Thursday's big event at Quaker Plaza, 555 W. Monroe, Chicago, IL marked the first live presentation of the partnership between Quaker Oats and the Chicago Fire. Chicago Fire Soccer Club owner Andrew Hauptman, Chicago Fire players, Quaker Foods and Snacks North America president Jose Luis Prado and Quaker Oats Company employees were all on hand in addition to some other civic leaders, curious fans, and members of the media. Comcast SportsNet Chicago Fire play-by-play announcer Dan Kelly moderated a discussion with Hauptman and Prado.
On the big jersey change, Hauptman did not hold back. The Fire owner pointed out that the jerseys are not really 'home' and 'away' but rather 'primary' and 'secondary'. The changes to the jerseys had been on Hauptman's mind for awhile.
"I'll be honest. I didn't like the jerseys the past couple of years," said Hauptman. "The changes made maintain the brand architecture while giving it a tougher, grittier look. That is what the city of Chicago is all about."
Fans remain mixed on the loss of the white stripe to a navy color. There has been universal praise for one element: the printing of the club's motto 'Tradition.Honor.Passion' on every jersey.
On the decision to include those words, Hauptman said, "It is important that the players see those three words every time they put that shirt on over their heads."
When it was Quaker Oats' President Prado's turn to speak, he came across as a big-time soccer fan. Kelly asked him if he had a favorite soccer player.
"I have followed Pavel Pardo from a distance, throughout his career in Mexico, Germany and now with Chicago. He has an amazing spirit and is always contributing to winning."
Prado broke the news about the Quaker sponsorship to his wife by showing her one of first printed jerseys.
"I think the team needed this jersey for something but I was excited. I stole it. I took it home to my wife."
Kathy Carter, the President of Soccer United Marketing (SUM), MLS' commercial subsidiary, was on hand for the big event. Carter pointed out that 15 of 19 MLS teams now have sponsors on the front of their jerseys and said it was 'a great time to be involved in soccer'. Her words on the changes to the MLS Cup schedule resonated well.
"We felt the MLS Cup would benefit competitively by giving a two week break between the game and the conference finals." On the fact that the team with the most regular season points between the MLS Cup Finalists will host the game on December 1 instead of a using a neutral site like in recent years, Carter said "We wanted to give the event back to the fans."
Getting back to the Chicago Fire and Quaker, Carter said, "This partnership is a hometown match made in heaven. It's the next step in the Fire's quest to become the best in Major League Soccer." PepsiCo, the company that owns Quaker Oats, has a long history of working well with MLS.
Chicago Fire forward Patrick Nyarko put a unique perspective on Quaker's global reach when I asked him after the presentation about what his favorite Quaker product was.
"Growing up in Africa, I only knew about the simple oats. I didn't know about any of their other products. It was a privilege just to be able to eat the Quaker Oats. I would always want more because it was not always available."
As the presentation came to a close, Quaker President Jose Luis Prado brought out two identical glass objects. He presented one to Fire Owner Andrew Hauptman and he said the other would stay with Quaker. The objects will serve as a constant visual reminder of the mutual commitment.
It appears the club made a great impression around the league. SUM President Carter was on hand to take in the festivities. After the event, Hauptman mentioned to a small group of reporters that MLS Commissioner Don Garber told him that the Quaker and Fire roll-out video was one of the coolest roll-out videos he had ever seen. That should be music to the ears of a Fire fan base that largely feels Chicago has been overlooked in league-wide media mentions.
Just like Nyarko, Hauptman's most interesting sponsor related comment came after the event. He praised Quaker, cited mutual values that resonate in both organizations, and talked of Quaker employees that already attend Chicago Fire games. "You have Our City, Our Club, this takes it to a whole new meaning", Hauptman said.
The next topic was the team going into pre-season. Hauptman said that expectations are high. Expectations are high for this new partnership too after some great media events. Just like we'll be looking for results from the players in the regular season, we'll be looking for results from Quaker and the Fire in the years to come.