Let's talk business. We would all rather talk about the Fire's roster... then again it only has 17 players so actually yeah, yeah, let's talk business. Yesterday, Best Buy announced they would not be renewing their sponsorship for the 2011 season. The headline for my story might have read like a panic but I doubt the team will have trouble finding a sponsor to meet their price unless they are looking for $15M or so. If the Fire were truly worried, you have to think they would have demanded an earlier commitment deadline from Best Buy so the club could have the maximum amount of time to make the maximum amount of money. I wouldn't be surprised if this announcement didn't come sooner because the two sides were still trying to work something out.
For of all the nightmare stories out there about corporate partnerships, the Best Buy/Fire one always seemed to work well. Best Buy would hosts events, promote the team, and the Fire would promote Best Buy often too. Number one on any wish list for a new sponsor would be the old sponsor with the yellow tag and black lettering. We all know Best Buy is a very sophisticated business with multiple marketing strategies. They got their company name on the shirt when Cuauhtemoc Blanco was on the cover of FIFA 10 so what more could they ask for? Time to move on I guess. Best Buy, it was great working with you.
As for the rest of the list, it's after the break. Let's start off with Groupon.
Groupon was founded right here in Chicago by Andrew Mason. He started Groupon based on anger over a cell phone contract and thinking that he couldn't be the only one facing his issue. He thought if only there was a way everyone facing the same problem could unite their power together, the cell phone company would be in some real trouble. He turned it around into something positive where people could buy one item together in a large group at a heavy discount and Groupon has been rolling ever since. It is the fastest growing company ever and Andrew Mason just turned down Google's offer to buy Groupon for $6 billion dollars. That shows at least a big potential commitment to Chicago and investing as a sponsor in the Chicago Fire would send an even louder message that Groupon intends to stay. As a sponsor on the shirt of the Chicago Fire, Groupon would also be getting their message in front of America's growing soccer fan population that tends to be more urban and locally minded. The timing, the demographics, the in city connection, it's almost too perfect. Some might think there is no point to listing more teams but alas Groupon may not agree so we march on.
AON Corporation was founded and is headquartered here in Chicago. The AON building itself is the third tallest building in Chicago and easily recognizable as the white rectangle box building in the northeast of the Chicago skyline. When they sponsored Manchester United's new jersey with AON emboldened across the front, they unveiled the uniforms right here in Chicago at Niketown. Why not sponsor the Chicago Fire for a lower price than the $30.4 million you are giving to Manchester United? Come to think of it, why not just sponsor the Chicago Fire for $30.4 million too? We could dominate Major League Soccer together AON. Seriously though, if AON Corporation is going to be in the business of sponsoring soccer teams, they should take a hard look at the team right in their own backyard. Patrick Ryan, the founder and CEO of AON in addition to being the chair of the 2016 Chicago Olympic bid, might not want to enter into the international game but that didn't stop them from sponsoring Manchester United, right? Perhaps they want to sponsor another red jersey in their hometown.
3. Old Style
MLS Commissioner Don Graber is generally opposed to alcohol sponsorship. However, the jerseys would say "Old Style". I mean think about that for a second. That might be the best sponsor ever. Instead of running from the jersey because it has a corporate name on it, people would run to buy it. If they came out with a new brew and created a story around it that the recipe was made in 1898 but never released, we could have Old Style '98 on a jersey. Even those who complain about getting 'FIRE' back on the front would love that. Old Style is based in Milwaukee but Chicago is its real home. There are still bars all over Chicago that have the Old Style promotional sign to the point that many that out of town visitors unfamiliar with the brand confuse Old Style as a chain of Chicago bars. That's an honest story. For all of the love Pabst Blue Ribbon gets among hipsters, Old Style could have a real chance to expand their name among young, urban soccer fans around the country. The beer would also be associated with a team located in the South Side of Chicago. Just in terms of a Chicago market move, they would be patching up some dislike from White Sox fans who associate Old Style with years and years of Cubs/Wrigley Field advertising.
McDonald's is headquartered in Oak Brook, IL, not too far from Toyota Park. They are a great Chicago company and they could show that civic commitment by sponsoring the Chicago Fire. Soccer is a sport they are looking to expand into as evidenced by their sponsorship of FIFA's World Cup Fantasy game. Their sponsorship of sports presents them in a healthy lifestyle light regardless of any reality that might suggest otherwise. They certainly have the money, the only question is whether or not they have the desire to reach out to the markets the MLS brings in.
5. Corn Products International
Some of you might be saying 'Who?' but Corn Products International is a large international company located less than 10 miles from Toyota Park in Westchester, IL. I for one wouldn't mind seeing some corn on the Chicago Fire jersey. I think it could be done quite tastefully and would represent Chicago as being in the middle of the heartland. The Fire have fans all over the Midwest due to the lack of Midwestern teams and corn is a big part of the area that makes up Chicago Fire Country. CPI might find it attractive to put their face on a Chicago franchise and reach out to the MLS demographics.
Those are a mix of the five teams I think are the most likely and/or I would prefer the most. I really hope Groupon picks it up. Andrew Mason's interview on Charlie Rose has me thinking he has big plans for Chicago. Andrew, regardless of if you hear this third, fourth, or fifth hand, I think this is a golden opportunity for a strategic alliance. Please give it a thought or two.
In case Mr. Mason is not interested and somewhat for fun, let's run down some other companies that might work.
Huge international company with headquarters in downtown Chicago.
7. Midway Games
That would be a pretty shirt, right? Midway Games across the jersey for a team playing games in the Midwest? Gaming company might want to edge into soccer despite the absolute failure that was Red Card.
Already the sponsor for a saves give away promotion for the Fire. Maybe they would want to give this opportunity to one of the company's they own, Trader Joe's? That would also make for a cool jersey too.
9. Jack Daniels
An uphill battle with the league to get it approved sure, but Jack Daniels is a classic American company located in Chicago Fire Country. Jack Daniels across the jersey wouldn't be too bad either.
10. Grant Thornton
Large Chicago based accounting/consulting firm and a shameless plug for myself. I am not related to anyone there but I wouldn't mind seeing my last name on all the jerseys. I would list Thornton's Gas too but, well I guess I just did.
11. Sony/Playstation 3
They might interested in going up against XBOX360's sponsorship of the Seattle Sounders and the Fire would be the perfect team. Seattle and their pseudo European fanbase attitudes vs. Chicago and the vast Midwestern fan base. Great imagery, I approve.
I mean, after the brilliant Super Mario TIFO from Section 8, how could they not?
They spend advertising money like it grows on trees. I wouldn't mind the jerseys reading 'Progressive' either.
14. Northern Trust
The classic Chicago bank - founded here, owned here, it would be a great civic partnership.
15. Lettuce Entertain You
Chicago based company that would lead to great headline puns. "Fire refuse to entertain you", "Fire wilting like Lettuce"
A true Chicago bar staple, it might be time for them to expand to the broader United States market. The fans of the Chicago Fire have been lining their pockets for quite sometime, perhaps they would like to give back?
How about really kicking it up a notch Toyota? It doesn't have to end at Toyota Park, you could have the jerseys too.
They just bought Chicago based Sara Lee in an effort to expand into the United States market. Perhaps they would like to go all-in with Chicago? We know they sponsor Club America. Who wouldn't love the Bimbo Classic?
19. Five Guys
Actually, they would make a great sponsor for the Chicago Riot or some other Major Indoor League Soccer team... I'm going to drop that crew a note.
A union? Why yes, SEIU's color is purple. The Fire's main colors of blue and red make purple. SEIU has recently launched non-traditional forms of union marketing. Sponsoring the Fire jersey could be added to that list.
I mean, come on, what would look better on the jersey than 'Teamsters'. Now that's a team! SEIU is much larger in Illinois but the imagery would be great.
Might be more toxic for a jersey than Jack Daniels, Malort or Old Style but it is a Chicago founded company. I've seen a mock-up too that was for laughs with the iconic bunny on front.
Again, the headlines and puns would be golden. Great Chicago company to boot.
24. Ace Hardware
Classic Chicago, they aren't on every other corner anymore but I love going into the local Ace whenever I need some nails, sandpaper, what have you.
25. Waste Management
Large Illinois company and again, the puns and language would be great.
Others to consider/likely candidates:
Droid/Motorola, True Value, Wrigley, Abbott Laboratories, Discover, CDW, Walgreen's, Zenith, Whirlpool, General Mills, Wisconsin Energy, Illinois Tool Works, Bridgestone Tires, Continental Airlines.
Time will tell how long this goes on. I'm sure the Fire had some backups in place and it is a great opportunity for any company looking to expand their brand. We might have a new sponsor by Monday.