DeKALB – The last time the NIU Football team played a Chi-Town Showdown game, it was a conference game at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago in 2016.
This time around, it's a grass soccer field in Bridgeview.
The school announced that its Saturday, October 24 game against BYU will take place at SeatGeek Stadium.
NIU athletic director Sean Frazier said that NIU was steadfast in maintaining the hold on five games in DeKalb for the upcoming football season, as well as in future seasons, but that he wanted to be flexible with a sixth game given the options to take advantage of the Chicago media market while also appealing to the region's large alumni base.
In a standard 12-game regular season, that would mean the Huskies would play less than half their games on their home field.
Rather than have big-name BYU on campus, the Huskies will host the Cougars in Bridgeview.
“We struggled with that little bit," Frazier said. "If we didn’t have that extra (sixth) game that we had here at home, it probably would have been a different decision because I want to make sure that our fan base has a chance to come to DeKalb and come to NIU, but I think having that extra game, I had to look myself in my good eye and ask what’s a good thing competitively for us to do?”
For Frazier, the decision was one that made sense in terms of weighing the positives and negatives. One obvious negative being, moving a game with a marquee opponent away from DeKalb in favor of trying to appeal to more fans in the Chicago area and region while attempting to expand NIU's brand as well as the attention that comes with such a game.
“For our ability to have recruiting viability, for our donors, supporters, and fans, I’d be foolish not to compete in the third-largest media market in the country to have an ability to utilize that," Frazier said. "Right now we’re utilizing it to a certain degree, but to play games in Chicago proper is going to benefit NIU.”
The second edition of the Huskie Chi-Town Showdown will be held at the 20,000-seat stadium in Bridgeview — a village in the south suburbs about 20 minutes from Chicago proper — formerly the home of the MLS Chicago Fire and current home of the NWSL Chicago RedStars.
“It has to be on a Saturday too, but with the Tuesday night with the Chi-Town Showdown with Toledo, we really drew almost double the amount that we had here in DeKalb," Frazier said. "So taking a look at that and taking look at options for the fan base, not being myopic about one thing, not taking any games away here in DeKalb, especially for the last few years we’ve had five home games, let’s go back to Chicagoland. We haven’t been back to Chicagoland for a while.”
The attendance for the 2016 version of the Chi-Town Showdown against Toledo drew an attendance of 10,180. NIU's 2018 home win over Toledo on a weeknight drew 5,887 in attendance.
Transportation packages for fans from DeKalb (NIU) to SeatGeek Stadium will be available through the NIU Alumni Association with details to be announced as they are finalized.
NIU head coach Thomas Hammock said the opportunity to play a game in Chicagoland aligns well with the program’s commitment to recruiting the area.
“In terms of recruiting, we consider Chicago our home,” Hammock said in a press release. “The opportunity to play a game in the city at a stadium that has never hosted a college football game before is going to be special for our team.”
Frazier echoed Hammock's sentiment about what he believes the game does for recruiting the region.
'"This is a huge deal to use Jordan Lynch, our famed Heisman Trophy candidate and having Mount Carmel down the road and having all the other schools taking a look at that, and then doing some of those things, those are big doings for us to be able to have that type of presence there and to have right down the road and for folks to have access to that, it’s a big deal," Frazier said.
SeatGeek Stadium, according to Google Maps, is a 13-mile drive to Mt. Carmel High School, where Lynch is the head football coach and his brother, Temple commit Justin Lynch, is the quarterback. It lists the drive as 43 minutes.
Tickets for the 2020 Huskie Chi-Town Showdown are priced at $25 each for NIU season ticket members while general public pricing is $35 per ticket.
NIU students will receive a free ticket to the 2020 Huskie Chi-Town Showdown, as they do for all home games at Huskie Stadium. A limited number of student guest tickets for the BYU game will be available for $25 each.
“We have to make sure we take care of our season-ticket members and we have to make sure our fan base has a good time," Frazier said.
More details on student tickets and student guest tickets, as well as student transportation options, will be available in the fall.
“I’m totally aware that people want everything in one thing in one place at one time and how it is, but there’s no such thing as standing still," Frazier said. "You’re either moving forward or you’re moving back. I’ve always said that. This is one that we strategically have put ourselves in an advantage to have this venue and to give our fan base options. This was about giving our fan base options and giving our program a competitive advantage.”
NIU will play five home games at Huskie Stadium in 2020, equaling the number of games the Huskies have played in DeKalb in each of the past two seasons.
According to Frazier, NIU had to consider not only the logistical side of seating and how accommodating the venue will be for the game, but also an ability to expand NIU's footprint with a game in a new venue.
“It’s a place we haven’t been before," Frazier said. "We’ve been to Soldier Field. We’ve been to Guaranteed (Rate Field) We want to keep spreading that Chi-Town Showdown around Chicagoland proper.”
The upcoming game at SeatGeek Stadium will mark the fifth time the Huskies have played a home game in Chicago or the suburbs dating back to 2007, including the Toledo game, the 2012 Iowa Game at Soldier Field, the 2011 Wisconsin game at Soldier Field and the 2007 Iowa game at Solider Field.
“We still have a lot more coming to DeKalb," Frazier said. "Understanding with Vanderbilt (2022) and Maryland (2025) and some of those other schools that are still yet to come to DeKalb, this was a way taking a look at the schedule and where we are securing wise and what we’re trying to get done attendance-wise, this was a no-brainer for us.”