The Fire's 2011 Season Kick Off Luncheon enjoyed the largest turnout yet for the annual event. Over 750 people attended the luncheon established to benefit the team's charitable causes through the Chicago Fire Foundation. Held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Chicago, the event allows fans to meet and mingle with players and coaches before the season officially kicks off.
The team introduced the current roster to the attendees, including unsigned draft pick Davis Paul but no other "unsigned players" were announced although both Pari Pantazopoulos and Gabriel Ferrari were in attendance. The team will go into the season with a 28 man roster and will resume training at
MLS Commissioner Don Garber spoke to the crowd and answered a few questions after the event. In addition to fielding questions regarding promotion and relegation, expansion, and the upcoming season Garber was eager to point out how impressed he was with the event, "I've been to several luncheons throughout the league and I have to say nothing even comes close to this event," said the commissioner.
I had a chance to ask Garber what he thought some of the older established teams could do to capture some of the same attention from the local fan base and media that the new expansion sides have been able to develop. Through his response it's evident the league realizes the novelty of new MLS franchises in some markets makes it easier to promote the product, "It's easy to be new. Every marketer throws "new" in front of every product that they launch so the new teams have a bit of an advantage. That being said, what exists here in Chicago is deep. I mentioned to Andrew Hauptman that it's just remarkable that you can get a thousand people to come to a luncheon suppporting an MLS team. The issues are different and I believe the opportunity is greater when you have an established team. All the clubs are working hard to ensure that they can deliver, with an existing team that has been embedded in the community, some of the benefits that some of the newer teams get just by opening up their doors. That means closer connection with the community, different and more effective marketing and it means more active relevancy programs throughout different communities. I believe the Fire and all of the other clubs will be able to do that."
"Overall our business is good. Attendance is growing. The overall soccer business in America is growing and our continued challenge will be converting soccer fans into being committed MLS fans. That's not easy but it's moving in the right direction."
The Don also addressed the issues of expansion, promotion and relegation, referees, and MLS televison. You can listen to him discuss those topics here.
Frank Klopas talks about the final 28 man roster in Sam Stejskal's latest article on MLSsoccer.com. No official announcement has been made yet on which players have made the final cut but Klopas once again interestingly refers to the possible addition of another international forward.