'Unfair': Riot Fest forces Chicago Red Stars to move game

Chicago Red Stars break NWSL attendance record (0:16)

Playing at Wrigley Field, the Chicago Red Stars and Bay FC set a new NWSL attendance record with over 35,000 fans. (0:16)

Four days after setting a new single-game attendance record for the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), the relocation of a September music festival has bumped the Chicago Red Stars from their usual home stadium.

The Red Stars were scheduled to host San Diego Wave FC on Sept. 21, but event organizers for the three-day music festival Riot Fest announced on Wednesday that the Red Stars' home, SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois, will host the event from Sept. 20-22. That leaves the stadium unavailable to the Red Stars.

"It is unfair and unfortunate to have our club put in this situation, shining a light on the vast discrepancies in the treatment of women's professional sports versus men's sports," Red Stars president Karen Leetzow said in a statement.

"We are committed to ensuring our players and fans have a first-rate experience on and off pitch, and we are working diligently to find a solution that will ensure our Sept. 21 game is a success."

Chicago set the NWSL attendance record on Saturday with a crowd of 35,038 fans at Wrigley Field, the team's first game at the hallowed baseball stadium. New Red Stars majority owner Laura Ricketts is co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, who call Wrigley Field home.

Since purchasing the Red Stars last year, Ricketts has been vocal that SeatGeek Stadium is not a long-term solution for the team. She has pushed publicly in recent months for the Red Stars to be part of the conversation around any public funding that goes toward sports stadiums, as the NFL's Bears and MLB's White Sox look for money to go toward new facilities.

"We knew right from the beginning -- like, rewind back almost a year and a half ago when we started considering acquiring the Red Stars -- we knew that the current [stadium] situation was not the ultimate long-term solution," Ricketts told ESPN recently. "And really, the key to unlocking the door for this organization would be to solve that."

SeatGeak Stadium opened in 2006 as the home of MLS' Chicago Fire, but its suburban Chicago location and lack of access to public transportation made it a hard sell for fans. The Fire moved back to Soldier Field in 2020.

News of the Red Stars' issue underscores both a dire stadium situation in Chicago and a league-wide problem with most NWSL teams being second- or third-choice tenants in their home venues.

Angel City FC, one of the league's most popular teams, had to reschedule its 2024 season opener weeks before the scheduled date in March because of an "unforeseen scheduling conflict." There was another event taking place in Exposition Park that day -- not even in BMO Stadium, where MLS' LAFC is the first-choice tenant.

NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman has been vocal recently about facilities issues being near or at the top of the list for clubs to solve. She told ESPN in a recent interview that ownership of facilities will be a major factor in determining which group the league chooses for its 16th team. That decision will be made later this year; bids were due last Friday.

"The bar is even higher than I thought it could be in 2024," Berman told ESPN. "And I think our ownership groups want to really expedite their ability to figure out how to control their own destiny, which means you have to have priority in your building.

"It makes running a business really hard when virtually the whole league are tenants."

The Kansas City Current opened CPKC Stadium in March and has sold out every home game thus far in the 11,500-seat stadium. It is the first stadium built specifically for an NWSL team.

All other NWSL teams rent their stadiums and share those facilities with various men's sports teams, ranging from MLS to NFL and college football.