To call Wednesday night’s “editorial” posting at Chicago-Fire.com unfortunate may be an understatement but it was exactly that. Among many other things it is also a misguided cluster of a piece that simply failed to get a coherent point across without angering the club’s fan base. To make matters worse it comes at a time when it appears that there will be no playoff soccer in Chicago for the third time in the last four seasons. A loss to New England coupled with a thoroughly disappointing loss to DC United in the US Open Cup Semi-Final calls into question whether or not the folks that decided that this was a good time to run this piece really put any thought into how supporters might react or that most rational, objective observers would read this and see it as nothing more than a whiny, self indulgent, fluff piece that served no purpose.
The purpose of the “editorial” seemingly was to highlight a vague incident or confrontation that allegedly occurred between a fan(s), Fire staff, Andrew Hauptman and his family, and possibly even other supporters. We don’t know what the specifics of the confrontation are because the “editorial” doesn’t bother to offer a clear explanation of what happened during or after the match on August 7. Instead of being specific it meanders into a clumping of internet insults and derision of the owner and the way the club is run and combines that with a veil of concern for the safety of supporters while attempting to keep Toyota Park from becoming a “fearful” place for fans.
We may never know exactly what happened during the incident(s) in question unless Andrew Hauptman himself would like to expound and explain what exactly what said and what was taken exception to. Of course, there is enough out there from the supporter’s perspective to piece some of it together. One fan claims to have hurled a post game comment directed toward the owner’s box suggesting that he “spend some money on someone who can score”. That’s hardly an incendiary insult worthy of fearing for one’s safety but an expletive laden response allegedly came down from the owner’s box which may have inflamed and exaggerated the entire fracas. Regardless of what started the problem, the “editorial” manages to not only generalize fan conduct at Toyota Park based on an isolated incident but it also drags its most ardent supporters into the mix by invoking the club’s charter. The tenets of the charter which call for respectful behavior and acting responsibly are quoted in order to chastise a singular few who may or may not have said something inflammatory after the Open Cup loss.
This again is veiled by a vague reference to random complaints by stating, “we have heard from many longstanding supporters who were afraid, fearful, disgusted with certain attendees behavior” in reference to the USOC semi-final. If this is the case, why not work with supporter’s groups and season ticket holders to help identify and correct abusive behavior instead of drafting an “editorial” under a false premise of concern for the family? It would appear on the surface that the true purpose of the piece was meant to take aim at anyone with a negative thought towards the owner and the club. That’s the way it comes across whether it was meant that way or not.
It’s certainly concerning that anyone in the organization thought that the “editorial” wasn’t going to receive overwhelmingly negative backlash and that anyone felt it was perfectly reasonable for a professional sports organization to call out its paying customers in such a manner. If the problem truly lies with a few isolated jerks that created a dangerous scene (that nobody in the stands seems to have witnessed) then why start the “editorial” with one particular fan calling Dan Lobring a “(crappy) hire”? Why mention that some supporters have called Hauptman “cheap”, say he “doesn’t care”, or thinks of the Fire as a “toy”?
What this is not is the singular opinion of the writer meant to convey and confess that he’s still learning about the game and supporter’s culture. The convoluted way in which all of the concerns about negativity among supporters thinly disguised as a fear for the safety of individuals is presented should be enough to dissuade anyone who believes that this is just one man’s opinion. Senior Director of Communications Dan Lobring has borne the brunt of the responsibility for penning this disaster under his name but it’s clear that the intent of the editorial was fashioned in the mind of someone above him. This was essentially confirmed by Chief Operating Officer Atul Khosla via his twitter account when he verified that Lobring’s piece was reviewed before it was published. This doesn’t get posted unless it’s green lighted from the top.
Even if there is a kernel of truth in the “editorial”, and there may be a valid point in there somewhere about unnecessary personal attacks it still comes off as amateurish, petty, thin skinned and completely uncalled for in the form that is was presented. It really has no place on the club’s official web site.
What the Fire have done is continue to paint themselves as a minor league organization toiling away in a second rate league that can’t handle the pressure of criticism on the big stage of major league professional sports in a major league city where results are the ultimate driving force in the arena of public opinion. It’s akin to Jerry Reinsdorf, Rocky Wirtz, Tom Ricketts, or the McCaskey family releasing a statement condemning their fans because of something a few uninformed, meatheaded callers uttered on WSCR or ESPN1000. Over reactive, unprofessional, thin skinned, ridiculous, insulting. The Fire have managed to perpetuate the stereotypes that they’re fighting to dissuade when it comes to their own fan base internally. To make matters worse they tried to disguise their contempt for a portion of their own fan base behind the veil of an “editorial” essentially telling everyone, “this is for your own good”. I guarantee you it’s also spawned a litany of questions about what’s going on in Chicago from sponsors, corporate partners, national media, supporters of other clubs, and more importantly from within the league.
While the Fire are starving for mainstream media attention, they gained some in the worst possible way with this “editorial”. By coming off as unproffesional, thin skinned whiners they have managed to also perpetuate the “minor league” perception of professional soccer in Chicago. This has done absolutely nothing to aid the club from the business or public relations end. One day of negative headlines in the Tribune, Sun Times, and Deadspin is nowhere near as valuable as losing the trust and confidence of the people who are paying the freight every day to support the club. Those people who were made aware of the Fire via any headline will remember the organization as a joke and move on. Those that will stick around aren’t laughing.