Posada Has A Full Plate Going Into 2011 Season

Last month MLSsoccer.com chose the Fire's hiring of Julian Posada as the most underreported story of 2010.  The choice was a bit odd given that since Posada was hired last September there just hasn't been much to report.  The Fire's 2011 Season Ticket marketing campaign had already been kick started with the "All In for 2011" tag line and the subsequent three and a half months have provided very little in terms of a change in the Fire's local presence or public perception.  As the article points out, Posada was indeed an intriguing choice since he is not a traditional sports executive. 

 

Rather than choosing a new team President with an MLS background in other cities (see John Guppy) or a person with marketing experience in other sports (ala Dave Greeley), the Fire chose someone with an established presence in local print media, albeit a presence in a specific market.  Posada's success as general manager of the Tribune Company's Spanish language daily newspaper, Hoy and the publisher of Café Magazine - an English language forum catering to the Hispanic-American community is certainly a departure from the background of the typical sports executive but will his previous experience translate into success in the professional sports arena?

As Nick Firchau's article on MLSsoccer.com points out, the Fire seemingly have targeted the Hispanic market by hiring a team President that has built a career out of finding ways to communicate effectively with Chicago's considerable Hispanic population.  Posada's sense of community and hope to engrain the organization into the fabric of the local culture through youth soccer, charitable contributions, and long term planning is commendable and undoubtedly a step in the right direction but those plans can't be implemented at the risk of alienating any part of the current or potential fan base by appearing to cater to a specific demographic, especially when so many obvious things can be addressed and corrected right now. 

 

Some of these things aren't a mystery; they're topics that have been broached before by die hard supporters, season ticket holders, and casual fans and should be evident as basic marketing strategies for a professional sports franchise in a city and market as diverse and competitive as Chicago.  The glaring lack of some of these simple things has boggled the minds of supporter's for years.  Here are a few suggestions that can be implemented now that will increase visibility and ultimately the bottom line in the long run:

 

    • English language radio broadcasts - Okay, so I understand that MLS soccer on radio isn't exactly going to be a ratings bonanza for any particular radio station.  That's a problem when attempting to sell the product to a prospective carrier but that hasn't stopped local radio from carrying sporting events with less than limited potential audiences.  WSCR airs college basketball including the DePaul Blue Demons, a commodity that hasn't been relevant on the Chicago sporting landscape since Ray and Joey Meyer sat on the bench.  That station probably isn't a good fit due to their inflated self image and anti-soccer attitude but ESPN1000 could be.  Not only is the on air staff more educated and receptive to the game, but the mothership airs MLS on television and the station carries a lot of syndicated programming on weekends and nights when Fire matches would take place.  Syndicated programming historically has had less than mediocre success in the Chicago market and viable local programming, particularly a local professional sports franchise, could be successful as a replacement if packaged properly. 

 

      If an equitable offer for a broadcast partner isn't feasible then there's nothing wrong with purchasing the air time from a local station with a decent signal just to get the product into another avenue where new customers may encounter it and current customers could embrace it if they are not able to attend or watch games.  Fans who do attend should be able to hear a coherent recap in the parking lot after the match or in the car on the way home from a match.  This is akin to running a two and a half hour commercial for the team on local airwaves.  It's not a new idea.  During the better part of the last decade, before they became what they are now, the Blackhawks purchased air time on WSCR in order to air their games and keep their name alive in the sporting consciousness of the fan in Chicago.  During this time attendance was miserable and barely a word was spoken about the team in print, radio, or television sports coverage.  The team was able to sell their own advertising time during the broadcasts and keep any profits made since they were buying the time from WSCR.  Airing a half hour post game show with highlights, coach's post game press conference, and a handful of listener phone ins similar to every other major sports franchise in the city would also help the cause and encourage fans to feel like there is a place to vent, cheer, discuss, or just plain listen to conversation regarding the team and the game that was just completed while waiting in the parking lot at Toyota Park or after a road game.  It's inexpensive content that provides another opportunity to keep the team in the minds of the customer before, during, and after matches.  It can also help the organization gauge the temperature of the fan base without having to resort to the anonymous world of internet message boards or quick one liners on social media platforms.  The Blackhawks also managed to successfully play to nostalgia by re-hiring Pat Foley as play by play announcer.  Former Sting play by play man Howard Balson is still in the Chicago area. It's not exactly the same situation as Foley's return but the Fire could reach out to former NASL fans by bringing back an old favorite. 

    • Team Store At Toyota Park - This seems like a no-brainer but for reasons that have never truly been explained, an official team store within the team's home stadium doesn't exist.  I'm not referring to the Chicago Soccer stands located on the concourse.  I'm talking about a full fledged team store where customers can purchase Fire merchandise before and after games.  On game days and off days.  During the season and during the winter months.  Every other major professional sports franchise in the city provides this feature, there's no good reason (other than initial cost) why the top flight soccer team located in one of the biggest markets in the country shouldn't either. 

 

      As you advance through the main entry doors at Toyota Park a display stand located to the right of the front desk features a handful of Fire gear and merchandise which can be purchased after the receptionist makes a call up to Fan Relations, the rep comes down from the office, asks the customer about the possible purchase, runs back upstairs to check if they have the item available, and comes back downstairs to complete a purchase form.  Spending money shouldn't be this difficult considering that immediately to the left of the main entry and reception desk lays a rather spacious unfinished room which would be a perfect location for a team store.  The room is apparently currently used for storage.  Don't want to spend the time and money for actually running the store?  Lease the space out to Chicago Soccer. 

  • Speaking of merchandise -  Why not listen to the fan base and offer some items that would be instant best sellers?  A new Adidas version of the 2005 light blue Puma Chicago "flag" jersey would instantly fly off the shelf.  I'm not sure what the copyright issues are with regards to producing a shirt based on Puma's original design, but a variant of the jersey would surely be a popular item.  Since jerseys are the biggest seller in terms of sports merchandise how about offering flashback jerseys based on the different incarnations of the Fire's kit over the years?  Again, this may take some doing due to the various manufacturers over the years but it's a revenue stream that should be explored.
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  • Changing the Public Profile - The preponderance of soccer coverage is found on the internet and the Fire have done a respectable job of increasing their online presence over the last 12 months through social media, the team blog, a more active site, and Jeff Crandall's All-In podcasts but a presence in traditional media is still woefully missing.  Posada's contacts at Tribune Tower through Hoy may help, but there is little chance that any of the traditional outlets will suddenly begin to take soccer seriously unless several steps are taken first.
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    The first step is of course the most difficult; a winning and entertaining product is the best possible marketing tool that a sports team can utilize.  The current state of the product hasn't exactly provided even the most die hard supporters much cause for optimism.  Unfortunately, due to the disposition of the local media towards anything soccer related winning isn't necessarily a cure all when it comes to mass coverage.  The Fire have been a mostly successful franchise since 1998 but not much has changed since then in terms of coverage.  The unfortunate reality of media in Chicago is that the honchos in charge of news and entertainment outlets are incapable of making decisions based on information such as attendance or the fervor of the fan base.  Rather, they need someone to tell them a product or story is cool and in demand before making a decision on their own to commit dollars toward covering or following a story. 

     

    The Blackhawks used this ploy masterfully last year. The Hawks essentially used connections with WGN and the Tribune Company to create a buzz around the organization and managed to get themselves plastered all over Tribune owned properties to the point where competing media outlets were forced to jump on the bandwagon.  Of course it helped that the team was a young, talented squad capable of winning a championship but the Blackhawks also gave their fans everything they wanted in coaxing them back to the United Center.

     

  • Honoring History - The Blackhawks however had decades of history to draw upon while enticing fans to pay attention again. 
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    Bring back Pat Foley, check. 

    Home games on television, check. 

    Re-establish connections with stars and memories of years gone by, check. 

    Repair the public relations damage done by Bill Wirtz, done. 

     

    The Fire don't have decades of history on their side when marketing to nostalgia as other sports franchises in Chicago historically do (will we never stop hearing about the '69 Cubs or the '85 Bears?) but they have managed to create something of a tight knit following that is growing that same type of sense of history.  Establishing that sort of connection between fans and teams is essential to growing a fan base that is passed down from generation to generation.  For this reason, CJ Brown should be part of the organization in some official capacity immediately.  In Brown, the Fire have a player who has been with the organization since the first game and those ties should continue with an actual position in the team not just in the nebulus "CJ will always be part of the Fire family" response that has been the party line to date. 

     

    A report surfaced last week that Brown would soon interview for an assistant coaching position at Real Salt Lake.  That loss would certainly be largely unpopular with the core fan base to say the least.  Brown's possible departure is one issue but Posada has seemingly begun to address another.  In this interview, he says that he has laid out plans to help incorporate new players into the organization in an effort to help ease any transition difficulty that newcomers are faced with.  This is an excellent start in helping to truly cement a sense of loyalty that has been missing from some acquisitions of late. 

     

  • The Long Haul - The hard part about marketing soccer in Chicago is something Posada seems to understand.  Popularity for a sustained period in a market like Chicago is not something that can happen overnight.  The Fire needs to be patient and cultivate fandom organically by keeping their current fans emotionally invested in the team in the same fashion that decades of familial support for the Cubs or Bears has been handed down from generation to generation.  After thirteen years the club has amassed a core fan base that in my estimation isn't anywhere near the core fan base of the Cubs, White Sox, or Bears but they are a lot closer to the Bulls and Blackhawks than most would like to admit.  The biggest difference in terms of sheer numbers is that the Bulls and Blackhawks have the advantage of years and time to allow the casual fan to become interested at even the slightest signs of success.  The Fire doesn't have the luxury of attracting the "bandwagon" fan just yet. 
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    Above and beyond the core fan base, lies another level of soccer fandom that can only be reached by providing a quality product.  The numerous thousands of soccer fans in the Chicago area who don't support the Fire and MLS will only be converted after being presented with a product that is comparable with their vision of quality soccer.  This will come with time as the league develops but it's not something that can be solved quickly either.  No amount of marketing firms or slick advertising campaigns will capture that demographic immediately and patience will be the key.

     

  • Jersey Sponsor - The Fire should be one of the more sought after commodities in terms of sponsorship in MLS.  I've got to believe the Fire, playing in the third largest market in the country, will be able to secure a lucrative jersey sponsor if FC Dallas has four suitors and second year Philadelphia Union was able to lock down a $12 million dollar deal with Bimbo.  I don't believe replacing Best Buy will be a problem.  
  • The Fire has gone a long way to correct and repair some of the dissatisfaction of the core fan base over the last year and half.  The organization has increased the "benefits" made available to season ticket holders through an impressive package offer that included free parking and a price reduction for some seats, attempted to repair the relationship between stadium security and supporter's sections, and have made themselves available and approachable to fans through different team sponsored events.  There is no better marketing tool than a winning team but there are relatively easy steps that can be taken now as the 2011 season approaches. 

           

    Comments

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    • A look at the top prospects available in the supplemental draft tomorrow......

      http://www.mlssoccer.com/news/article/top-players-available-tuesdays-supplemental-draft

    • In the blog, their is a section written about honoring history like 69 and 84 Cubs, 85 Bears and don't forget the Bulls dynasty in the 90's, Fire have a brief history with the 1998 championship team in their inaugural season but most of those players and staff are still active either playing (Zack Thornton)or coaching for other teams (Peter Nowak, Bob Bradley, Jesse Marsch and Diego Gutierrez). In 2009,the Fire honoring the 25th Anniversary of Chicago Sting last championship to inform die hard soccer fans and younger audience where Chicago soccer was originated. That was the step in the right direction and the step for syndication for English broadcast whether it is on the AM or FM dial. From their, Posada has to find local radio personalities that has a lot of depth and knowledge of the game of soccer. If DePaul and NIU athletics find airtime on the Score, the Fire deserve as much airtime as those two universities I mentioned.

      What baffles me is the Score buys airtime on Sunday nights to have programming with a show that involves with Chicago politics, economy and Chicago businesses on a station that doesn't fit their genre. Currently, the league is growing and when the day that the MLS will be competitive with the NFL and MLB, it will be talk about all over the United states whether they are a fan of the sport or not.

    • A non story. the Fire make less news than any other MLS team. Who cares who their bean counters are. There seems to be a style over substance aspect to Fire news, see the praise of the youth program and then compare to many other teams who have more players signed to the first team, more players in national teams at all levels, and more home grown designations playing top level college soccer. We also never trade within the league and I wonder if this also indicates a lack of expertise. I noticed teams at the draft had a braintrust of 6 people judging the big board, but I never did see pictures of the Fire at the draft and get the impression they had less coaches there.

    • In reply to Celt:

      I should make clear that the hiring of Posada is the non story, not Guillermo's coverage of the most "underreported story of 2010."

    • In reply to Celt:

      Looks like Real Salt Lake is set to hire CJ Brown as an assistant coach...........

      http://www.soccerbyives.net/soccer_by_ives/2011/01/rsl-hires-cj-brown-as-new-assistant-coach.html

    • In reply to Celt:

      I heard on francosy's twitter page that Real Salt Lake is set to introduce CJ Brown as one of their new assistant coaches. If this is true then I am thuroughly disappointed with the club. This disappointment is aimed directly at club owner Andrew Hauptman who, in an ad-lib speech during CJ's retirement party at The Pitch (moment of silence for The Pitch please...thank you), said that CJ symbolizes everything that this club is about and what it will symbolize moving forward; Passion, Honor, Tradition. Well, spouting such high praise you're going to let the "symbol" of the club walk out the front door? It's this kind of backwards action where they say one thing and do the other that's unfortunately come to symbolize the club in recent years, unfortunately. I still support the players on the field but I will reserve my faith in the front office until they show signs of reversing this new way of operating.

    • In reply to Celt:

      Great article with lots of pertinent comments. We need more like this. I think and English language radio outlet would help, but it's more expensive than many think and the major stations are very expensive and dictate their own terms. I think MLS needs to get more games on nonpremium stations too. Versus and ESPN reach many more homes than FSC, etc.. A store at Toyota Park is long overdue. Thanks for the insights Guillermo.

    • In reply to bigredmachine:

      Satellite radio would be another thought...probably more for the league than individual clubs.

    • In reply to cesba:

      Satellite radio carries the Barclays English Premier League game and MLL (Major LaCrosse League). MLL???

    • In reply to longoria3:

      That's my point....if Major League Lacrosse has a radio outlet there's no reason MLS shouldn't.

    • In reply to longoria3:

      What really concerns me is why even have a MLS website going if you are going to address/confirm any news about the club through facebook and or twitter. There still been no mention about CJ through the Fire website. No mention of the loan deal of Nery to Aris....nothing..nada...zilch. Why is information like pulling teeth with these people? Instead they run a story about the person who won the open try out which congrats to the young person. So that takes priority of having a Fire legend leave to another organization and having your DP go on a loan in Greece? I don't get it. Having somebody as club president who is supposed to be a wiz in using the media so far is dropping the ball.

    • In reply to WBO5ElGuapo:

      There was no mention of the Castillo deal on the official site yet because the final deal with Shakthar/Aris has not been completed. We'll see official word some time tomorrow.
      No doubt...the info stream needs to get better.

    • In reply to cesba:

      I can understand not putting something out until it's confirmed on the other hand putting nothing out is also not the way to go. I've seen other clubs put a statement out when an issue arose. They just addressed it saying nothing is concrete at the moment. It gave the look like the club was on top of things. There are two huge stories involving the Fire and nothing has been done. As for the C.J. thing the Fire quoted a statement from Klopas wishing C.J. the best on the Facebook fan page but nothing on the website????

    • In reply to bigredmachine:

      From the Fire's twitter..........

      The club would like to congratulate CJ Brown on joining @RealSaltLake. Good luck in your new role. We'll miss you in Chicago.

    • In reply to bigredmachine:

      Salt Lake article on CJ Brown hiring......

      http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/blogsrsl/51071744-49/brown-rsl-fire-coaching.html.csp

    • In reply to cesba:

      Wth. How do you respond to this? The slope the Fire are falling down just got steeper.

    • In reply to cesba:

      I'm still giving Posada a chance, this season will be a challenge on the field so he'll have his work cut out for him in keeping the fans and the stadium experience something worth attending.

      English radio, internet radio, satellite radio, better reach out to local, established media, and of course getting a new, lucrative jersey sponsor for the sake of the club's financial health are all among his top priorities.

      Buena luck sir,
      10 year STH

    • In reply to cesba:

      Whats with all the radio talk. How many people are going to sit around the radio and listen to the game? It's not like baseball when majority of the games are at 1:00pm during the week. They are usually on Saturday nights or Sunday during the day. Why listen to the radio when you can go to the game or turn on the TV and watch it. I would rather have a good HD station that plays all the games like Comcast sports net than have the game on the radio in English.

    • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

      There are a lot of people (I hope) who can't avoid being on the road during game time and can tune in to catch some of the action or catch the score. There's the additional chance that there are people working or in shops that would put it on in the background.

    • In reply to oliotya:

      Like I said, radio isn't something that will provide a ratings bonanza but it's another platform to make the team available to fans and advertisers that does not exist.

      As Doug points out - there will be always be fans who can't attend or tune in on tv.

    • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

      Great article GR. You have hit ALL my hot button issues and then some (radio being number one). One other thing I'd like to see happen is some celebrity sightings. The other teams feed on that very well. If we could get some of these posers like Vince Vaughan and the King-of-Queens guys to be seen at the games, it would add some cachet to the team. I'll call it the Drew Carey effect. Hauptmann has connections on the Left Coast. He got Belushi to do some ad. He should cultivate this.

    • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

      Great article, GR. You make a lot of really good point that many of us fans have had on our minds for a while. Some of them are no-brainers, and I hope that Posada will have a positive influence. I think he will help the Fire out in the Chicago market, if not just because of his great media connections.

      I was going to comment more about the post, but this CJ Brown thing is the only thing on my mind right now. After such a great retirement party at The Pitch, I hope to see him back here again soon. I absolutely don't fault him for seeking employment elsewhere, and the Fire missed out. I've no doubt there were many things behind the scenes (perhaps some of the new FO guys want to wipe the slate clean, and it's easier to do so without a big veteran presence).

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