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Should the Chicago Fire turn to FC Barcelona for inspiration?

As the MLS season draws closer to the First Kick opener and the Chicago Fire continue to be without a jersey sponsor, a mixed reaction emanates from the fan base.  Old school pursuits are praying for an updated jersey that will have the simple 'Fire' across the chest.  Chicago civic nuts are just hoping for the return of the Chicago flag imagery on the 2010 away jerseys.  Some people want to see a simple solo stripe on the front that can be filled in later.  Every Chicago Fire fan wants the return of the famous Chicago flag jersey but a total failure from the Chicago Fire front office, the folks over at adidas or someone else in between results in one of biggest missed opportunities in North American sports.  Meanwhile, Seattle has five jerseys, one of which has duct tape on it.  Wonders never cease...

All of this has me thinking, maybe the Chicago Fire should just give their jersey sponsorship away.  More on this crazy idea after the break.

On September 7, 2006, FC Barcelona shocked the world when they announced they were not only putting a name of their shirt after 107 years, but they were paying someone else in order to do it.  

Futbol Club Barcelona and UNICEF today kicked off a global partnership to benefit children in the developing world... In addition to the UNICEF-branded jersey, Futbol Club Barcelona (FCB) has also agreed to donate at least €1.5 million per year to UNICEF over the next five years to support UNICEF programmes for children all over the world.

It was a move viewed as short-sighted as the price to 'break FC Barcelona's shirt virginity' were rumored to be staggeringly high.  By putting UNICEF on the jersey, Barcelona were forfeiting that one-time fee forever.  You could almost admonish them for not taking a ridiculous amount of corporate cash and then turning that money around by donating much more than €1.5m to UNICEF.  Instead the blue, red, and yellow Catalan club took the moral high ground and wore UNICEF and UNICEF alone on the front of their shirts for the past five years.  Just a couple of months ago in an announcement that seemed to remind us of the times we live in, Barcelona executives relayed to the press that they would be wearing 'Qatar Foundation' on their jerseys.  Qatar Foundation may be a non-profit like UNICEF but QF will be paying as much as €170m to Barcelona depending on how many championships the club can pull off over the five year life of the contract.  The deal certainly has its critics and we here at HTIOT are no fans of Qatar's World Cup bid but all of this non-profit and foundation on a soccer jersey has us thinking about how this could help Chicago.

If owner Andrew Hauptman is shrewdly waiting for jersey sponsors to meet his price, why not create some media buzz and support a Chicago charity in the meantime?  Urban Initiatives is by far the most active soccer engaging charity in Chicago and they have support from a wide range of Chicago Fire fans I know.  UI's mission is:

to collaborate with schools, teachers and parents to boost the physical fitness, health education, academic performance and character development of children from Chicago’s underserved communities through soccer programs, field trips, and cultural outings.

They currently partner with 14 schools throughout Chicago and are always looking for donations or volunteers to act as assistant coaches and other roles.  The Chicago Fire already have a program where you can purchase season tickets and have 20% of your purchase go to Urban Initiatives.  Why not really up the ante in a promotional buzz for all for a good cause and a great partner in Chicago soccer?

Urban Initiatives is the slam dunk but I would be remiss if I didn't highlight a couple of other local groups.  Live to Support Chicago is a new (as in July 2010) recreational sports organization that allows you to donate money to different charities.  A portion of your registration fee goes to the charity of your choice and you can sign up any charitable organization to receive your funds.  If you have a couple of people who want to get together and play 3 V 3 Soccer this spring, why not raise some money for your favorite charity in the meantime?  Approach a bar to sponsor you and they might throw in some extra money themselves so they can contribute too.  League registration for Live to Support Chicago spring sports coincidentally begins today.

LTSC is probably too young and small of an organization to put on the jersey but the Chicago Fire have a couple of long established Chicago charities they count as partners.  Boys & Girls Club of Chicago, Children's Memorial Hospital, Common Threads, Gateway Green, Girls on the Run-Chicago, Midtown Educational Foundation, and the Rauner Family YMCA are all organizations that would look great and could use the promotion.  

There is a contradicting side to this that suggests the Chicago Fire should do this all the time or not at all.  I can see the naysayers' point that the Chicago Fire should not use charities for one time promotion, a little media gimmick or what have you.  Also if you are going to select one charity over the other, you should just keep it neutral and feature the Chicago Fire Foundation.  I can see those points and this isn't something to enter lightly nor casually.  However, isn't time for a little out of the box thinking around here?  If we help out some charities in the meantime, all the better in my opinion.  Let's rotate a new charity every game until a new sponsor comes on.  I don't think you can go wrong with helping out other Chicago organizations that are helping others.  

The new jerseys should be coming out any day now regardless of whether or not we do have a sponsor.  We are over a month late from last year's unveiling that took place at Rockit Bar & Grill on January 15.  It makes you wonder what the players will be wearing tomorrow when they take on Florida Gulf Coast University.  Bottom line, if no one is spreading the dough for us, it's time to start thinking about spreading the love for other Chicago organizations that could use some help.