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E Pluribus Unum: HTIOT Responds to 'The Editorial'

Three responses plus links to the community's larger discussion of last week's bit of front office clumsiness

Stand and deliver, sir.
Stand and deliver, sir.

(For those just joining in, the following are a set of responses to this editorial by Chicago Fire Director of Communication Dan Lobring. We noted the initial community response in this article, and I editorialized upon frustrations here - just to make certain everyone is up to speed. Other responses to Mr. Lobring can be found here, here, here and here.)

First up is Dan Martin, former Communications Director for Section 8 Chicago Independent Supporters' Alliance:

Back in April I made my first, and until now, only contribution to Hot Time in Old Town. My piece was about the departure of long-time Fire staffer Emigdio Gamboa and the larger issue of lost institutional knowledge at the club due to employee turnover. It was posted the same week that I got married and from what I understand, the article made a few small ripples in the pool of front office staff and diehard Fire supporters but its impact quickly faded. I didn't care much, I was on honeymoon.

There are some very capable people working for the club ... and many of them have earned fans' respect through hard work, straight talk, and results - it's beyond time that the club's owner and top leadership earns respect in the same fashion

Just short of five months later and "the editorial" comes out, penned by Dan Lobring, whom I'd mentioned in my April piece as having taken over some of Gamboa's duties in communications and supporter relations. I had applied some criticism to Lobring's hiring in my writing, but not unfairly, I thought. In my mind, the issue was not as much Dan himself but the person he was replacing. He had huge shoes to fill and I had to wonder whether adequate consideration (or, frankly, any consideration) had been given to that fact in selecting him for the job.

Somewhat similarly, I don't believe Lobring deserves all of the criticism that has been heaped upon him. Sure, he penned the words, and the tone of his piece is reminiscent of a dear-diary blog post more than an article that would appear on the front page of a professional sports club. His piece ultimately made far greater waves than my writing ever could have. Dan admits that he is a new fan and didn't know much about the club and its surrounding community, and my guess is he didn't expect the reaction he got from his piece, though it's hard to believe that other more experienced club staffers wouldn't have tried to clue him in. (Additionally, it's hard to believe the reaction to his previous editorial on DP player signings wouldn't have given him a clue, as well.)

Fan criticism is better-placed higher and ultimately responsibility lies with Andrew Hauptman. I don't believe that Lobring wrote this piece of his own volition, subject to approval from club leadership. I believe Hauptman commissioned it. During my time serving on the Section 8 Chicago ISA board, I heard complaints from Hauptman (both directly and indirectly) regarding community criticism of his actions. Naturally, most of that criticism was the usual ranting you'd expect from any fanatic follower of a sporting enterprise but a fair amount was legitimate expression of concern for the club's direction under Hauptman's guidance.

There was never any indication that Hauptman's reaction to criticism would deserve a public response, but the fact that it irked him on a personal level was undeniable. It seems to me that whatever occurred at the US Open Cup match was used as a base to respond to what Lobring saw as several months' criticism, but what has really been several years' worth of internet comments and rants against Andrew Hauptman. A more appropriate response to the events following the Open Cup match probably would have involved Monterrey security, and a more appropriate response to several years' worth of internet comments is to simply not read the comments at all.

Whether my hunch is completely correct or not is probably not knowable, but I do think that Fire leadership needs to consider whether this type of communication with fans and supporters is really the best way to build the club and lift it from the doldrums of the past few seasons. They need to consider whether running a professional sports club from two time zones away lends them the best understanding of how Chicagoans relate to their team. There are some very capable people working for the club from executive roles on down, and many of them have earned fans' respect through hard work, straight talk, and results - it's beyond time that the club's owner and top leadership earns respect in the same fashion instead of continuing to follow a top-down strategy.

Hot Time correspondent Mateu weighs in:

Let me say first that I appreciate both Andrew Hauptman's position encouraging open communication between Fire staff and fans and Dan Lobring's embrace of this approach. His lengthy interview with On The Fire shortly after taking on the Director of Communications job was a positive start. In the abstract, I like the idea of him writing occasional editorials for Unfortunately, his most recent piece, "What it means to be a part of the Fire Family," has not sat well with most supporters, and for good reason.

There has to be a point at which we voice our discontent with an underperforming organization

It's not that Lobring didn't raise some important issues worthy of discussion by fans and staff alike. Fan conduct at games is certainly a topic that we can and should have conversations about. Unfortunately, Lobring only has vague accusations of misbehavior at the U.S. Open Cup semifinal loss to D.C. United, rather than any concrete instances to address. This game was weeks ago - two weeks exactly from the date of publication of the editorial - why are we just hearing this now? Furthermore, even if there are serious issues to tackle in this area - and I personally can't say if there are or not - this editorial was the wrong forum to raise them in.

I don't mean that the Fire website wouldn't be an appropriate place to start that discussion (although I think a Section 8 meeting or other town hall-style event would be better, if there are serious issues to talk about). Rather, it's the way the rest of the editorial frames this. Some two-thirds of the piece are dedicated to Lobring airing any number of criticisms of himself or the Fire ownership or front office that he has encountered on the internet or received in his email.

Based on his interview with On The Fire, I believe that Lobring is competent, dedicated, and hard-working. I am also sure that his job can be frustrating and that he encounters a lot of criticism of his own work and of the team in general. In the end, however, that is a part of his job and, like a player, coach, owner, or other staffer, he has to be able to brush it off and keep doing his job as best he can. Don't read your own press and, by God, don't read the comments.

We fans are passionate and love to talk about our team, in the good and the bad. We aren't always all that charitable, either. I was at the USOC game; I was incredibly frustrated, had had a beer or two, and, yes, I posted some negative comments on Twitter. I certainly wasn't the only one. This is what fans do. I tend to be more optimistic than cynical and I often wish we fans as a whole could be less negative, but that can't always be the case. There has to be a point at which we voice our discontent with an underperforming organization.

Finally, Ryan Sealock, former Editor-in-Chief of this here blog, wraps our commentary up with an open letter to Andrew Hauptman:

The past week has been quite the whirlwind for Fire fans due to an irresponsible and incredibly damaging article on the official Fire site. More perplexing is the response from the front office after the initial maelstrom, which not only supports and backs up the article, but also seems to further accuse supporters of fault by taking the gist of the article "the wrong way". Rather than owning up to the mistake and apologizing, the front office seems keen to keep the rift open despite the huge public outcry.

[Mr. Hauptman, ]if that's how you prefer to do business, do all of us a favor and divest yourself of the Chicago Fire

The editorial came off as self-serving and whiny. There will always be a small minority of fans at sporting events that will say or do inappropriate things. I am not condoning that type of behavior, but using a public forum like the official site of a professional soccer team in a large city is the worst way to do it. Andrew is upset a few fans told him to spend more money? Take a look at some European teams that have thousands of fans that sing that to their owners. Andrew, and by extension the front office, clearly has thin skin and that doesn't hold water in the business of professional sports. Apparently the front office thought a petulant, child-like rant would solve that issue. It won't and never will.

Awhile back, Andrew reminded us (quite condescendingly in fact) that he had "bigger investments than the Fire" when questioned about his devotion to the club in monetary terms. I scratched my head at that before. I now fully understand the meaning. Andy seems to treat owning a soccer team just like any of his other business investments. And it shows. From day 1, rather than taking the club back to the glory days of yore, he has navigated the club on a slow, steady nosedive. I no longer have faith that he will make the changes necessary to right the ship because he doesn't know how. And he refuses to put people in place with the soccer knowledge to do that either. It's a dark time for our beloved team.

Mr. Hauptman, this club is not like the stodgy suits sitting in a boardroom that you are used to looking at stock prices and dividends. This is a soccer club with a rich history. And you fail to share that history and spread the story of the Fire. You should be catering to your most loyal fans, yet articles like Dan Lobring's piece deride and sneer at your best and most loyal customers. Rather than appreciating the fans that show up rain or shine, hot or cold, wind or snow, you just let your communications mouthpiece bash them. And you supported the article, seemingly taking a gleeful, smug approach about it.

Dan continued to go on radio shows today and made the situation even worse, refusing to issue a true apology. And we now know why that is. It came down from the top. Perpetrated by the man himself who claims to want to build the club up and win trophies. Yet stunts like this do irrevocable damage and tear the club down. Which is where we are at right now.

I feel sorry for the fans that continue to support the team with the pocketbooks, voices, and heart. You and your group of buddies just spit in the faces of the very people that keep the club going. Maybe that's how things are done in LA, but it's not how they are done in Chicago. If that's how you prefer to do business, do all of us a favor and divest yourself of the Chicago Fire and let someone that truly cares (and knows how to be a good steward of a soccer club) take over.

In the end, none of us can fire the owner (who is unwilling to fire the guy that started all of this with his "editorial)". Tweed said it best today when he mentioned that he looked at the front page of a Chicago paper, and for the first time he was glad he didn't see the Fire mentioned. For a team that struggles to get even the faintest of mentions in the Chicago landscape in most major media outlets, the Fire have plastered the front pages the past 2 days for all the wrong reasons. It would be one thing if this was all an unfortunate accident, but our absent owner himself has perpetrated it. Not only is that poor business sense, it's the sign of a poor owner who is in over his head.

The damage has been done. The Fire are a laughing stock in the eyes of who knows how many. The club is falling further away from glory than nearing it. And you seem to allow loose cannons to run around (while getting rid of true professionals like Brendan Hannan) without discipline or order. Fortunately, the fans have each other for support. The actions of the past 48 hours paint the true picture of how the front office feels about its most loyal customers. Who are now being driven away for no good reason. Congratulations Mr. Hauptman. Your ineptitude has caused permanent damage in Chicago. And there is nothing you can do to fix the events that recently transpired. Unfortunately, the ones you are trying to smear as perpetrators are really the most undeserving victims.