CHICAGO – Chicago Fire fans can expect a big-name friendly in the Windy City this summer and, if all goes to plan, their team will be sporting a brand-new jersey sponsor for the event.
Those were just two topics club owner Andrew Hauptman addressed at his annual media dinner last week, when he candidly discussed his thoughts on a wide range of issues for over two hours.
Hauptman said that a summer friendly against 2011 AT&T MLS All-Star Game opponents Manchester United is his “expectation” and that it could be part of a larger tournament involving several other European teams. He emphasized that all potential summer friendlies will be a part of the season ticket package.
He also updated the jersey sponsor situation, saying that the team is in “serious talks” with multiple companies and that he believes getting a deal done is a matter of when, not if.
However, the heart of last Thursday's conversation dealt with Hauptman’s organizational outlook, with the team owner sharing his thoughts – and moderating discussion – about the first team, the Fire’s footprint in Chicago, and organizational institutions and structure.
His comments revealed an owner who, unsurprisingly, wants to achieve success both on the field and in the books.
[inline_node:109322]“My goals are the same,” he said. “I want to try to win championships, I want to try to build a sustainable growing business and I want to do both in a way that builds a culture that we’re proud of.”
But how does the club get there? Hauptman said it starts with redefining the organizational structures already in place.
“We’ve been attacking every part of the business,” Hauptman said. “Whether it’s on the field or off the field, we’ve been working in terms of transitioning it. We’ve been refining our values, and we’ve been reviewing our procedures and processes, analyzing how we do everything and how we want this business, how we want this club to run.”
Structural redefinition has been most evident in the area of player acquisitions. Keen to avoid mistakes made last season, Hauptman – along with right-hand man Javier León and technical director Frank Klopas – revamped the way the Fire sign players this winter.
They made the process much less reliant on skill alone and much more about how each potential player fits the system and the team’s other players.
“It’s one thing to think about someone’s innate skill or talent and another to think about their character,” Hauptman said. “With that in mind, we changed our level of diligence, our approach to the diligence process as it pertained to signing of new players. That system has been completely overhauled soup to nuts.”
The new structure led to massive roster turnover this offseason, as 11 players from the 2010 team left Toyota Park and 16 new faces were brought into replace them. The newcomers are young and relatively unknown when compared to the big names that left the team, but they fit the system – and each other – much better than their predecessors ever did.
“Our strategy wasn’t, ‘Oh let’s go find the youngest team we can find,’” Hauptman said. “Our strategy was to go get the best players we can find who we feel all mesh together in a system that our technical staff feels can go out and give us the best chance to win.”
Hauptman indicated that he wants to continue restructuring the organization. Whether it’s in player acquisition, ticket sales, or attracting executive talent, he wants to take a hard look at the existing processes and – if necessary – change them so that they’re more conducive to achieving sustained success.
“It’s about building a solid organization,” he said. “One where there’s accountability and an approach that’s consistent in terms of the values the club represents and stands for.”
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.