Dear Andrew Hauptman: This is Why You’re Being Criticized

Hauptman with the "Messi and Friends" fans he kindly reached out to (photo by chicago-fire.com)

Hauptman with the “Messi and Friends” fans he kindly reached out to (photo by chicago-fire.com)

It isn’t personal, it’s business: A plea for honesty and professionalism.

The editorial Senior Communications Director Dan Lobring posted on Chicago-Fire.com last week has taken the nation’s soccer media by storm. In response, Lobring, COO Atul Khosla, and Owner Andrew Hauptman have defended the piece as the necessary admonishment of a handful of unruly fans. However, most pundits agree that the editorial’s primary intent was to respond to critics of Hauptman’s tenure.

Indeed, only 258 of the editorial’s 1,376 words (19%) directly address the misbehavior in question, while the rest of the piece defends either Dan Lobring or Andrew Hauptman from their critics, who have now become both more numerous and vocal.

So the question for MLS supporters is: are the criticisms of Hauptman fair? Is he the victim of baseless personal attacks, or do his critics have objective reasons for their disapproval?

To put it in Dan Lobring’s words: Do Hauptman’s critics have a point, or do they “prevent progress, espouse negativity…[are] just downright not truthful, inhibiting [the FO] from doing [their] jobs to the best of [their] ability?”

Chicago Fire, Before and After Andrew Hauptman Purchased the Club in September 2007:
  Pre-Hauptman Hauptman Era
Playoff Appearance Rate 90% 60%
CCL Appearances 3 0
Trophies 6 0
Average Attendance 16083 15454

The numbers speak for themselves. By all statistical appraisals of Chicago Fire’s on-field performance, the club is in a significantly worse place now than it was before Hauptman took over.

Andrew, if you look at those numbers, can you blame fans for being frustrated with Chicago Fire during your ownership? Can you separate the drunken, idiotic handful of spectators — who can be found at every sporting event in the world — from the intelligent, passionate supporters who simply want the team back near the top of the league in terms of performance, integrity, and respect?

If you and the Front Office can’t make this distinction, nor see why reasonable frustration exists in Fire Nation, the club will never again reach the heights it once knew. The tasks before you now are to:

1) Take a moment and honestly ask yourself: What is the current state of the club, and how, together, can we do better?

2) Personally reach out to the Fire community and apologize for embarrassing them on both a local and national level.

3) Communicate tangible plans for improving the state of the club in the eyes of the City of Chicago, Chicagoland, and the North American Soccer community.

Without committing to those three courses of action Mr. Hauptman, how can you expect Chicago Fire supporters to trust or believe in you?

OTF’s Adam Morgan is an award-winning screenwriter and the author of Best Hikes Near Chicago. In between hiking and watching the Beautiful Game, Adam has also written for the Tribune Company, Fox Television Studios, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist. Follow Adam @earthmorgan

13 thoughts on “Dear Andrew Hauptman: This is Why You’re Being Criticized

  1. I believe this attendance number is a little skewed here, on the surface it’s only declined 629 people, but the league itself is growing attendance wise, making this number even worse, as we’re not growing with it.

    • Thanks, Chris. Yeah, I wasn’t trying to skew anything, I just posted the averages. I assumed they’d be better over the last 5-6 years because of the growth of the league, as you mentioned, but they were worse. Not the most important or telling statistic, but it does highlight another area where the club has lessened instead of improved.

  2. In the 2 years that Blanco was during Hauptman’s ownership the average attendence was 16,440. In the 3 years after Blanco, the average attendance was 15,165 (an 18% decrease).

    As a control, the one year Blanco was there before Blanco, the average attendance was 17,034, the highest it had been since 2005, the final year at Soldier Field.

    • If my memory serves me correctly, AEG worked with MLS to bring Blanco and Beckham in around the same time, in mid-2007. Hauptman bought the team toward the end of the 2007 season (in September?). Also, one important fact to note is the Hauptman era and Klopas era pretty much align, as Hauptman hired Klopas to be Technical Director in January of 2008. Klopas became head coach in May 2011.

      • Good points. And no disrespect to Klopas on a personal level, but making him Technical Director and then Head Coach are both examples of “cheap” staffing. Despite his legacy as a player with the Fire, Klopas had zero experience managing or coaching outdoor soccer before getting hired by the Fire. The average MLS coach, on the other hand, has 10.5 years of experience as a coach or assistant coach in MLS, USSF, NCAA, or foreign top-tier soccer. Klopas had 2 mediocre years at a tiny defunct indoor league. I like the guy, but for the Fire to be a top-ten team again, they need a top-ten coach. There are plenty of candidates available in NASL, USL-Pro, and NCAA.

        • There’s something else at play here too. While Frank Klopas was a great player from Chicago, Leon and Hauptman, because they’re not Chicagoans, don’t understand that his stature in this town isn’t as vaunted as they make it out to be. He, in and of himself, doesn’t symbolize the game in Chicago. He’s not, as Leon and Hauptman like to think, Mr. Chicago soccer. Klopas was brought aboard to appease the hard core fan base, as a way for the owner to get on their good side in the beginning. He was an easy, unambitious choice, a poorly thought out, limp PR gimmick made by two guys who knew less about what they were doing then than they do now. Imagine that.

          Yes, Frank grew up in the city. Yes, he played for the Sting, Yes, he starred on the Fire ’98 Cup double squad. I don’t want to diminish these things. But the point is that none of them should weigh so heavily when we’re talking about management on the technical side — both in the front office and on the field.

          And let’s be honest, most Chicagoans don’t know who Frank Klopas is, or give a toss about him. On the other hand, most Chicagoans will get behind a winner, no matter who he is or where he comes from. Plus, folks don’t show up to the stadium to watch coaches coach. Obvious points, I know, but all true — which makes the situation all the more maddening.

          • Good points again. Yeah, it maddens me to look at the NASL and see 6 coaches with way more managing experience than Klopas. It was an ill-informed, cost-effective PR move to hire him and then to promote him after the CDLC disaster.

  3. Great piece Adam.

    The article could have been titled, “Numbers talk, bullshit walks.”

    A serious problem now is NCAA Football is starting, and if the Fire continue to stumble you will really see attendence drop.

    • Thanks, Peter. And yes, add the NCAA with the fact that the Bears start playing in a week and a half, and I imagine Toyota Park’s attendance for the season has probably peaked. College football and the NFL is what most 18-45-year-old men will be doing on Saturdays and Sundays for the next 4-5 months.

  4. Pingback: Contrast In Results | #HauptmanOut

  5. I supposed I am the least qualified here to comment on this subject – but I feel the criticisms are somewhat unfair. I agree that having a local owner or ownership group would be ideal. But not having one is not a death knell either. Most owners are disliked or even hated, but it goes with the territory – beside these guys are millionaires and are naturally easy to hate.

    My limited exposure so far is that when it became obvious something was really wrong with this team, moves were made to correct the situation. Granted the moves may not have been what we “geniuses” would like but it shows, at least to me, a management that listens and/or responds to its fan base or at the minimum realizes it screwed up and tries to correct said situation.

    In my limited Fire experience I have come to suspect that “Kid Kloppas” is not the coach this team needs. I do not know who would a better job as I have been away from the game too long to do that.

    But I agree with the assessment that “da Kid” was more likely than not hired as a PR move. If so I would think it is obvious that it failed. As an aside, as a Chicago Sting fan, I would like to add that “da kid” never played a game with the outdoor club, although he did get to play regularly with the indoor club. Still I would have to say that he was not quite a Sting regular.

    There are no perfect owners and I don’t think there are a surplus of mufti-millionaires lining up to buy a club that after 15 seasons cannot fill a 20,000 seat park on a regular basis. A better coach with a real system and committed management could make this owner look great. Yet, I suspect he is learning the ropes as well and his mistakes will generate criticism, as it should, but I can not say I dislike much less hate the man.

    But then again what do I know?

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