Chicago Fire Soccer Club owner Andrew Hauptman opened up to a small group of reporters following Thursday's partnership announcement at Quaker Plaza. Despite the fact that all of his official business was already taken care of, Hauptman was still around after the media had interviewed players, Frank Klopas, and MLS personnel. The Fire owner eagerly discussed several issues facing the club going into the 2012 season. He even used the opportunity for a strategic leak on how the Fire technical staff will be function going forward. It was a welcomed opportunity that has been fairly rare in his ownership era but appears to be happening on a much more frequent basis. The results of the conversation and some reaction is after the break.
A previous article mentioned that Hauptman relayed the fact that MLS Commissioner Don Garber thought the Quaker/Fire video was one of the coolest roll-out videos he had ever seen. I referred to Jack McCarthy's article in the Chicago Tribune and asked him if it was possible there would be no sponsorship if Jose Luis Prado, president of Quaker Foods and Snacks, North America, didn't make it to the Manchester United-Chicago Fire game this summer. Hauptman dismissed the notion.
"There are so many connections that overlap between the Chicago Fire and Quaker. The values of both of our organizations resonate with the management of both companies."
He emphasized that Quaker is a local company with fantastic employees in the community.
"You have Our City, Our Club, this takes it to a whole new meaning."
For Fire outsiders or Fire faithful that haven't taken notice, Our City, Our Club is a phrase that Section 8 Chicago first started using back in 2011. The Fire front office and Section 8 have worked together to incorporate this into a joint message about the Chicago Fire. The Fire have gone so far as to give the phrase its own website. It seemed like it was another marketing slogan like the 2011 phrase 'All-In' but various people in the Fire organization including Vice-President of Ticket Sales and Service Mike Ernst have said Our City, Our Club is planned on being much more than a one-year season ticket campaign slogan.
Getting back to the conversation with Hauptman, he was asked about the start of pre-season.
"It is critical that we have the main squad from day one. Last year we were forced to add a lot of parts, some later than we would have liked."
He added that players are entering camp very excited. He has been receiving encouraging messages and feed back from players. Some players telling him they knew they needed to do better. All around, Hauptman said the players were much more confident going into 2012 than they were 2011.
Hauptman wisely stayed away from making any specific record predictions for the 2012 regular season but continued the confident message.
"Our expectations are high. We are not here to do it a little bit better than we did last year... It is time to see results. The sum of our parts is where it ought to be."
Hauptman touched on the abundance of players coming into the league from Central and South America this off-season, including Colombian Rafael Robayo.
"This is all about connections and relationships. Deeper relationships are formed over time. The connections the league started to build around the time I came in are yielding results in South America. We are starting to see some of those connections being established in Europe too."
Hauptman then talked about some of his own recent travels that were also mentioned in his thank you letter to fans for the 2011 season. He met with soccer club officials and owners in England, Spain, and Italy.
At this point in the conversation, Hauptman let out the fact that the club was hiring Guillermo Petrei to 'oversee soccer operations'. He compared the position to a managing director for the technical staff. Petrei has already been working with the club for things like the MLS SuperDraft.
I sat down and looked at all the analytic work done by Guillermo [Petrei], Frank [Klopas], and Javier [Leon, Managing Director, Andell Sports Group] for the SuperDraft. Every pick that went right up to our pick went exactly they way they had it charted out except the No. 1 and No. 2 picks were switched.
Any fan who has been hard on Hauptman, really would have wanted to see this moment. There was a mix of fan like enthusiasm and employer validation that his team got it right and demonstrated some top expertise. It also showed that the Fire were targeting central defender Austin Berry all along.
When the group asked Hauptman where Petrei came from, Andrew let us know that Petrei has actually been a resource for Javier Leon for awhile now. Petrei had been living in Los Angeles and was somewhat of a consultant. However, Petrei will be based in Chicago and is moving to the Windy City for the new job. Hauptman noticed Klopas in the lobby and invited him to give some thoughts on Petrei after letting Klopas know he had had just informed the group about Petrei's hire.
Klopas said that Petrei had been with the club all last week preparing for pre-season. He will be going down to Florida, spend some time there. Klopas assured the group that Petrei shares the same values as the rest of the technical staff.
On whether or not the team would be hiring a new technical director, Hauptman said no. He referred to Klopas as 'a first-rate TD'.
At this point, it seemed to me the club's structure was mirroring that of the LA Galaxy. We've talked about it before on HTIOT as the Fire did not seem to be interviewing any technical director candidates. Frank Klopas would play the role of General Manager/Head Coach Bruce Arena. Petrei's role is sounding very similar to the Galaxy's David Kammarman, Director of Soccer Operations. Kammarman's title sounds authoritative, as does the description of Petrei 'overseeing soccer operations' or being managing director of soccer operations. In practice though, Bruce Arena runs the team and makes all of the decisions. Kammarman is listed after Arena on the team's website.
Hauptman confirmed that Petrei will work 'under Frank Klopas' and 'under Javier Leon'. When I asked him if Klopas will have the same responsibilities as Bruce Arena in LA, he replied,
"100%. This is Frank Klopas' team."
Hauptman gave an example that Klopas wanted another assistant coach this year. Hauptman supported that. He said that a head coach should have what he needs to work with.
Hauptman referenced back to an earlier part of the conversation on listening to the media. Prior to this, Hauptman mentioned that he and the rest of the organization always take in some of the critiques they read from the media and what they hear from fans either in writing or in person.
"Now that doesn't mean we always act on what other people are saying. We do have our own information and opinions but we always take into account what else is being said. We are always listening"
For Frank, Hauptman will be listening to what his head coach wants but just like the fans and the media on other issues, Hauptman won't always agree. In the context of the original quote, Hauptman was reacting to the feeling that he isn't always putting himself out there. He appears to be taking that to heart.
Hauptman hasn't really done press conferences in the past and this is his second in three months. If he keeps the same schedule as he did in 2011, he'll be available on March 12 for the 2012 Season Kick-Off Luncheon. The annual media dinner and fan Q&A events should be two weeks later right before the Fire Home Opener on Saturday, March 24. This would be an unprecedented amount of media access during Hauptman's time as owner and a very welcome change. I wouldn't expect him to join Twitter anytime soon like some of his fellow MLS owners and presidents (last year when I asked him about it he said it wasn't his style) but it was very refreshing to see him be so open here. At the end of the conversation, when asked how much of what he just said was on the record, he said 'all of it'.
Some questions still remain on the structure of the technical staff. The Daily Herald's Orrin Schwarz asked Hauptman where Director of Player Personnel Mike Jeffries fits into everything.
"Mike Jeffries is where he was. He will be working closely with Guillermo Petrei as well."
Schwarz had more insight into the dialogue that followed than I because it drew on a previous conversation he had with Hauptman at November's press conference for Frank Klopas becoming the full-time head coach. HTIOT reporter James Coston was at that press conference but wasn't sure what some of the comments meant either when I talked to him prior to the publication of this article.
Other questions like TV and radio partnerships were not discussed at length although it wouldn't surprise me if the Fire had the same media partners as last year. Improvements or changes at Toyota Park were not discussed. There wasn't any conversation on some of the new MLS rules for 2012. In terms of the roster being complete, Hauptman said the squad had been bolstered and the main core is at camp right now.
Overall, this was a much appreciated media opportunity both from a media and a fan perspective. It is great to see Hauptman open up more. It was a great bookend to a stellar media week for the Chicago Fire Soccer Club.