Never Go Outside The Family: A Response To Dan Lobring
Sam Fels is back, at Fenwick’s behest…
Scott asked me to write a response to Chicago Fire Communications Director Dan Lobring’s strange emo/angst-y heart-pouring essay that came out Wednesday night on the club’s website (I can only assume Mr. Lobring really loved The Cure’s set at Lollapalooza). I think Scott asked me for a couple reasons. One, it’ll dovetail nicely with the post I wrote earlier (to be published soon) theorizing why the Fire just haven’t gripped the Chicago sporting scene like you or I think they should have. Two, in some ways I’m the exact type of fan who the Fire, and partially Mr. Lobring as Communications Director, is supposed to be courting and for the most part has failed to do so. I am a soccer fan, but still half-in, half-out on the Fire, for various reasons. I’ll do the best I can.
Let me first say that I’m not exactly sure what a Communications Director is supposed to do. I know part of it is Social Media coordinating, or at least to maintain some sort of social media presence. Outside this giant complaint of a stubbed toe and some things on Facebook about discount tickets to the Cup game against DC, I’ve never seen the Fire have much of a social media presence. And I work from home, so I’m on Twitter and Facebook all the fucking time! So let’s just say I go into this pretty skeptical of Mr. Lobring’s position and performance. Which is horribly unfair, but Scott didn’t ask me here because I happen to be Mr. Congeniality.
Ok, let’s do it.
First, you should probably read the thing.
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.”
I’m not sure it’s a good idea to start one’s post so defensive and trying to glamorize your empire of dirt, but that’s just me. Either you’ve just labeled some readers idiots immediately, or you’ve just solidified their argument that you don’t know what you’re doing, or both. Frankly, I don’t care where you’ve come from. Hell, most people don’t even know who you are, and we’re only looking at your job performance now. But hey, can you get me a free copy of FIFA ’14? The biggest problem is until this display of self-injury, no one had heard of Mr. Lobring. Seeing as how his job is about communicating, that’s not a good start.
From here, Mr. Lobring laments the criticism of the Fire’s ownership and organization, and it’s an example of why Mr. Lobring misses the entire point. Whatever label fans throw at the ownership (and I would have to say rightly), it’s because of results on the field. Since 2008, the Fire have not won a playoff game or won the Open Cup. In MLS’s everyone-gets-a-chance world, this is as unacceptable as it gets. Unless you’re Toronto. So keep that in mind as this goes on. But then again, Mr. Lobring probably has to be nice to the people who sign his checks.
From there, Lobring goes on to once again highlight how he is unaware of the history and tradition of both the Fire and The Cup, which is not going to help him stop making other people think they can do his job better. And then he gets to one of the juiciest bits of this:
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.),
Which leads to two questions: Why doesn’t the Fire promote every game this way and make itself known to people like me and others instead of just this once? Why isn’t this kind of social media drive always present? Second, even with all that effort, the Fire barely filled half the stadium. Now, on a Wednesday night in a Cup competition that most people still would have a hard time understanding, I guess that’s not bad. But is that all we’re aiming for here? Not bad? Is that how low the bar is? And I will only touch on that Toyota Park itself seemed unprepared for even that crowd, as the line for beer and those discount hot dogs was simply abhorrent. And I saw a lot of employees standing around watching instead of helping with service. So this was not a great moment to be trumpeting, even ignoring the 90-minute dry heave that was the Fire’s performance.
Lobring goes from there to lambaste those who shouted personal insults at family members of the Fire organization. Of course, that’s disgusting and has no place. But was it that bad? I certainly don’t remember hearing anything about it from any of the Fire blogs or Twitterati. I could throw in something about the lady doth protesting too much, but whatever. He’s not lying. If it happened, it shouldn’t have, but I have to guess it was from a minority and not the majority.
I was at that game, and I certainly don’t remember feeling a poisonous atmosphere at all. I didn’t see anything, but he says bad things happened, so fine. None of the others who were at the game I talked to said anything of the kind. But again, if he saw it, then he saw it.
Of course, Lobring runs for the shelter of the Fire Charter, which smells like an attempt to indict the whole fandom. But the whole fandom isn’t at fault here, far from it. Mr. Lobring should go and see the reaction from last October when those who threw bottles onto the field during the Fire’s last home game against D.C. were admonished on every blog and feed possible.
From here, Mr. Lobring goes on to pretty much read a stat sheet and defend his boss, telling us there’s things “we don’t always get to see.” This smacks of a “you never played the game” kind of hiding behind bullshit thing. While he can quote all the community outreach and season ticket growth and charitable efforts (and all that’s great), let’s be honest, most people don’t give a shit. Ask fans what they’d rather have: a non-winning team that is very involved in efforts off the field or one that collects trophies that only plays the game and does nothing for the community? I bet I know what 90% would say.
And even if there are more people who would cherish the Fire’s efforts to be a part of the community (again, a great thing), how come Mr. Lobring’s reciting of these efforts is the first I’ve heard of them? Eh, Mr. Communications Director? Let’s not pretend the Fire do all those things because Hauptman is just another word for “Santa.” It’s publicity, except it doesn’t seem to be generating any.
Mr. Lobring then goes on to reference something about on the field matters, though I have no idea what. He mentions that the team earlier in the season wasn’t good enough. Ok, so what’s been done? Bringing in another defensive midfielder (the one spot the Fire were pretty well-stocked) and one striker. Not the most pressing needs, I guess. This was after the acquisition of Bakary Soumare. And still the Fire sit outside the playoff spots with little hope of making up the ground. Worse yet, there seems to be no plan or philosophy in development or style. And yet Mr. Lobring wants me to think everything is ok because the organization simply wants things to be? What’s the plan? What’s the next step? What is acceptable? What’s the goal? Does anyone know?
To finish it out, Mr. Lobring once again runs for the shelter of this amorphous carny code that the Fire supposedly have.
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.
Well, where is any of this? When do we as fans get to see this stuff borne out on the field and in the stadium? Aside from the community efforts which only Mr. Lobring and a few others seem to know anything about, that is. This is MLS. This isn’t the Cubs having to rebuild the entire organization. You can turn around an MLS team pretty quickly if you want. Or at least dedicate yourself to developing a team. Fire fans would accept a few down years if young players were being blooded in and developing. Where is that then? Austin Berry, maybe Jalil Anibaba and…….I’ll just sit here and wait for my answer.
I don’t know what invisible enemy Mr. Lobring is fighting here. If Fire fans are angry, it’s because their team sucks, and has pretty much sucked for most of five seasons now (aside from Chris Rolfe channeling Raul there for a couple months and Austin Berry’s form, last season wasn’t anything to write home about). And at the end of the day, sports fans only care about their team winning.
As far as any people criticizing Mr. Lobring himself, I have to reiterate that the only presence I’ve seen the Fire have digitally is the push for the Cup game and Lobring’s ‘editorial’. If Mr. Lobring has a fight to pick, it’s probably with the guy in the mirror.
You know what this sounds like? A diversion (thank you Legolas). Again, I don’t mean to accuse Mr. Lobring of making anything up. But after reading this, and then the staunch defense of this piece in the Tribune by the Fire and especially the owner, this just feels like the Fire have taken a few out of control loudmouths, and then looked up some nasty messages on message boards (and I dare you to find one sports message board that doesn’t come with vitriolic and moronic hatred. Easy to do anonymously and from behind a keyboard), and use it to fan into something much larger to distract us from seeing that the team itself is the definition of mediocre (at best), the manager very well might not have a clue, their attendance sucks, and there doesn’t seem to be a plan to fix any of it. But that’s just how it looks from here.
Sam Fels spends most of his time fighting off hypothermia and gushing paper cuts outside the United Center as editor and writer of The Committed Indian, the real Blackhawks’ fans program. He moonlights at On The Fire because it’s a nice escape from trying to explain why the Hawks don’t need to fight.