The ownership of Chicago Red Stars today issued a letter to their fans announcing they will suspend play for the 2011 season, while looking for additional investors to resume competition the following season.
The announcement comes as no surprise since the Red Stars were unable to meet financial requirements on Nov. 15 and were given an additional month to post the required escrow to guarantee their payroll in order to remain in the league.
Unlike previous clubs to cease WPS competition: Los Angeles, St. Louis and the Bay Area's FC Gold Pride, the Red Stars will keep their organization intact and expressed their intention to hold some activities in the Chicago market as a way of maintaining contact with the fans.
The owners' statement expressed ambivalence about giving up, but said they owe it to their players to give them opportunities to play in the league for other clubs before the free agent signing deadline, and to other clubs to finalize their schedules.
Although Chicago did not represent well in the standings in either year of their existence, they have a stable of talent that other WPS clubs will be quick to sign, including Spanish international Veronica Bouquete, midfielders Casey Nogueira, Ella Masar, Megan Rapinoe and defenders Natalie Spilger and Whitney Engen, among others.
The Red Stars enjoyed a faithful and passionate fan base but were unable to build their following and, in fact, saw attendance decrease from year one (2009) to year two (2010). Sources inside the organization indicated that an average attendance of 5,000 was the minimum needed to keep the club afloat. That mark was missed by more than 1,000.
If the club is to return for 2012 they will have to find a better venue. Toyota Park is too large and too far from the suburban demographic that was the core of their supporters. It is no doubt also more expensive than a smaller venue would be.
They will also have to find a major corporate sponsor to help carry them for a few years until they have the ability to increase fan support and attendance. A key factor in their lack of growth was their budgetary limitations that precluded mass market advertising. A major corporate sponsor could have provided that.