Chicago Lands NISA Expansion Club

Published Nov 5, 2020

NISA announced today that a Peter Wilt led group has landed an expansion slot and will begin play in the Fall of 2021.

Wilt said that his Chicago club - it is yet to be named - will reflect its community and values in the Windy City. Chicago will begin play in NISA in the fall of 2021.

"Having teams like the Cosmos, Detroit City, Chattanooga FC, these are great clubs that are authentic clubs that are building the sport in this country," said Wilt, who is the team's managing partner, president and CEO. "We want Chicago NISA in some ways to model some of the things they've done and become a community engaged, grassroots team that's building this organization from the bottom up."

Building the right identity will be vital to the team's launch and ultimate success.

"I'd say it rewards teams and clubs that build an identity and maybe takes risks in order to connect emotionally with the group of fans and that's what we plan to do with Chicago NISA, to take a stance, especially in this day and age, with Black Lives Matter, in particular, but other social causes, LBGTQ rights,” Wilt said. “A team is a community asset in any sport. It's a unique business.

"As a community asset, it’s important that it reflects the values and the ideas of the people that it’s trying to serve and in doing that, it's going to be maybe turn off some people and not appeal to some people and that's ok. I don't believe a sports team, a soccer team, should be milquetoast. It shouldn’t try to be neutral and make everybody happy. Maybe NFL teams like to do that because it’s such a broad audience. Soccer isn't that way and I don't think it should be. What we're building in Chicago is going to certainly be defined in some ways in whatever geography we end up at."

That could be SeatGeek Stadium in suburban Bridgeview, Ill., where the Chicago Fire (Major League Soccer) called home for 14 years and the venue that the Chicago Red Stars (National Women's Soccer League) calls home.

"There are other venues in Chicagoland and I'm eager to see what the fans have to say. We're giving them a multiple choice and another listing."

Fans also will have a say in the team's colors and nickname.

The team plans to hold a fan-driven process to determine the name on its website. It will start with 68 team names and two play-in to start with 64 candidates and continue to whittle it down as an NCAA March Madness Bracket each week until there is one name.

"It's an advisory poll," Wilt said. "We're really going to take the fans' desires into consideration. We did the same thing with Forward Madison."

Wilt was the driving force behind the creation of Forward Madison (Wis.), which competes in USL League One.

"It was the fans that proposed Forward Madison and it was the fans that ultimately voted it to be their top choice," he said. "Our ownership agreed with it and so we went with Forward Madison, which turned out to be a very popular name and brand. The name of the team is just one aspect of the brand. The brand is the identity. It's what you live every day. It's alive. It’s a living organism. Whatever that name ends up being, I certainly hope that is it something that connects with Chicago, but that identity will be something that grows and builds.”

One of the club's goals is that it will become partially fan owned.

"Largely it will be up to the fans to engage in dialogue to see if that’s what they want," Wilt said. "It's not a traditional business."

Wilt has forged a reputation as being the Johnny Appleseed of soccer in the United States, having been involved with seven other start-ups. That includes the Fire and Red Stars.

Given the Windy City's population and diversity, Wilt said the city had plenty of room for several pro soccer clubs.

"Chicago is a mega-market like New York and LA," he said. "Those other two markets, there's actually six outdoor pro men's soccer teams, two in MLS, two in USL Championship and two in NISA in each market. Chicago on the other hand, has only one. So, there's a void in the marketplace. Chicago is a city that can support more than two, at least three or four, maybe even six pro soccer teams, certainly at different levels."

In 2017, Wilt helped form NISA with his late business partner, Jack Cummins.

"When I left, I honestly thought the league wasn't going to survive, but some right-minded people coalesced to build this, something that looks like is going to be sustainable," he said. "To be able to come back and work with those folks and help in those efforts is very gratifying."

NISA's open system and its embracing of independent club soccer is what Wilt loves most about the league.

"[NISA’s] ambition is to reward its teams by meritocracy and what we're talking about promotion and relegation," he said. "If you build a team the right way and its successful, you will be rewarded and promoted to the second division. Ultimately, I see a day in the not too distant future perhaps when there's even a first division league in the structure that NISA teams can be promoted to. That, at its core, is what's attractive about NISA."