Late last week, when talks between Xherdan Shaqiri and the Chicago Fire reached a point where the transfer looked like it was indeed on, Jhamie Chin and Alex Mueller from the Fire’s marketing and communications team got an urgent message.
Pack your bags, you’re going to Switzerland.
From that point they had just hours to come up with a plan on how to introduce Shaqiri’s signing to the world. Over the last couple years, the Fire’s content team has developed a reputation for producing top tier stuff, but this signing was one of the biggest in the club’s history. They knew, this time, they’d have to really deliver.
At first, they thought maybe they’d find a soccer field, or maybe they could shoot on the streets of Basel.
“We started to realize walking around Switzerland isn’t the best idea,” Mueller said. “Shaq’s pretty well known in Switzerland if you haven’t noticed!”
That’s when Mueller got help from Georg Heitz, the Fire’s sporting director, who spent many years at FC Basel, where Shaqiri began his pro career. Who better than a local to hook it up? Heitz helped Mueller and Chin land the ballroom at Safran Zunft, a very old and very famous restaurant in Basel.
Now that they knew where they’d be shooting, it was time to build a plan. Mueller brainstormed with co-workers Justin Hubler and Tyler Emerick, and they settled on an idea.
“I suggested to Justin and Tyler that we could go a route where he gets a phonecall from Georg, and we kind of set up a scene in that ballroom area, where you don’t know who it is,” Mueller said. “I thought that was a good way to convey the relationship between Georg and Shaq, having gone back a long time, and they know each other very well.”
Mueller and Chin flew over with a team doctor Saturday night into Sunday morning, and then took the hour train ride from Zurich to Basel. They grabbed a quick shower, then it was time for Shaqiri’s medical at a local hospital. After that, they headed over to the Safran Zunft.
“We were really incognito,” Chin explained. “We made sure to not wear any club gear, and we were careful with our movements, because, there, it’s Roger Federer and him. He’s the biggest Swiss footballer, so it wasn’t like we could just parade him around the town.”
The shot of the phone on the table, where Heitz pops up on the screen as the one who’s calling, was shot separately. Heitz wasn’t even on the phone—he recorded that audio in Austin, Texas, where he was with the rest of the team for preseason camp—and sent it to Mueller and Chin in Europe. That audio, along with the ringtone—Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough”—were added in later.
Now it was time for Shaqiri to shine. Sometimes athletes aren’t the best actors, but Shaqiri nailed his “See you soon, Chicago” line.
“Shaq and his team were really great. Personable, down to earth, and really easy to work with,” said Chin, who has worked with plenty of huge soccer stars during his career, including Kaka and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
They captured what they needed, and the rest was up to Mueller, who edited much of the video on the flight back to Chicago. They even booked their seats to have a lavatory wall behind them, so the work could go on without prying eyes noticing.
It was a lot of work—and a lot of money—which was all well worth it when the fans saw the video late Wednesday morning.
“The club being supportive enough to send us over there was huge, because it allowed us to get this great content on the ground, instead of just trying to piece together a highlight video,” Chin said. “Not every club will send their team over. That was huge.”
The Fire’s marketing team made a big splash a couple years ago with the player announcement video for Robert Beric, who took a shot of Malort to mark his arrival. They’re hoping this video leaves a similar mark on Fire fans.
“There was some pressure, yes, but mostly it was a really great and cool experience,” Chin said.