ver the 12 years of Andrew Hauptman’s ownership, Major League Soccer sped past the Fire.
Once a model for teams seeking their own home, SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview is obsolete, and any chance to overcome its location was undone by poor results. Diehard supporters have turned their backs on the franchise, and those who remain look longingly at more successful teams that better adapted to a bigger and richer league.
Now the Fire are about to completely transform themselves. They are on the verge of returning to Soldier Field, and when they do come back to the city, they will have a new owner.
The franchise announced Friday that Joe Mansueto has taken over as sole owner of the franchise. In July 2018, Mansueto, the executive chairman of investment research firm Morningstar, purchased a 49 percent share in the team. At the time, Hauptman remained the Fire chairman, controlling shareholder and governor on the MLS Board of Governors.
Forbes reported that Mansueto paid $204 million for the last 51 percent of the team. Mansueto’s worth is a reported $3.8 billion. Hauptman purchased the team for $35 million in September 2007 from Anschutz Entertainment Group a year after Toyota Park opened.
Mansueto will serve as the chairman. The deeply unpopular Hauptman is no longer with the club.
“I joined Andrew as a partner because he developed a tremendous platform for continued soccer growth across Chicago and beyond,” Mansueto said in a news release. “He and the entire organization have worked tirelessly to dramatically increase the profile of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, MLS and the game overall and have left a wonderful legacy for our city. The timing of this transaction couldn’t be better as we return the world’s game to the city I love.”
As Mansueto enters, the Fire are at the tail end of another disappointing season both on and off the field. Barring an improbable finish, the Fire will miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons under general manager Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic, neither of whom were hired by Mansueto. Undoubtedly, it’s fair to question their futures.
Despite playing in the third-largest U.S. market (and the largest with only one team), the Fire are last in attendance at 11,926 per game. Matches in Bridgeview have been quiet, and the loudest crowd was brought by fans of visiting Cruz Azul for a July 23 Leagues Cup match. Scars from the infamous 2013 piece posted on the team website “Editorial: What it means to be part of the Fire family,” and last year’s tension over the banishment of Sector Latino still linger.
Clearly, the Fire need more than a new home. They need to be able to compete with teams like the Seattle Sounders or Atlanta United, franchises that play in football stadiums but have generated league titles and an atmosphere to match.
With Hauptman still at the reins, that didn’t seem plausible. Though the Fire invested heavily in salary recently and did some commendable work in the community, the results of Hauptman’s ownership are stark: 12 years, no trophies, no playoff wins since 2009, and a dwindling fan base.
Mansueto’s takeover will give supporters hope that what was once a premier franchise could be on the way back. Maybe there won’t be laughter when the team is linked with a international star thinking about moving to MLS. Eventually, a soccer-specific stadium could be on the agenda, though that would be an arduous and expensive project.
For now, the Fire are about to become an almost-new franchise. That gives them a chance in an almost-new league.