New Chicago Fire owner Mansueto bubbling over with optimism

After founding and running investment research firm Morningstar, billionaire Joe Mansueto said he was ready to find new investments, preferably ones that aligned with his passions.

Last week, Mansueto, a Chicago resident who grew up in Munster, Indiana, added to his investment in the Chicago Fire, buying out previous owner Andrew Hauptman. Mansueto said he became interested in soccer through his three children who played.

The Daily Herald sat with Mansueto on Monday at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, talking about his plans for the club. Following is an edited version of that conversation:

Q: Why do you want to own the Fire?

A: The more I got exposed to the sport, the more I fell in love with it. It's infectious. Started watching it professionally in Europe, MLS in the U.S. And so when I was looking to make some investments, I thought soccer, especially in this country, has a great future.

Live sports is a great place to invest. … MLS in particular, as it catches up with the rest of the world, soccer in popularity in the U.S. catches up with the rest of the world, which I think will happen over time, fits well in the modern lifestyle. … And then in Chicago, as you look at MLS, it's not what it should be.

We're at the bottom of the league in terms of attendance when we should be near the top.

Q: So what has the last week been like for you?

A: It's been super exciting. As you know last week we announced a couple of things. We announced we're moving downtown (to Soldier Field), so to that first point of, hey, could we get out of the stadium situation here? It's a great stadium, it's just not the optimal location.

So getting that announced and then assuming full ownership of the team, both of those, just super exciting. I couldn't be more thrilled.

Q: How did you persuade Andrew to sell?

A: I said, yes. I bought into the team in June of 2018. I bought 49 percent of the team. And I thought at some point he may want to sell more, but I wasn't sure what that timetable would be. …

He called me in early August. Said he had made a personal decision that he's based in L.A., not Chicago, and for family reasons really wanted to sell his shares. He thought I would be a good buyer, was I interested? So that's when I said yes.

In about 24 hours we worked out a deal. And then since I was already vetted by MLS, since I already knew the club, I didn't have to do the diligence, it could all happen pretty quickly.

Q: What kind of owner do you see yourself being?

A: I see myself as being a very engaged owner. As I mentioned, this is a passion. For me soccer is way more than an investment. Soccer, this is part of the cultural fabric of a city, and something very special in a city when it works well.

You look at what's happening around the country. Cities like Seattle, Portland, L.A., Atlanta, how the city engages with its MLS team, it's pretty special. And we need to make that happen in Chicago.

Q: How do you make the Fire brand more relevant in the Chicago area?

A: I think the goals are threefold: One, we've got to win championships. That will drive, I think, more engagement. Two, and to do that we need to build a world-class soccer organization around every aspect of this team. So from scouting, analytics, the whole front office, technical staff, players on the field, marketing, everything needs to be world class. And then we need to get into the neighborhoods and engage all of Chicago.

Q: You mentioned engaging the city more, and, of course, you're moving to a downtown stadium. What is the message to suburban fans?

A: We love you suburban fans and we want you to come and see us play in Soldier Field. We don't want to miss a beat in terms of our relationship with suburban fans. And any time you move a team there are going to be some winners and some people are going to be less happy. It depends on where you move. …

I think net-net there will be more winners in terms of commute time than losers, and you want to make sure the team is accessible to as many people as you can in the broader Chicago metro, and I think the Soldier Field location will do that.

But, again, empathize with those who might have a slightly longer commute, but at least Soldier Field is pretty central. A lot of transportation hubs into the downtown. We certainly want to remain engaged with suburban fans. This is not any slight on them whatsoever.

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