Last night, Fire president Julian Posada answered questions at the Section 8 monthly board meeting. Needless to say, some interesting info. was gleaned from Julian. Guillermo Rivera over at Fire Confidential had a great recap of the important info. Thanks for the great write up Guillermo, I could not attend but was especially interested in what transpired. I suggest you read that as a primer for what was covered, and then follow me after the break to get my thoughts on his words...
-The first bullet point may not have been of biggest importance in the grand scheme of things, but many on this site have lamented the fact that we didn't have an actual team store. This has been mentioned numerous times on various articles here at Hot Time In Old Town. While an official team store is not necessary for Fire success on the pitch, I always felt it made us look unprofessional/amateurish at best, so I am glad to see that Julian has made this a priority and one will be opened.
-My next reaction was towards the jersey sponsor. Basically, we are looking for the "right sponsor", not just any sponsor. Generally, I agree with this, it would be nice to find a sponsor that cares about the Fire, and especially one that ties in to Chicago history and could become a big part of Fire history too. However, I do disagree somewhat, in that I would rather have a sponsor that is not a perfect fit than no sponsor at all. I mean c'mon, I understand if we were trying to put a controversial sponsor on the Fire kit, but to not have that sponsorship money because it wasn't a perfect fit is a mistake in my opinion. I don't think most people correlate sponsors with teams, meaning even if the Fire had a sponsor that not everyone supported, I don't think it would affect the team much unless it was an incendiary sponsor. Do people fell differently about Chelsea because Samsung sponsors them? What about Standard Chartered and Liverpool? VW and DC United? I think you get my point. That sponsor money is huge for us to be able to sign new players, so being extremely selective and picky could hurt us in the long run. That being said, it's not like we have to find one by opening day. We can always add one later, though I prefer a Fire kit with a sponsor to one that just says Fire, and I know I am probably in the minority when I say that.
-Parking, security, and game day services are to be improved. I have never had a problem when attending a game, but it's good to hear that the Fire view safety and enjoyment of events as a top priority. One thing that would be nice in regards to parking would be to landscape a bit around the outskirts of the parking lot, and pave it. I know that would cost a good chunk of money, but it looks kinda weird to me to have the nice, new, beautiful stadium surrounded by a parking lot that is reminiscent of an industrial construction site. I am sure Julian and the team will continue to work on this though, and hopefully his comments about parking allude to that.
-I like that there will be forthcoming info regarding web streaming of the Carolina Cup Challenge matches. Hopefully this will eventually expand out to video streaming of all matches, even if it is fee based (like mlb.tv). IN the Chicago area, it seems like most games are shown on tv, with MY50 and CSN picking up a lot of them. However, for Fire fans like me that aren't in the Chicagoland area, I can only catch matches on CSN usually (since it looks like we will only get one ESPN 2 match this season). I am excited for the Challenge cup matches, and again I am hoping for full streaming in the future. It would be nice to be able to buy a package that would include archived/on demand matches for the ones I can't watch live. Time will tell, but props to the front office for getting started with the Challenge Cup matches. Hopefully it goes smoothly and feedback is good so they are encouraged to do more in the future.
-I thought the blurb about Becky Carroll's replacement was interesting. Especially the fact that communication is a priority for this position (Julian termed it "getting more information out is critical"). I am not trying to say that the Fire don't have good communication now between the front office and fans, but I know we were all thirsting for more constant updates on signings, news, sponsorship, etc. in the past few weeks. Hopefully whoever they bring in will be able to relay even more timely information to Fire fans around the world. On a side note, although I only corresponded a couple of times with Becky via email, I know Tweed worked with her and was a big fan of her work. Good luck to Becky on her future endeavors and thanks for your hard work with the Fire!
-Another Q&A will take place at a date/time/venue TBD with Fire owner Andrew Hauptman. This also occurred last year, and in my opinion is really neat. Apart from fans getting to grill the front office about things they like/don't like, etc., I think it's neat that fans get to do this with the head of a professional organization. When is the last time you heard a Steinbrenner or Epstein at a general fan Q&A? Apart from things like the Cubs convention where this can happen, you don't often hear of it much with large, professional organizations. I can't say I remember the last time Jerry Jones was going door to door in my neighborhood asking for fan feedback. Great job by Andrew and the Fire to get neat events like this together.
-Apparently a tv schedule for the year is supposed to be forthcoming in the next 48 hours. This is a good news, bad news thing for me. Good news is we finally get an actual schedule to go from, bad news is that Guillermo thinks there may be less games on CSN this year, which sucks for me. Fortunately, I have a website where I can watch matches no matter what channel they are on, but if I am busy and can't watch it live, I am still out of luck, as that site doesn't have replays. All the more reason for the Fire, MLS, or both to come up with an actual video streaming package for fans. This needs to happen sooner rather than later, hopefully its something Julian and co. are working on behind the scenes.
-One of the more disappointing bits from the night came in regards to English/Spanish radio broadcasts. That would be huge for the Fire organization, as teams like the Houston Dynamo have a great system in place for this. Exposure would explode as the games could be listened to in either language, thus getting the product out and hopefully building the fanbase at the same time, and exposure and marketing are things that have been severely lacking in years past, IMO. Radio would also take care of the problem for out of town fans that can't watch the games, even if it would be fee based (again like MLB gameday radio). In fact, I just got the MLB 2011 at bat app. It was $14.99, but gives me tons of info for each and every game during the season, including audio broadcasts for all home teams built in. And again, only $14.99 for the entire year. I am not expecting the MLS or Fire to be on par with this yet, but it is an example of how the Fire could really generate some revenue from a simple paid phone app that can bring audio and live updates to the games. The Riot have shown they can create stuff like this, I think it's time for the Fire to do the same.
Unfortunately, Guillermo said that the radio things sounds tabled for this season. I think that's a big mistake, but I also understand that I would rather have the Fire take their time and bring out a good system, rather than bringing out something that is costly and mistake prone that needs fixing. With that being said, I think that radio should be one of the highest priority projects to complete by opening day 2012. Julian did iterate that "sponsorship interest doesn't exist" for the radio broadcasts, and that they couldn't afford to buy local radio time like the Blackhawks did due to a limited budget. I understand this may be costly, but for a team that can get 17k + fans to their games, and they don't have huge salaries to pay like the other major sports, I have to think there is a way to do radio. We are a professional club in a professional league, there should be a way to get a radio broadcast going. This is something Julian and Andrew need to figure out ASAP in my opinion.
-Good news for those hoping for a 3rd kit. Julian said a 3rd shirt is in the works for the 2012 season, with Andrew currently working on a design with Adidas. Julian said he thinks it will be very well received with Fire fans. I am pretty sure 100% of fans will support it if it involves the Chicago Flag, as the Red Stars have worn.
-Friendlies were discussed, as we are looking at friendlies with EPL, La Liga, and Serie A teams but nothing has been decided as of yet, predominantly due to the exorbitant fees some of the teams charge to schedule a friendly against them. I can't imagine Manchester United (rumored to be playing a friendly against us in Chicago later this year) or a Barcelona will come cheap. Still, it's nice for everyone involved to be able to see some legendary players/teams go against our beloved Fire. Let's hope there is more to come on this.
-The Fire are close to setting an all time high for season ticket sales with the number currently around 4,000. Guillermo points out that the Fire keep actual figures closely guarded, and he is not sure whether this is the number for total season ticket holders or the amount sold for this season. Let's hope its just for the amount this season, but either way good to hear that there is a decent chunk of STH's.
-The last point that stuck out to me was that Julian said the team would be unveiling new marketing strategies to increase visibility throughout the city. This is especially encouraging, and is way overdue. Last year, I was in town for the Galaxy/Fire game and stayed at the Hilton just off Cicero (the round hotel near Midway Airport). Considering this is not far away from Toyota Park, when I asked about the shuttle from the hotel to Toyota Park, the lady at the front desk had never heard of the Fire and had no idea what I was talking about. This obviously shocked me and this should be the other top priority for the club immediately.
All in all, it sounded like it was a productive Q&A. At least some tough questions were asked, and hopefully it showed just how restless we are to get back on top and how much we demand things that have been lacking. I think it is good for Julian to see the fanbase we have and what our needs and wants are and realize at the end of the day, the ultimate judge of his abilities comes from the fans and the income we generate for the team. Let's hope this is a sign of great things from Julian, and that some of the issues above are addressed sooner rather than later.