Sitting down to talk with Julian Posada, you get the distinct sense that he’s no longer “new”. Having been on the job for nearly four months, that adjective can surely be removed from all lead-ins to the current Chicago Fire President’s title.
The former Café Media boss’ appointment last September as the fifth President in the club’s 13-year history caught some off guard because, while showing proven success in the media realm, he had never run a sports organization.
“Like with any job there are challenges,” said Posada. “I’ve spent time getting up to speed on MLS and learning how a soccer team works and operates. I’ve also worked to get a good handle on the mechanics of how to run a sports team and how difficult it is, but how rewarding it can be. I’ve been working to understand the needs of the customers – I think I still have a long way to go, but in the first four months it’s just been a lot of listening, trying to understand what our fans want and what the community needs are.”
One change that Posada has already effectively enacted is compelling staff to think outside the box -- an edict that came straight from the top from Chicago Fire owner Andrew Hauptman.
“Andrew was asking, ‘How do you force folks to question everything?’. So one of the things we’ve driven home through all departments is to challenge ourselves to think differently. I’ve told our staff to look at how we communicate and ways we can move faster. I think that will help build the plumbing for success in the future. We’ve worked really hard to get that in the offseason, unfortunately it might not be visible to those outside, but internally it will help the organization run more efficiently.”
The role of MLS club president isn’t necessarily a defined one. Though the generally function are similar, those around the league all have different descriptions compared to each other and the same can be said when comparing to club presidents abroad.
Posada sees his day-to-day role in three core functions.
“Spending time with your constituency – whether that be in the community, with organizations that are supporting the Fire or your media partners. I use constituencies in the broadest sense but a lot of it is just continuing the partnerships and having an open door policy where people can come and we can push the agenda forward.”
As a staffer in the Chicago Fire office, I can attest that Posada’s door, whether in a meeting, in there alone or gone for the day is open a majority of the time. He is indeed extremely accessible and always willing to listen and discuss ideas with his employees.
“I try spending time with the staff. This is an incredibly time consuming job that doesn’t really pay well. You don’t go work for a sports team because you want to make a lot of money or you expect to be compensated well. You go into it because you have a love of the sport or a love of the job. I try to spend time with the people that are doing all the work and running around.”
While he jokes he spends probably five per cent of his time going to and from meetings, one clear role for Posada and every MLS president is that of revenue generation.
“Another chunk of the day is really supporting the sales function and that really means how we’re driving season tickets, suites and corporate sales. It’s critical that all of our staff are doing this because that area supports the financial health of the business.”
Having more season ticket holders is a good thing, but a lot of the challenge is keeping a season ticket holder happy. While the club has taken unprecedented steps since September in offering impressive benefits to entice more fans to become season ticket holders, it has also undertaken the task of improving the fan experience on game day to keep season ticket holders coming back.
“Fan experience for us is a process we’re working through to figure out what’s relevant and what we hope people to see is fans feeling a little bit closer to staff in order to be more responsive to their concerns.”
“We are aggressively teaching new approaches to work with our vendors and our third-party people so that we’re addressing their needs head-on in a proactive way. We’ve started already meeting with our key vendors that I know are part of that experience – whether that’s food, security or parking – which we know are issues. We’re not going to solve them all. We started talking in December about improving that experience. We’re meeting now before the season starts to be proactive and to build that bridge, bringing those vendors into the Fire offices so that we can respond faster to folks. I think those are some casual ways to start addressing the issues – we won’t solve all the problems but we will be closer because we have them closer to us.”
First Team Involvement
While club presidents around the world have a much more hand’s on approach with the first team, it’s not nearly the same in MLS. In this area, Posada sees his role as it relates to the technical affairs of the team as a supportive one.
“My involvement in team affairs is really still at a distance. The Technical Staff – Frank [Klopas], Caddy [Paul Cadwell] and Carlos [de los Cobos] make all the team decisions. With Mike Jeffries coming along, there is a good staff in place to handle those matters. My role with the first team is to make sure the infrastructure is there for them to do what they need to.”
Though he’s not in charge of signing players, Posada is still bringing change to the way the first team interacts with the front office, making sure both parties are more engaged with the other.
“One of the key initiatives for us going into 2011 is developing a better relationship with the first team. Whether it’s full staff meetings between the front office and the first team or team building activities that allow for the two parties to get to know each other better and understand individual issues in a much more timely way.
One particular area we’ve been working on is a much more integrated on-boarding process for how we work with the players, whether foreign or domestic, when they first come into the team. What we hope that does is translate into a place where our players feel like they’re being supported and also the front office feels like the players understand that we work hard to make them feel comfortable here.”
In One Year…
From a business and relationship perspective, Posada has high but achievable goals for the Fire to shoot for. I asked him what he would expect to be talking about if we did an interview again when he’s had more than a year of work and his first full season under his belt.
“I expect the club to have a much higher season ticket base that allows us to keep growing and sharing the experience that we’re creating. I think we have very firm relationships with organizations that value soccer and those are mutually beneficial relationships on both sides. I think people would really understand that from a management perspective, you can ask, and we might not always do it, there is a process in which fans can approach the staff and that there’s a way in which your voices will be heard and we’ll figure out how to implement concerns.
That aside, I expect to have a winning way in working with players in the front office that is enviable around Major League Soccer.”
Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.