There’s an idea among many Chicago Fire fans that the unpopular “Fire Crown” crest, which is going away later this year, was thrust upon owner Joe Mansueto by the club’s previous majority owner, Andrew Hauptman, on his way out the door.
It’s easy to see why. Since Mansueto assumed full control of the club from Hauptman in 2019, the Fire have hit a number of home runs. The marketing and media content has been exceptionally good. The club went from being off local TV entirely, to having a deal with WGN to air matches. Although the team only won five games in 2020, the club’s sporting department, led by Georg Heitz, has a clear direction and a stated goal of bringing in and developing young players from all over the world. And, perhaps most notably, Mansueto got the team out of its lease with the Village of Bridgeview, and moved matches back downtown to Soldier Field.
A club that once seemed to be overloaded with chaos and a lack of direction suddenly seems much calmer, with a clear idea of what the future holds.
But that logo? It looked like an outlier—one really bad thing casting an ugly shadow over a lot of otherwise really great work. So is Mansueto really the guy to blame?
“Well, I was certainly responsible for the logo, so if people aren’t happy with it, they can direct their anger at me,” Mansueto tells Hot Time in a wide ranging interview. “I was involved in choosing the design firm. That’s on me.”
Hot Time is told both Hauptman and Mansueto were both involved in the process that resulted in the unpopular logo coming to life. But, Mansueto seems to be the rare owner who gives credit to others when things are going well, and shoulders the blame when they’re not. On this one, he accepts full responsibility.
One Fire staffer says for that and many other reasons, he’s “the best owner in sports.”
The Fire Crown logo debuted in late 2019, shortly after Mansueto fully took over. The club knew there would be some pushback from fans who loved the old Florian Cross, but it’s safe to say Mansueto and his team had no idea how bad the reaction would be. The logo was widely panned instantly. Other clubs even started jumping in to make fun of it on social media.
“When we debuted the current logo, I thought the story embedded in the logo was very powerful—the Chicago Fire, from the ashes, building a championship caliber club,” Mansueto explains. “I think the current logo kind of fell short in telling that story, and somehow it became confused with royalty, Chicagoans are not royalty, and maybe it was a bit simplistic.”
Mansueto was listening, but he didn’t want to react right away. Instead, he wanted the logo to settle in, think things through, and see if fans changed their minds.
“I like to marinate, live with something for a while, and I think the logo is especially true,” he says. “When you see a new mark, it’s really, really hard to judge. You need to see it in use, and you need to see it in marketing, you need to see it on television, you need to see it on the kits. Often, your view changes from that initial view, when you see it in use repetitively, it becomes something that you can attach different feelings and emotions to.
“Over the course of the year, we lived with it. You follow the club closely. You’ve seen kind of the overwhelmingly negative response, I mean there were some positives, some people got used to it, but I would say on balance, more people wanted to move on from it. So we thought, yeah, we’ve given it time. Let’s listen to the fans and move on, take their direction, and that’s what we decided.”
When reflecting on the situation, Mansueto hesitates, but eventually settles on calling the Crown a mistake.
“If something’s not working, I’ve always had the attitude, ‘Hey, let’s change it, fix it.’ I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my—I don’t want to say the logo was a—well, maybe it was a mistake. You can’t bat 1,000. You’re gonna make some errors. And so the key thing is to correct them,” he says.
The Fire are doing just that. The club announced a plan earlier this month that will result in a new logo for the 2022 season. Unlike last time, where the Fire Crown was developed in secret and caught many fans off guard, this time around fans are encouraged to get involved and submit ideas—more than 1,000 have jumped in so far. The club has also enlisted star soccer designer Matthew Wolff, and two local firms to help with the process.
“If you want to do anything creative in life, you’re gonna try a lot of things, and they’re not all going to work,” Mansueto says. “And so, you know, it comes with the territory. If you want to have a creative, dynamic organization, you’re going to make some mistakes.”
Mansueto wants to create a culture where Fire staffers are free to chase an idea, even if it doesn’t work out. Mistakes are part of the process in finding success, he says.
“John Lennon wrote a lot of great songs, but he also wrote some really terrible songs,” Mansueto says.
More takeaways: Despite a season with just five wins, Mansueto is pleased with the big-picture direction on the sporting side
“I’m very happy with the direction of the club,” Mansueto says. “I think we’ve got the right people in the right seats. And we are headed in the right direction, if you’re talking about the first team on the sporting side, Georg (Heitz), I think is just a world caliber talent in terms of identifying and developing soccer talent. We’ve put together a scouting organization, and we’re looking around the world, Bulgaria, Latvia, Colombia—these guys are leaving no stone unturned.
“And then on the homegrown side, we’ve got nine Homegrowns on our roster. We want to see more of that. We want to get the next Mauricio Pineda. There’s a lot of talent in the Chicago area, and in the broader Midwest, and we should be a destination of choice for young soccer talent, whether that’s a Homegrown, or somebody outside the U.S. to come here.”
He calls the trade that sent Djordje Mihailovic to Club de Foot Montreal a win-win
“We have the highest regard for Djordje,” Mansueto says. “He’s a very talented player with tremendous potential. Montreal put a big number on the table, a million guaranteed GAM money, it’s one of the biggest within-MLS transfers to ever happen, so it speaks a lot of Djordje. At the end of the day, it was a win-win. It was good for Djordje, and it was good for the club. We wish Djordje nothing but the best.”
The club expects to partner with USL League One side Forward Madison FC again in 2021, but long-term the Fire could create their own USL or U-23 team for player development
“The plan is to continue to partner with Forward Madison, and that’s worked out well. Chris Brady, one of our players, was (USL League One’s) Young Player of the Year. A phenomenal job at goalkeeping. It’s worked out well. We’re happy with the relationship.
“I think in the long run we would like to have our own, whether it’s USL, U-23, kind of reserve team, so we could develop the bottom part of the roster more. And I think in a long term that’s what we’d like to see. Won’t happen for this year, though.”
Mansueto can’t talk about the current CBA dispute, but hopes the season will start in March
“The CBA is the one thing I’m not allowed to speak to you about. The league has asked us not to comment on that. They want to speak with one voice, and that makes a lot of sense, so I can’t discuss that. The league’s position right now is the season is starting in March. We’re optimistic that that’ll happen. That could change, but right now it’s March and it’s a full season.
“I’m eager to see the team that we put together on the pitch, so we’re ready and eager to go. We just need to go get the green light from the league.”