'Women in sports have always been there': Behind the Chicago Red Stars' Wrigley Field takeover music video

NWSL history will be made in Chicago next month, so Squad Depth spoke to Havas Creative to learn more about the project promoting it.

'Women in sports have always been there': Behind the Chicago Red Stars' Wrigley Field takeover music video
Tatumn Milazzo and Jameese Joseph are ready for the ball game | Courtesy of the Chicago Red Stars

I would challenge anyone to walk through Wrigley Field and feel nothing.

Built in 1914, even on a non-matchday, one can almost hear echoes unfurling out of the concrete and metal.

Collective memories live and breathe through the tunnels and alcoves, on the old seats, and across the immaculate grass on Chicago's North side.

Over the past 110 years, the American classic has primarily been known as the home of men's baseball team the Chicago Cubs. But now, there's a new club popping in to briefly adopt the moniker of 'home team'.

On June 8, NWSL club the Chicago Red Stars will make their debut by bringing football to the stadium in a match against Bay FC. The match will make also mark 80 years since a women's sports team last played at Wrigley, following the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War Two.

Of note, the Red Stars are owned by Laura Ricketts, who is – along with her family – a controlling member of the Cubs' ownership group. Her soccer team currently plays its home matches at a soccer stadium 15 miles Southwest of the city centre, in the suburb of Bridgeview.

The NWSL club was explicit in its mission for the Wrigely game. They want to break a league attendance record by selling out the stadium (41,000) while also amplifying the importance of the Red Stars and their connection to the city of Chicago.

"This once-in-a-lifetime experience wouldn’t be possible without incredible women paving the way," said Red Stars president Karen Leetzow. "This campaign honors their stories and furthers the conversations around equity and leveling the playing field to make women’s soccer more accessible to Chicagoans."

To help achieve this, the Red Stars enlisted the help of Havas Creative.

On a Friday afternoon in April, the Red Stars took a meeting with creative director Michelle Underwood and quickly the wheels started spinning.

"It's these women taking this place, this space. Taking over, asserting themselves. And, you know, reminding us that women in sports have always been there...like even 100 years ago," Underwood told Squad Depth last week.

Quickly after that first meeting, Underwood decided to float an idea that was a riff on baseball musical staple 'Take Me Out To The Ball Game.' But what started as a musical nod, simply swapping out baseball for soccer iconography, quickly became much deeper.

A copywriter on the Havas team discovered, via a Smithsonian article, that the original song, written in 1908 by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer, was in fact about a young women who wanted to attend a baseball game.

"It was just so shocking that, despite singing it hundreds of times, we just didn't know that. So that was a really fun part of this discovery," said Underwood. "It's just really cool to think about. Like, a song painting the picture of a sports fan, a woman like that. And from so long ago it was really inspiring."

The women in question is Katie Casey. A baseball obsessive, in 1908, who didn't want to go to the theatre or the ballet, but instead wanted to ride the subway to a sporting stadium. A place where she could shriek and yell, and resist the norms of the early 20th century.

A depiction of Katie Casey reading about baseball from the National Baseball Archive

Four days after their first meeting, Underwood pitched the song and video to Leetzow while she was driving through Chicago in her car. Instantly the Red Stars president felt the vision, and pushed the promotion into production.

"Riot Grrl, punk music, Veruca Salt"

Havas wanted to put a modern spin on a timeless classic. And by doing so, drew connections to feminist messages both past and present.

"We we wanted to make sure it was a unique version, it was a new rendition, but still paying homage to that kind of sing-song melody that we all know. So we worked with our partners at Storefront Music," explained Underwood.

"I'm a little 90s alternative girl and when I think about girl power, I think about 'Riot Grrl', punk music, Veruca Salt. Anything alternative and gritty. They brought us such an amazing version of it. And we continued making tweaks like making the guitars a little bit more angry or making the voices overlap."

Next came the visual component. 17 years into her advertising career, this was Underwood's directorial debut. She, along with fellow Havas creative partner Stacy Burghardt, collaborated with Dakota Sillyman and the Red Stars video team behind the camera.

They were given free roam at Wrigley Field to spend one day shooting with a select group of Chicago players, a hot dog vendor, and some grounds staff making the effervescent 'Red Stars Take Over' video come to life.

"Lots of inspirations came from Beyonce's 'Lemonade', and things where we see women in their power," Underwood beamed about the video concept.

"We asked the Cubs like, "can we have that mower?" And they're like: "Okay!" I just couldn't believe that they were so open to us really doing almost anything in this sacred place. We were very respectful of the grass and everything, But they were really supportive, because they really believe in it too."

Underwood says there were just 12 days between that first initial meeting with the club and the video shoot, which she says is "super fast" for the industry.

'Take Me Out To The Ball Game (Red Stars version)' took a week to finish at Storefront Music. After the shoot wrapped, there were only 10 days of post-production before an edit was ready to be delivered. All in all, the time from pitch to completion was under one month.

"Every day counts with these ticket sales," Underwood explained about the rapid turnaround. "We just did this adventure as efficiently as possible so that we could get this news out quick. We could have easily spent a lot of time on film craft, making something super gorgeous, down to the pixel, for weeks and months. But it was more urgent to us to feel the rawness of it and get it out to the world so that people can see this game."

Reception and legacy

As of May 10th, 19,000 tickets have been sold for the Red Stars take over of Wrigley. With just under a month still to go, that is about halfway to the target of a selling out the historic ground. Meanwhile, the NWSL attendance record to beat is 34, 130 (Seattle vs. D.C. 2023).

Red Stars head coach Lorne Donaldson is thrilled with how the promotional music video turned out. "I like the song actually, the way they did it. I see some spice in our girls, which is good. It looks like everybody is enjoying themselves, which is how it should be," Donaldson told media this week.

Midfielder Jenna Bike shared the sentiment, complimenting her teammate for their performances on screen. "They're giving us the platform we deserve. And I think our girls who went out and did it did a fantastic job. Our media crew did a great job of putting it all together and setting it up," said Bike.

In 2023, the Red Stars ranked last in the NWSL for average attendance with 4,848. For a long time the club has felt like it hasn't been able to tap into the rich sporting fanbase of the 'Windy City'.

Of course, that doesn't happen without investment. It has been only eight months since Ricketts purchased the Red Stars for $35m with an additional $25m in promised investment capital. The Wrigley game, and the creative promotion behind, is a strong first move in strengthening the links between team and town.

Underwood says that she's disappointed to say that about only 50% of her friends and acquaintances in Chicago are familiar with the Red Stars. But she's hopeful the Wrigley game, and Havas' work alongside it, will change that moving forward.

"It's been really cool to talk to people about the project, because I do think that a lot of Chicagoans just don't know [about the Red Stars]," said Underwood.

"I have been really proud to help spread the news of another amazing team that we have in in the city. I think that this is such a perfect stage, an opportunity for people to learn about them. The Red Stars have definitely been the best kept secret.

"I will continue refreshing those comments [on the video] because they give me life. I've seen a lot of people in the comments, tagging friends to say, "Hey, stay an extra weekend." Or, "Ooh, let's go grab tickets." And I'm like, okay, it's working."

Katie Casey would be proud.