five professional sports franchises – three ranked in the 2019 Forbes Top 50 list of the world’s most valuable organizations. The Cubs tied for No. 14 with a value of $3.1 billion (up 7 percent from 2018) while the Bulls and Bears tied each other for the 19 th spot, each valued at $2.9 billion.
The Fire, who are currently involved in Major League Soccer’s current 30-day postponement, were scheduled to play their first match at Soldier Field – also the home of the Chicago Bears – on April 21. The franchise announced this week that it will honor all tickets for whenever the home opener is rescheduled.
“We all share in the health and well-being of our community,” team president Nelson Rodriguez said in a statement issued by the franchise.
The Cubs were scheduled to open their home schedule on March 30 against the Pirates at Wrigley Field, but after Major League Baseball announced the start of its regular season will be postponed for at least two weeks, it remains unclear when the historic ballpark’s gates will open.
Cubs president Theo Epstein told reporters on Thursday that he had heard that such a decision by the governor’s office could be coming.
“It seems like a number of municipalities across Major League Baseball have given directives to the teams about not using the facilities,” Epstein said. “I think it’s wise for us to follow the direction of the municipalities and Major League Baseball as a whole is obviously factoring that in with what is and isn’t possible going forward.”
Cubs owner chairman Tom Ricketts agreed but said that the health of everyone involved remains the top priority as the country continues to deal with the consequences of the ongoing COVID-19 issue. In Illinois, there are currently 32 documented cases of coronavirus.
Ricketts said that he hoped baseball could return to Wrigley Field “soon”, but that the Cubs would work with local and state officials to continue to monitor the situation.
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn told reporters on Friday that while when the Major League season will begin is unknown, the expectation among baseball officials that the season will still be played in its entirety. But like others whose business of sports is one that is currently on hold, Hahn said that the measures being taken currently are the right move.
The White Sox were slated to play their first home game on March 26 against the Royals.
“It makes sense for the greater good of society as a whole to delay (the start of the season) for a period of time,” Hahn told reporters on a conference call on Friday. “We know where we fit in and we look forward to, when the time is right, bringing a great deal of happiness to people who will certainly be missing this game and in need of something to pick them up in all probability.”
Hahn added: “We know when we will all get through this. We know there’s another side of this at some point. We know we will be playing baseball games again and we know it’s going to be an exciting era for White Sox baseball in the not too distant future.”