It's finally time for some Chicago Fire optimism
Andrew Hauptman sold the Chicago Fire to Joe Mansueto, the club announced Friday.
You could say that's huge news, but to long-suffering Fire fans, it's way bigger than that. With this news, the Fire's dismal decade ends with surprising optimism.
Suddenly, there is reason for hope. The celebration started with an early happy hour Friday.
"For more than 10 years, Fire fans have demanded more from the team's previous owner -- more passion, more honor through victory, and a commitment to the tradition of excellence seen in the Fire's early years," Section 8 Chicago wrote in a statement to Chicago media. "Over these years, supporters engaged in concerted campaigns, from letter-writing to demonstrations and boycotts, as a means of drawing attention to the club's unfortunate condition.
"(Friday) at noon, Chicago Fire fans were greeted with some of the most exciting and inspiring team news in more than a decade. Section 8 Chicago believes Joe Mansueto will bring in a new era of success for the Chicago Fire and, as such, we embrace this announcement as something wholly positive for the club, its supporters and the Chicago soccer community."
The players seem to like Mansueto also. It showed on the field Saturday with a 4-0 blowout victory over visiting FC Dallas.
"We're all excited," said Fire defender Jonathan Bornstein, adding that the players dedicated the victory to Mansueto, who visited them in the postgame locker room.
"The players are very excited. He's talking about making good changes to the club, and obviously going into the city is a big thing for us and we're all excited for that."
The change in ownership means the move out of SeatGeek Stadium to Soldier Field next season makes sense, in part because it's much more likely to be temporary, a way station to something better.
Mansueto has a net worth of $3.8 billion, according to Forbes magazine, the kind of fortune that can lift the Fire from MLS have-nots to MLS elite. He has the Chicago real estate savvy to find land in Chicago for a soccer-specific stadium and the money to make it a state-of-the-art facility without need for public assistance.
Having built investment research powerhouse Morningstar, he has the business know-how and resources to make the Fire attractive to fans again, especially to the public-transit-taking urban millennials MLS now craves. He can see what has worked in Seattle, Portland, Atlanta and Kansas City and use that knowledge to make the Fire relevant in Chicago and MLS in a way it hasn't been for a decade.
Hauptman never figured out how to manage a professional sports franchise. He feuded with supporters. He struggled to hire talented leaders, manage people and give them the resources they needed to succeed.
Hauptman declined to invest in the club the way it needed to compete in today's MLS. Many fans followed suit, opting to invest their time and money elsewhere, and attendance collapsed.
Mansueto can change all that, and it will be interesting to see what changes he makes in the next few months.
President/general manager Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic are finishing their fourth season together in Chicago. They have led the team to a 40-58-35 record in those four years. If he chooses, Mansueto has the funds to buy out their contracts like the Fire bought out the remaining years on the stadium lease, and those are the jobs new owners often like to put their own people in.
If he chooses, Mansueto can accelerate efforts to improve the Chicago front office. If he chooses, he can pay for the kind of support staff professional coaches and players need to be successful.
If he chooses, Mansueto can build the kind of sparkling training facility that distinguishes ambitious MLS clubs from teams like, well, the Fire of 2007-2019.
And that's just a start.
If he chooses, Mansueto can rebuild the Fire into a club that wins the hearts of new fans and rekindles the love of long-lost season-ticket holders and disenchanted former players.
The path to success isn't easy and it isn't cheap, but years from now Fire fans might look back on Friday as the day their club was reborn.