Are the Chicago Fire Cheap?

Chicago Fire FO Chicago Fire Management Chicago Fire Owner Andew Hauptman #HauptmanOut

Cheap is a loaded word.

Let’s re-phrase the headline: Do the Chicago Fire spend less than other teams?  That’s an easy answer.  The answer is “no.” Based on this Forbes article that outlines MLS Spending Habits, they actually spend a whole bunch more than most MLS Franchises. End of story… right?

The Chicago Fire, actually, spend WAY more than the average team. Recently, the Fire actually spend “Top 6” “Top 7” money in terms of payroll. Look at this elongated infographic…

MLS-Salaries-2015

Infographic via Forbes

So stop calling them cheap, alright? They’re not cheap. They actually spend a lot. We’re not going to get into if they spend wisely… nor can we identify if, as a franchise, they under-spend on infrastructure — scouting, training, facilities, staff, etc.  We’ll never know.

What we can do, however, is look at how Chicago spends in relation to the size of the market they’re in. And when we do that, it’s a little more interesting.  Based on 2013 Nielsen Household TV Market Data, here are the largest TV markets in the United States and Canada that currently have MLS teams:

Table 1: MLS Cities, Ranked by Number of TV Households

Screenshot 2015-08-16 at 5.08.32 AM

The obvious issue with the above numbers are that New York has two teams, so for simplicity’s sake I’ve combined New York City FC’s gargantuan spend and New York Red Bulls minuscule one to see the total dollars spent in Major League Soccer cities. This should give you some context about the potential value of each soccer market. Some thoughts:

  • Oh look, Chicago is the third-largest market in the country. Philadelphia is a close fourth (and gaining).
  • Kansas City, Columbus, and Salt Lake City are the only marketing areas with less than 1,000,000 TV households.

So now let’s add the known payrolls of each of these clubs to see how they stack up…

Table 2: MLS Teams, Ranked by Payroll per TV Household

Screenshot 2015-08-16 at 4.33.39 AM

Well then.  Things have changed.  Orlando City puts a lot of money into payroll, but it should be noted it is a major tourist destination, and also has huge competition for family entertainment dollars. Toronto, though it is a huge city, is splashing some serious cash… no surprise there either.  SKC, RSL, and Columbus actually invest quite a bit into their programs despite being what we considered a “smaller” MLS market. The bottom dwellers here, scraping by under $2.00 per potential household, are San Jose, Philadelphia, D.C., Chicago, and Dallas. Thoughts:

  • If player payroll contributes directly to product on the field, I would assume the bottom five were the bottom of the league. But that’s not the case. FC Dallas is playing good soccer this year, and D.C. United is the top of the East. There has to be something else going on then, yeah?
  • We’ll have to see how the standings net out in the coming months, but it’s safe to suggest that every team that is spending above the average of $3.88 per household is going to make the playoffs this year. (The outlier of course being the formerly successful, currently struggling Real Salt Lake.)

These tables aren’t a conclusion of anything, just a way to look at spending relative to market potential. It also suggests that there is more to winning in the MLS than just spending on player salaries.

Because there is not real information on MLS franchise operational costs we can’t really measure how much a team invests outside of player salary, but we can assume that teams that succeed without spending big money on talent (DC, NYRB, FC Dallas) must have a different way of going about it.

So… are the Fire cheap?

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4 thoughts on “Are the Chicago Fire Cheap?

  1. If there are 6 teams ahead of the Fire in your strangely titled “MLS Player Salary Spend 2015” (I believe you’re looking for the word “Spent”) picture, then how are the Fire supposedly spending “Top 6” money?

  2. They are most definitely SUPER cheap. You illustrated one reason why, with them being the 2nd lowest in terms of payroll/market ratio. And actually I think they’re the lowest now with Maloney gone, although if you separate the NY teams, it’s NYRB.

    But what about the lack of spending elsewhere, intentionally or not. Expansion fees these days run around 100 million. They didn’t pay an expansion fee at all, let alone recently. They did pay 35 million to buy the team, but that was 8 years ago now. And their stadium was all publicly funded, which cost taxpayers hundreds of millions in the end. Yet they still have such a low payroll/market ratio?

    Since Hauptman bought the team, the Fire have went way downhill, and it’s no coincidence. I think he just bought the team as a future investment. The Fire were valuated at $102 million, just 6 years after Hauptman bought them for $35 million. And now I think they can get WAY more with expansion fees skyrocketing, a newish football-specific stadium they don’t have to cover costs for, and with the pool of prospective buyers the market-size creates as well as the moneymaking potential that can be envisioned. That 102 valuation was in part from the lack of success the Fire were having in Chicago under a slumlord owner.

    Hauptman should just sell the team already and take his profit. Then maybe even people like me as far away as Milwaukee would drive down to see a game every once in a while, because God knows there isn’t any quality football up here. But there isn’t any in Chicago right now either.

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