“The Editorial” Revisited or, You Can’t Erase History

We don't need your stinkin' access (chicago-fire.com)

God bless the copy and paste buttons (chicago-fire.com)

Censors be damned, OTF opens its vault on a day it anticipated almost one year ago…

As reported by Chicago Sun Times Fire beat writer Brian Sandalow, and commented upon in the Tweet-o-sphere, Chicago Fire Soccer Club, presumably under the direction of new Communications Director Doug Hicks, removed the blog post that shocked the North American soccer world last August from its website today.

OTF readers (along with anyone else who pays attention to Chicago Fire and Major League Soccer) are likely well-acquainted with recently departed Communications Director Dan Lobring’s magnum opus “What it Means to be Part of the Fire Family,” published shortly after Chicago’s loss to then lowly DC United at home in a US Open Cup semifinal. At the time, inexplicably, salt was poured directly onto Fire Nation’s fresh wound.

Lobring’s essay, commissioned, approved, and backed by owner Andrew Hauptman and Chief Operating Officer Atul Khosla, was at once infuriating, flabbergasting, and embarrassing. It was a public relations gaffe that spawned nationwide discourse and left everyone who read it shaking their heads, aghast at its audacity and dumbfounded by its carelessness.

During the dust-up, OTF’s Sam Fels wrote his response to Lobring and the Fire. Read it, and you’ll see much hasn’t changed since then, despite all the turnover — which is par for the course in this Hauptman era.

Most of us remember how the club circled the wagons and doubled down on its gaffe, refusing (to this day) to apologize for embarrassing and lashing out at its fans. What most of us don’t know is, shortly after Lobring’s piece became national news, the owner flew in to do damage control and basically George W. Bushed his employees at Toyota Park.

“You’re either with us, or against us,” was the message conveyed to those who toil behind the scenes.

Almost a year on, unsurprisingly, “against” remains the operative word for Fire fans when it comes to their front office.

In retrospect, most of us don’t blame Dan Lobring. We know he was the fall guy, the messenger for a vindictive egoist from Beverly Hills who, along with his know-nothing COO crony, continues to sink a once proud club, a winner, into irrelevance.

So, in the spirit of anti-censorship, the preservation of history, and a bit of vindictiveness of our own, OTF brings you “The Editorial” in all its uncensored glory, copied straight off the site from which it came, on the day it was published: August 21, 2013…

“What it Means to Be Part of the Fire Family”

by Dan Lobring

I have a confession to make. I’m a new Chicago Fire fan, having been hired to oversee communications for the club just six months ago. But according to some folks, I was also a “shitty hire.” The only professional experience (“zero soccer experience”) I have is “promoting a video game” and I do “not belong leading the Communications department.”

Additionally, I also “need to shave.” To be fair, that one is true, but my wife thinks I look weird totally clean shaven. To be fairer, all of the other statements might also be true, but I would like the opportunity to prove how shitty I am first. To be fairest of all, maybe I already have proven it six months into the job.

But I’m more interested in learning what made me a shitty hire on day one? What brought about the warm reception from a vocal few as I was introduced as a new member of the “Fire family?” My best guess is that because I work for an owner who is supposedly “cheap,” “doesn’t care,” and only sees the team as a “toy.” Or maybe it’s because I’m joining a front office staff that just “doesn’t get it” or only makes “bad decisions.”

Really? Yikes.

Fortunately, those are the only things that I’ve read about online, or have had forwarded my way, or that I have seen on the supporter message boards (I would hate to read the non-supporter boards).  That was until the experience at the U.S. Open Cup semifinal when the Fire laid a giant egg against D.C. United. I don’t pretend to know all the history, but from what I’ve heard, the stories told to me, watching the videos, hearing from staff and our owner, I knew how important this game was. I knew why the Club decided to promote the heck out of it (Facebook ads, on broadcast, social media, letter from ownership, ads at the Messi & Friends game, ads at the U.S. Soccer Viewing Party, free parking, make-up games, discounted food, etc.), and while the crowd and atmosphere led by a robust showing of Section 8 were great, unfortunately the result was gut wrenchingly disappointing.

Yes, ownership and family were at the game. And yes, fans have a right to boo and show how disappointed they are, especially when the Club they love doesn’t perform up to expectations. Look, I’m an unabashed Detroit Lions fan, I know the mentality of a fan going an entire season without winning or watching a team go longer than a decade without a playoff appearance. It’s the thrill of victory and agony of defeat that makes sports great. And from what I’ve seen and heard from Fire supporters, I know it runs even deeper in soccer than anywhere else in sports.

But are personal attacks, threats, accusations, etc., that happened at that Open Cup game OK? Are shouting obscenities to staff, our owner and his family, or other supporters attending games with their families the norm? There’s a fine line between love and hate and being critical vs. being destructive. Certain incidents in particular related to that game have given me and others at the Club pause.

It has been shared with me that the Club’s charter (co-written by our owner and Section 8 leadership) makes it clear that all who enter Toyota Park are to be “respectful of all other supporters, participants, match officials, entertainers, athletes, stadium personnel, staff members and stadium property.” Are to “behave in a responsible manner and not interfere in other supporters’ enjoyment of the match.” And are “to refrain from using foul, sexist, racial, or offensive language including any type of obscene gesture.”

In the aftermath of that game, we/I have heard from many longstanding supporters who were afraid, fearful, disgusted with certain attendees behavior. Our role as a club is to draw a line and protect the sanctity and honor of the organization and all its supporters.

While I may be new to the team, I know the Club isn’t delusional. Owner Andrew Hauptman has set high standards that he hasn’t shied away from. And while these standards might not always be met, you can tell that he has instilled into this group a focus on performance, community, collaboration and connectivity.  In many ways, the club is more successful than ever by these standards, including the footprint of its foundation, social reach, growth in corporate partnerships, expansion of the season ticket base, deep investments and exponential scale in youth and recreational soccer, broadcasting and so on.

But beyond that, there’s the other side that you don’t always get to see.  Chances are that if you’ve met our owner or even just had a conversation with him, you know he tells it like it is, for good or for bad. There’s also a real sense of caring at the Fire, be it regarding the business of the club, or on a more personal level. One “Fire family” isn’t a cliché.  The inclusive and authentic nature of our culture starts from the top down. Hopefully you see pieces of it in action by just attending a game and being welcomed at Toyota Park, or from our partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository (including upcoming Food Drive at our September 1 game), our annual Practice in the Community event coming up this Saturday, our commitment to inclusiveness by participating at the Pride Parade or the upcoming Pride Initiative on September 28, staff members lobbying City Council on behalf of LGBT athletes, honoring important community leaders on Hispanic Heritage night, partnering with Chicago Public Schools, and so on.

Even going back to the field, earlier in the season, ownership was the first to tell you that the team on the field was frankly just not good enough (even though the jury is out on this year).  And in sports, because of that, there will always be those who want ownership to sell.  Want to make calls for front office firings? Find me someone who doesn’t think they could be doing their job better. Telling me I suck at my job? That all comes with the territory I guess. But don’t also be surprised that if someone personally goes after anyone in the Club or its supporters in a way that defies the inclusive culture being built at the Fire, that the Club will respond sincerely and want to know why they would still want to be a part of it?

Our integrity within this Club actually matters to us. For me personally and others on the staff, this is our livelihood. Failure isn’t an option. Why would we choose to work together on building this Club with anyone who takes a stand that prevents progress, espouses negativity and is just downright not truthful, inhibiting us from doing our jobs to the best of our ability? Or worse, make attending a game for a supporter a fearful experience?

I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about soccer, the Fire or MLS.  But what attracted me to the job is working in sports, connecting with passionate fans, being part of an organization that stands up for values like integrity, hard work, and humility and a 24/7 desire to bleed for this incredible Club. I heard every one of those elements in my conversations with our owner, AK, and others I met before making the decision to join. I knew that I was becoming part of a bigger movement, tasked with growing the game and the Club, leaving a positive impact on the community and Chicago as a whole. And with all its inherent challenges, that’s what we are going to do. For me personally, I would love your help to get there. In fact, I know how much I need it.

I have another confession – the majority of folks I’ve met since I’ve joined, the staff, supporters, bloggers, media, Club Seat Holders, Section 8 members, etc., have all been more than welcoming. I’ve felt that they want both the Club and me to succeed.  While there will always be those who might choose a different route, I’m glad to know that there will be thousands of others that will have my back.

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Follow @OTFSoccer

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6 thoughts on ““The Editorial” Revisited or, You Can’t Erase History

  1. Over the past year it has become evident to me that ownership is just imcompetant. They may have good intentions and set high standards and all the other feel good public relations jibberish – but if you are incompetant it all goes for naught.

    Good investments in qualified and quality people will always out perform circus acts and PR stunts.

    I’m tired of the bad choices. If you want butts in the seats – you need to start winning and accept nothing less. I’m tired of excuses and most tired of watching high quality people come into the MLS – but not to Chicago.

    Time for a change at the top!

  2. Thanks for this article. You guys have been slugging away on this blog for a while now without much praise and I for one really enjoy the coverage and appreciate what you guys do. These are sad times to be a Chicago Fire fan but one can only hope that someday like the flu epidemic of 1919, the stock market crash of 1929 or the Ebola outbreak of uhm…NOW that these things will one day pass into history and good times will return to Chicago soccer fans.

  3. The internet way back machine is always there to keep articles like this alive, but its good to have a backup copy.

    That said this article was the catalyst for my current perception of the Chicago Fire front office. I’ve started wars on twitter with Mike Ernst, Jeff Crandall, many of Section 8’s most ardent supporters, and most recently got called out by Mike Magee. None of that would have happen if the Fire Front Office had condemned this “Editorial”.

    I didn’t buy a season ticket this year. I encouraged my friends to discontinue their season tickets. I urged other fans to do the same. This “Editorial” set that in motion.

    I’ve raised my voice regarding the other actions that have gone against the “Tradition, Honor, Passion” ethos of the supporters. I’ve created countless meme’s regarding the players, and specifically the new home jersey. That vitriol was fueled by this “Editorial” (not Quaker).

    The trajectory of the club as a whole over the past 10 years, and specifically since Andrew Hauptman has taken ownership has been in decline. It keeps getting worse, and no one has stepped down from the ivory tower of the front office to address this with the fans. This “Editorial” is the only communiqué we as fans of the Chicago Fire have received. We deserve better than that.

    I’ve never seen a more invested group of people that the independent supporter groups of Section 8. To see an organization disregard people with such dedication is a travesty. It’s an opportunity to make something special for everyone involved, but instead it’s been turned into a political struggle.

    Why?

    Maybe three is company. With the fans and supporters, the players and coaching staff, and the front office and staff in play there are just too many pieces. Yet the frustration I feel comes directly from 2 of the 3 groups not getting what they need out of this “relationship”. The players and coaching staff are not being given the talent they need to win games. The fans are not being given the game day experience they deserve. The front office is the only group that appears to be coming out ahead in all of this. They have the obedience of the players and coaching staff, and the revenue stream from the pocketbooks of the fans.

    This “Editorial” demonstrated to me that the Front Office doesn’t really care about the team, and definitely does not care about the fans. It cares about the bottom line. That’s why we’re being bombarded with advertising. That’s why every twitter message is sponsored by some company, to bring in some income. There’s nothing substantially wrong with that, the Front Office is running a business, and successful businesses make money. However when the balance is shifted from running a successful team, and running a successful business the only winner is the owner. Not the players, not the fans.

    There are no trophy cases for “Organization With the Most Ad Revenue” or “Organization With the Most Profitable Per Seat Metrics”.

    That’s the underlying reason the fans started criticizing the ownership. That was the impetus for the “Editorial”.

    This isn’t the reaction we the fans had hoped for.

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