Some of you long time readers (or newer readers that may have stumbled across it) may remember an article I did awhile back arguing in favor or giving the fans something we have longed for since the club's inception: a properly done Chicago Flag 3rd jersey option. My intent is not to simply regurgitate what I said in that article. I honestly think it's time to re-visit the issue, especially after Monday's announcement. Right now, the following words have been put together for a higher purpose. They are intended for everyone but I admit it won't amount to much if Chicago Fire owner Andrew Hauptman doesn't read this and more importantly take it all under serious consideration.
On Monday, the official MLS website announced what I consider to be a pretty cool plan. It's called "Jersey Week". Twelve of the 19 MLS clubs will be debuting new jersey designs at events to generate some buzz between February 25 and February 28. Some fans buy the new garb every new cycle while others only buy a new jersey once every 20 years but almost everyone shares a common thread here. You are hard pressed to find someone who isn't interested in the unveiling of their team's new look. Rather than having this wasted in a haphazard fashion, it's prudent for MLS to create a couple of days where multiple teams have press conferences and show off their new threads. Teams can hold special events, thus building excitement and gaining visibility, and fans can circle a set date every year. Ideally, the interest compounds in the media and among MLS fans throughout the league.
So what's the problem? Well, if you click on the link you will notice that one of the clubs missing is our beloved Chicago Fire. The Montreal Impact are debuting a 3rd jersey on Wednesday, February 27, 2013 and they played their first MLS game on March 10, 2012. Philadelphia Union, LA Galaxy, and Sporting KC will also feature 3rd jerseys this year. Meanwhile the way the article is written, you have to assume that the Chicago Fire flag jersey remains mothballed for yet another season.
That simply is astounding to myself, as well as most Fire fans judging by the reaction on Twitter, Facebook, and other outlets. To miss out on an opportunity like this is not a good business decision plain and simple. It also just upsets supporters and serves to further alienate a fan base that already does not rate the owner very highly. Not only did we have to suffer through the historic white stripe being turned navy blue last year, but a jersey I can guarantee most fans would buy (many would buy multiple copies and Chicago fans who don't even know about the Fire would purchase, etc.) continues to get overlooked? That just does not compute. To not even be a part of this event in its inaugural year is folly when you have such a great option to put on the table that no one else has.
In a quick hat tip to Guillermo Rivera of Fire Confidential, he re-iterated that Andrew was asked about this very issue in the Town Hall meeting in April 2012. Although Andrew spoke of the fans in the room being the "life blood" of the club, he sure had a funny way of showing it when asked about a flag jersey. The answer fans got was a generic, bland, dodging type of answer. Basically, Andrew's reasoning was that there was concern of low sales (the number of just a few hundred was mentioned). That, right there, is something that Andrew honestly cannot believe. I would bet large sums of money that tens of thousands of these jerseys would be sold. And most likely even more. That's not pretense, it's pure fact. On a simple financial basis, this should not and cannot be ignored. I have yet to personally hear 1 Fire fan say they wouldn't buy a Chicago Flag third jersey.
Imagine the sales to the casual fan during the 17 home games on top of that? Rocking the jersey of your club, as well as a proud symbol of the city you call home? 2 birds, one stone. The value of creating an intimate, unique link between the club and the city cannot be overstated. It's invaluable despite the cheap attempts other sports marketers have tried to turn for their Chicago team of choice. Those t-shirts are third-rate at best. Yet they remain a staple on the Northside.
Andrew wants to convince more people to make the trek out to Toyota Park. Well, what better way to do that then connecting the team with the city in a way no one else can? And I am not talking about just other MLS teams. I am talking about any team in any sport in the world. How many teams can you think of that link a city and a team together as seamlessly as a Chicago Flag jersey would if implemented properly? The answer is none. Zero. Zilch. Nada. The Fire would have a symbol of a great team and a great city that no one else could even touch. So why are the requests of the fans continuously falling on deaf ears?
Andrew, no matter what you do, take time to look at this campaign put together by the Chicago Bulls. THAT'S how you get people to treasure the link between a Chicago team and the city itself. THAT'S what it is all about. There is no reason the Fire can't create something like this and make it even better. We already have. We have found a way to take a tragic, yet pivotal and strengthening moment in the history of the city and integrate that with the very fabric of the club. Why not have the symbol of this strength and unity proudly displayed on the fans and players chests?
The only thing holding it back is the apparent lack of dedication and desire to give the Fire fans what we want. And this continues to happen with a variety of issues. I can say without reservation that this is likely the most requested product by the fans. Continually not listening to us on things like this is pushing the owner farther away from the fanbase and doing great harm. Once the damage is done, it's not forgotten and is extremely hard (and nigh impossible sometimes) to fix. If Andrew continues this trend I fear how ugly things could get in terms of sentiment between the fans and the ownership group.
What would a flag jersey mean to the fans Mr. Hauptman? The fans are the very life blood of the club. You are absolutely correct when you said that. So it's time to truly show that by giving us what we have been asking for.
We are not merely customers. We should be valued members of this glorious club that need to be listened to. Rather than the fan/owner relationship being looked at as "us and them", it should only and always be "we". 'Our City, Our Club' is a life long belief for the fans here. It appears the Chicago Fire are content to view it as the catchy title of that season ticket campaign they had awhile back.
A proper flag jersey would mean so many more things than just the sales numbers you are apparently solely looking at. Think about the people that would gladly wear this jersey anywhere and everywhere the world over. Who are some of these fans? Ponder this for a moment. The fan that spends thousands of dollars every year on tickets, concessions, and merchandise? They would buy a Chicago Flag jersey to further show their love for the team and their civic pride for their home. The Chicago Bulls get this unique civic identity. The Greater Food Depository understands the appeal of the four stars that adorn the city's flag.
While it may be hard to see why this is such a big deal out in LA, please reach out personally and ask some of us what a jersey like this would truly mean. I am confident you would hear that it means so much more than just a piece of fabric with a badge on it. It is the very fabric of the daily lives of the fans. A jersey design like this not only represents the team that we support year round, but it supports the very fabric of people's daily lives. It would be a symbol of a great pride that is unique in that it cannot be found anywhere else in the world. That's why I simply cannot fathom how this has not been made yet. I know if I was the owner, I would love nothing more than to be able to give a great gift like this to each and every fan.
Andrew, I am asking that you read this, and think on the words I have penned (or typed as it were). This is not fluff, it's not hyperbole, it's truth. Although this may be my personal look on things, I can absolutely guarantee many others feel this way or even stronger. Fans are not happy with some of the things that have come down from ownership in the past couple of years. Though a Chicago Flag jersey by itself won't fix all of those hard feelings, it can be seen as an olive branch. It's a willingness to implement what the most important people in your life as Fire owner want to see. It's long past time to have this happen. The fact that it hasn't happened yet suggests decisions are being made for the club that represents the city famous for its 4 stars and those decisions will leave the club with just one star above its crest for a very long time.