Keep in mind that one of the big sticking points to getting elite talent has been their preference to live in either LA or New York. So the key becomes selling Chicago as a better city than either LA or New York. This is something that ownership hopefully is selling to prospective players they are trying to sign. Having a proper sales pitch could help sway some of those players minds to come live and play in Chicago instead of the alternatives.
The mood as of late amongst many Fire fans has been largely pessimistic as we know and are experiencing by now. That’s entirely understandable. With 7 points out of a possible 27, disappointment comes natural to the fan base. An obvious solution to the team’s woes, echoed by fans of any struggling club, is to obtain better players. How do the Fire acquire players of a higher caliber? There are many reasons in favor of playing in Chicago:
Location, location, location
Although we sometimes forget, the Fire do represent Chicago, the country’s third largest sports market. Playing games at Toyota Park does not make them the Bridgeview Fire. As a matter of fact, Bridgeview ranks among (counting MLS teams that don’t actually play in the city limits of where they represent) the closest MLS cities to the namesake city of the team. It’s closer than Carson is to Los Angeles, much closer than Frisco is to Dallas, and closer than Chester is to Philadelphia to name a few. The bottom line is this: free agents and trade targets need not fret over being too far from the gorgeous city of Chicago, which sells itself. They can live, dine and be entertained in the city. This isn’t so much a knock on Bridgeview, but if someone asked you if you cared for pre-packaged bologna for dinner, or filet mignon, you’d choose the latter.
Chicago has arguably every MLS market beat in terms of pure aesthetics, marketability and brand awareness with the exceptions of Los Angeles and New York. That brings me to my next point.
Become the face of a franchise rather than another spoke on the wheel.
Both the L.A Galaxy and New York Red Bulls have had the lion’s share of recent, big name signings. Robbie Keane has followed David Beckham to Los Angeles, and Juninho and Tim Cahill have joined forces with Thierry Henry in New York. There isn’t a fan out there who would turn down any combination of those players. The question however is, does the next MLS import, or even a current MLS superstar want to run the risk of becoming surplus goods, or playing second, third or fourth fiddle to some of these big names? Playing for the Fire represents an opportunity for a Frank Lampard (just throwing out names here folks) or a Darren Bent to become the face of a franchise in a major city. They can become the catalyst of a Fire championship, rather than being the Robin to Henry or Keane’s Batman.
Culture and acceptance
Chicago, Bridgeview, and much of the northern half of Illinois is a vast melting pot of different ethnic backgrounds. Arne Friedrich seemingly likes it here so much he became a permanent US resident. He regularly attends Chicago sports events and tweets about how much he loves the city all the time. Much of Chicago has German roots which undoubtedly made Friedrich feel at home. Even on a lesser known scale, the population of African born residents, and African run businesses can have a profound effect on the likes of a Didier Drogba or Asamoah Gyan. It seems that no matter what the nationality or ethnic background is, it is represented on some level in Chicago. This helps make players feel more at home I think.
I have yet to hear any downright nasty heckling from anyone in the crowd on game day, especially pertaining to sexual orientation as happens in some other places. The way club management handled their meeting with Robbie Rogers seemed to go so well, that if he wasn’t so adamant about playing in his hometown of L.A he may have considered donning the red Quaker shirt. Whether Rogers plays for the Fire or not, an example of acceptance and tolerance was made by the front office. It could have helped establish it in the eyes of the next gay player to come out, as a club they would feel comfortable playing for.
The supporters have been wonderful in their part as well, helping creative a welcoming community for all players. We had a great article up on this last year when supporters unveiled a banner in support of the gay community.
Here is where this pitch can get a bit murky and biased. Toyota Park does not sell out very often. Apparently season ticket buys have increased year over year for quite some time but there are still enough empty seats every week to note a lack of drawing power. Would a Darlington Nagbe or Eddie Johnson ever entertain the idea of leaving their hordes of fans in Portland and Seattle respectively to play in front of 15,000-ish at Toyota Park? If their competitive drive is as strong off the field as it is on it, the answer is yes. Assuming a player has achieved what they set out to achieve with their current club, they would enjoy taking on the task of making soccer and the Fire a much bigger deal in Chicago. Much like the argument of being the catalyst to a championship, they can also be the factor in increased attendance. Any player who is always looking for a challenge, who always wants to accomplish more will be seeking to do that. Win fans, win trophies.
Some, perhaps even a majority of this pitch, and all future pitches can be applied to many teams in MLS. I’m not saying the Fire are the only club that fits this bill. They are however the club that checks the most boxes. Chicago is a beautiful city, and the third largest in the nation. The Fire are looking for a face to their franchise who can flourish in a cultural melting pot of acceptance, can win trophies and turn a consistent, yet at times, anemic fan base into a true force in the league.
If my name is Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Asamoah Gyan, Eddie Johnson, or anyone else who's a major figure in North America or abroad, I absolutely want to take this chance. I want to cement my legacy as a legend who not only won games and broke records in Europe and in Asia but was a pioneer of the great game in the U.S.A, and became one as a member of the Chicago Fire. The key is getting the salesman making the deals to sell this package effectively to get it to work. It's time to stop losing all the big names ot other cities and start fighting back.