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The Open: How a COVID cancelation helped create one of the best parts of the Chicago Fire TV broadcasts

It’s become a must see part of the club’s TV broadcasts, featuring Fire players, staff, fans and more.

A screenshot from the first edition of “The Open.”
Chicago Fire FC

Like it did with a lot of things, the coronavirus pandemic ruined some of the Chicago Fire’s biggest plans for 2020. To date, no fans have been allowed to see a match inside Soldier Field. The team’s schedule has been blown apart and put back together several times already.

Add to that the fact that famed English broadcaster Arlo White, who was supposed to call ten or so Fire matches over the summer when the Premier League season was on break, was unable to get here. His Premier League duties were pushed into the summer, and COVID-related travel restrictions made getting to the United States nearly impossible.

It was a bummer, to be sure. But from that, one of the best parts of the Fire’s TV broadcasts was born: The Open.

“Sometimes you arrive at these things by trial and error,” says Sean Dennison, who as the club’s Senior Vice President of Communications and Media, oversees the TV broadcasts. “We knew we wanted him to be a part of the game and the broadcast in some capacity. We landed on creating a powerful intro that Arlo would voiceover. We also knew that he would deliver an incredible VO and, in true Arlo fashion, he did just that.”

The inaugural edition of “The Open” aired on WGN and ESPN+ right at 6:30 on August 25, as the Fire were preparing to take on FC Cincinnati. Dennison co-wrote the piece, White voiced it, and then the Fire’s ridiculously talented video editor, Justin Hubler, took it to the next level visually.

“This isn’t the homecoming we planned for in front of 60,000 of our closest friends,” White says on the VO. “But for now, it’s the one we’ve got.”

What started as a one-off idea to get White involved in the broadcast turned out so strong, the club decided to make it a regular thing. So far, “The Open” has featured longtime Fire fans, the club’s kit man, goalkeeper coach Adin Brown, and even Fabian Herbers.

“The process is a lot of fun,” Dennison says. “We identify a member of the Fire family to feature. We speak with them via phone, asking them questions, trying to get them talking about the sport, the Club, the impact it has had on their life. We’re always trying to get little anecdotes, some color, stories, and now we know instantly when they say something we can zero in on.”

Dennison’s favorite of the seven pieces so far, the one he feels will be hard to top, aired before the NYCFC match. It was called “Frontline Heroes.”

“We reconnected with season ticket holder Dr. Nick Hatzis, who works at Lurie Children’s. We talked for more than an hour,” Dennison explains. “He brought up the goal that Nacho Aliseda had scored the game before versus Cincy in the home opener. He shared that the team goal he’d watched play out was similar to how his team at work complimented each other, the other doctors and health care professionals, and how they similarly function as a team.”

In the piece, Dr. Hatzis talks about the teamwork between Boris Sekulic, Elliot Collier, and finally Ignacio Aliseda that led to the goal.

“I kept thinking about my team at Lurie Children’s Hospital,” Dr. Hatzis reads in the piece. “Sekulic is Lowry. Collier is Cohen. And Aliseda, the goal scorer, is Aguirre. Those are my teammates.”

To cover the voiceover, Hubler, who was also one of the people behind the excellent “Road to Soldier Field” series, created an animation that pushes the piece to the next level.

“When the script came together, it just felt right,” Dennison says. “The balance of it, the timing of it. Even in a short script, you try to find a beginning, middle and end. Try to fit all the pieces together just so. Justin put so much time, effort and attention to detail into the edit and, as one of my colleagues said … no sufficient words.”

In another piece, red hot forward/midfielder Fabian Herbers describes the first match at Soldier Field as “Christmas morning.” He talks about a conversation he had with Gastón Giménez the day before at training, where he told the Argentine to watch for a particular run he’d make. Herbers made that run in the second minute of the match, Giménez found him, and the pair combined to deliver the first home goal of the season.

“Lucky me, Santa sent a present. And it came by way of special delivery,” Herbers says of the pass from Giménez.

“We really liked the line about special delivery,” Dennison says. “Once again, Justin nails the edit and it makes for a special feature. Fabi has continued to play great at home at Soldier Field. I’m not saying it’s because we featured him in The Open, but it certainly hasn’t hurt.”

This weekend’s piece will feature WGN’s Jarrett Payton, who before his broadcasting days was best known as an American football player, and, of course, Walter Payton’s son. But before that, Payton was actually one of the best high school soccer players in the Chicago area. It’s a good reason to make sure you’re tuned in to the Fire-Montreal Impact match right at 6:30 p.m. CT, or you’ll miss it. If you do, all editions of “The Open” are available under the video tab of the Fire’s website.