Chicago Fire FC Strives to Build Winning Team On, Off Field

Unlike Austin FC, which is the lone professional sports organization in the Texas capital, Chicago Fire FC is jostling for eyeballs, support and dollars with the Bears, Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks, Bulls, Sky and Red Stars in the Windy City.

Gaining a larger portion of all of the above is one of the main goals for club president Ishwara Glassman Chrein, who joined the Fire on June 1.

“We want to be authentic to Chicago, we want to be authentically cool,” Glassman Chrein says. “People always ask me what our target demographic is and my response is, ‘You wouldn’t ask the Bears what their target demographic is. The Bears want everyone in Chicago to love them.’ 

“We want to be something fun that you go to do on a Saturday night whether you’re someone who loves Chelsea or a Liga MX team or your kids play soccer, or you’re a bunch of 20-somethings who walk over from their office and have something fun to do on a Wednesday night. We want to be something fun to all those people.”

In order to further the Fire’s fandom in Chicago, Glassman Chrein and the front office team are focused on building relationships throughout the city—with its people and its businesses. Case in point, in October the club announced Chicago-based Revolution Brewery as its Official Craft Brewery Partner.

The biggest carrot Glassman Chrein is dangling in front of Chicago businesses at the moment is as the club’s main, front-of-jersey sponsor after a three-year deal with Motorola ended at the conclusion of this season that saw the Fire (9-18-7) finish 12th out of 14 teams in the MLS Eastern Conference. She says she’s received interest from existing and new potential partners.

“Chicago is the third-biggest market in the country so there aren’t many bigger opportunities for branding, and obviously the jersey travels,” she says. “We think it’s a really exciting opportunity. Also it’s a chance for someone to get in with the team at a huge inflection point. I think we’re really going to do great things next year so it’s a great opportunity for them to get in on the ground with that.”

Chicago Fire FC’s new brand identity goes into effect for the 2022 campaign under the guidance of first-year head coach Ezra Hendrickson, who was hired in late November. Through a focus on the future via its homegrown players, the club hopes to return to prominence after just one playoff appearance (2017) in the past nine seasons.

For Glassman Chrein and the marketing, sponsorship and social media teams, leveraging local, homegrown talent like 17-year-old goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina and 18-year-old midfielder Brian Guttierez can help engage a diverse Chicago community of 2.7 million.

“We have 10 or 11 homegrown players on the team and I’d love for us to do even more to tell their stories,” she says. “Gabriel Slonina is our likely starting goalie and he’s 17 from Chicago, bilingual Polish-American and he was just called up for the U.S. U-20 national team. Brian Gutierrez is playing for the U.S. youth national teams as well—he’s Mexican-American and from Chicago. 

“Those stories are great and we want to do more to amplify them.”

While sporting director Georg Heitz, Hendrickson and his staff are in charge of reigniting the Fire on the field, Glassman Chrein is focused on building a winning front office culture. 

The club recently announced an increase in paid parental leave to eight weeks beyond the 6-8 weeks mothers giving birth receive. The club will also provide six weeks of paid family leave for employees caring for family members (spouse, parent, child, etc) with serious health conditions. 

All internships are now paid positions with the organization, while employees in ticket sales received a pay bump as well. Glassman Chrein has introduced more free meals, happy hours and events for the staff to benefit and bond from.

“I’ve worked in sports for a long time and worked in business before that but there’s nothing like the excitement of working at a team, it’s really a lot of fun,” she says. “It’s really exciting to work at a team people care about. I get in an Uber and my driver wants to talk about how the team’s going to do next year. That doesn’t happen when you’re working at Verizon, IMG, McKinsey or Lehman Brothers. 

“It’s really exciting, but also it’s a lot of responsibility.”

NOTE: First appeared on Forbes SportsMoney

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