In the aftermath of my most recent editorial, I got into a very inspiring conversation with a committed Fire fan who expanded my perspective. In my article, I argued that the only way to get rid of a Holding company owner such as Andell, Inc is to support their efforts to make their profit and sell. After my conversation, I still believe that the only way to get rid of Hauptman is for him to get his payday - but I was forced to face a flaw in my argument.
The likelihood that Hauptman sells is highly contingent on when he can make his biggest payday. The MLS is still a growing league. The reality is that Hauptman is unlikely to sell until the franchise value is at its peak - and franchise value increases inexorably with every expansion more. Only when expansion is completed will the league be at its peak. The reality is that Hauptman is only likely to sell when he can market the Fire as an established club to a rich vanity owner who has no other way to buy into the league.
Right now if someone wants into the league, there are more routes available. An ownership group can move into an untapped expansion city or buy a lower league side and prepare for the move up (a/k/a the Orlando model). After that, they need to convince MLS chairman Don Garber and his executive team (as leaders of the 20-headed hydra that is single-entity MLS) that there is a market and value to adding the club to the league. Obviously, it is more complicated than that - but fans can easily see why there is little motivation for an owner at this stage to buy an existing club from a holding company such as Andell, Inc.
This does not mean I think we should forsake the Fire until that time. I actually think we still need to support growth, so when the time comes, Hauptman can sell. It's not hard to imagine truly terrible outcomes if Hauptman gets stuck with an untenable failed product. I think we may need to change the focus of the #HauptmanOut movement to improving the club now, so that when expansion stops the Fire are positioned to sell. Also, if we can somehow work with the club and encourage growth and fan participation, we may not be forced to watch an inferior product for the whole time leading up to the sale.
Andy: Let a soccer guy handle the soccer
Clearly something in the structure of the Fire front office needs to change. If Hauptman is going nowhere - and there is not an owner on the immediate horizon to swoop in - there really can only be one solution to the Fire’s current problems. I came to the same conclusion many commenter on my previous editorial did.
For the Fire to improve, Andrew Hauptman needs to show the guts to fire HIMSELF.
We all need to come to an understanding: Andy isn't leaving, and that's okay - so long as he stops acting as the de facto president of the Chicago Fire.
We are not going to get rid of Hauptman until he has his payday. However, unconditionally, from the point of view of the fan, the club needs to improve. Perhaps the best way to get rid of Hauptman isn't to get him to sell the club. Perhaps we need to get him to step away from the wheel. Name a president, set the budgets in some rational way, and join us in the stands, Andy. It's not working out. Let someone else drive for a while.
On October 30th, 2013 the Chicago Fire announced that President of Soccer Operations Javier Leon had received the ax. This was the same day Fire head coach Frank Klopas was sent packing. The structure of the front office was changed with the hire of Frank Yallop as both Head Coach and Director of Soccer. However, Hauptman has made no clear move to replace the former President, a role last filled by Julian Posada in 2011-12. In essence, he has made himself de facto President of the Chicago Fire.
Many fans feel that Hauptman is an absentee owner. They assume he is unwilling to speak to fans through the media, so he must be uninvolved in the club. After my eye-opening conversation, I would suggest that he is too involved in the club and needs to disengage. Hauptman has decided to make organization decisions for the Fire as a club president would, and that is where he fails the most.
Clearly, Hauptman felt he could do a better job than the previous leadership of the club. He flattened the structure, making Yallop and Atul Khosla his direct reports. He influences decisions at the highest level in regard to how the football on the field is played, and things have only gotten worse iin the years since he took the reins as president. Minor improvements to the Fire youth development system aside, there seems to be little success in the changes made while Hauptman has been acting President.
In the 2014, the Fire faithful were forced to endure the year of draws, an endless disappointment without any prospects for growth. The Fire were brutally knocked out of the USOC by the Seattle Sounders, forcing the Fire to share the crown as "Kings of the Cup". The year was a failure. Fans continued to lose interest. The front office did little to effectively engage the fan base in a dialogue about what wasn't working.
Fast forward to 2015. The Fire doubled down on Hauptman as president of the club. The Fire made some additional DP purchases in the form of Shaun Maloney, David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike, but the Men in Red have still wallowed in last place throughout the season. Yet another depressing knockout in the USOC, and the Fire appear to have packed it in on the field. Frank Yallop, like many before him, has gone to where head coaches careers go to die: The Chicago Fire.
Any rational President would be prepared to make changes at this stage. Frank Yallop - whether fans want to blame him for the poor play, or find him to be a product of the a failed institution - has not been successful as a head coach. He has been given two years to get the club under control and, despite making his own desired moves in 2015, the club has gotten worse. Worse still, players leave the Fire and become successful elsewhere.
Something is rotten in Bridgeview, and it is the president's job to fix that. Hauptman has not. Clearly the Hauptman experiment as president of the Fire has failed.
Takes courage to step aside; does Hauptman have it?
Hauptman needs to recognize that his skill set is not providing what is needed to improve the Chicago Fire as an organization. That is fine. An owner does not need to make those decisions. He needs to have the guts to admit that he is not the right person to make those decisions and find someone who is.
As a fan base, I believe that this should be the focus of our campaigns and mobilizations. It is much more likely to occur than convincing Hauptman to sell or antagonizing him to tell him to "bugger off" or "Get "Out." It accomplishes little to call him greedy or uninvolved. I believe it will accomplish much more if the fan base is much more clear about what they want and directly demand that a new President be hired. How about signs that say "Where is our President?"
I spent my college years involved with the anti-sweatshop movement called No Sweat. In it we encouraged our university to stop selling clothing that was manufactured in sweatshops. We at times were aggressive in our efforts, even occupying the President's office. We accomplished very little other than getting the university to chair a panel led by business professors to "investigate the issue."
As I've grown up and have the experiences of adulthood, I realize that many times a lot more can be accomplished with an outreached hand that can't be accomplished with picketers and controversy. If fans reach out to the Fire, demonstrate that we will have continued support, and ask for something reasonable - such as, "Hey, would you consider a new, experienced president to help the club grow? We are frustrated as a fan base and want more from you, but we are willing to give more in return." If the front office were to offer positive change, we as a community should reward that. However, if they don't, I agree that it is right to speak against it.
Maybe I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
Maybe it is naive to think we as fans can work to improve relations and also improve the fan experience, but I do believe at this point in my life things are often not so black and white as the Twitter world would have us believe. Clearly, there is a difference between hating club ownership and hating a club. But how much does hating either really accomplish? I think it accomplishes more to ask, and engage in a dialogue for what is most needed.
Right now what is most needed is for the Fire to HIRE A NEW PRESIDENT.