Fire COO: Front-office morale still strong

John Urban said there was some disappointment within the front-office staff when news of the season suspension came down, though the overriding reaction has been a sense of resolve and optimism.

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The Fire’s return to Soldier Field is still on hold.

Brian Sandalow/For the Sun-Times

The Fire had legitimate momentum as the scheduled March 21 home opener approached.

The hires of sporting director Georg Heitz and coach Raphael Wicky were well-received, and the WGN-TV and Arlo White announcements were applauded. The work of the business staff was set to pay off with a record crowd as the Fire made their return to Soldier Field against Atlanta United, a franchise they hope to emulate

But that has been put on hold by COVID-19, which forced MLS to pause its season and postponed the Fire’s big day. Understandably, chief operating officer John Urban said there was some disappointment within the front-office staff when that news came down, though the overriding reaction has been a sense of resolve and optimism.

“When you ask about morale, the reality is that the success that was there and will be there, we’ll still have that day,” Urban told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s just going to come a little later than planned, but for right now we’re focused on the health and wellness of the entire Fire family and our fans and players and partners. We’ll get back to it, but that momentum is something that has stuck with everybody.”

Urban said the Fire were tracking toward 60,000 tickets sold for March 21, which would have been a sellout. Eventually, the Fire business side will welcome fans to Soldier Field for an opener, and they’re already considering the delicate balance of celebrating a big day while keeping the right tone in the wake of the pandemic.

Urban said the Fire want to “be a source of strength in these times.”

“We can be a source of enjoyment or diversion through some of the stories and connections that we have with fans and players and memories,” Urban said. “Not a day goes by that we don’t think about finding that right voice, finding our place in the citywide landscape and dialogue. It’s going to be an important thing. When we do come back, we’ve got to make sure we’re calibrated properly. It’s going to be key.”

That consideration also relates to how the front office is trying to maintain that momentum through what could be a lengthy break in the season. Urban said staying in touch with the fans thoughtfully and sensitively is a goal, and he’s proud of the Fire’s participation in Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s “We Are Not Playing” campaign along with the city’s other major-league professional teams.

The unique situation also gives the Fire staff, which sources say hasn’t been furloughed or seen a pay cut, a chance to work in ways they otherwise wouldn’t.

“We’re working remotely here, every day we’re looking at opportunities, we’re looking at things that we can do to take advantage of some of the time that we now have to plan and to lean into some initiatives, both things that have arisen through the current situation, but also our business and the 2020 season generally,” Urban said. “The word momentum and the level of energy and commitment, we’re still working on it every day.

“If there are things we can do or ideas we can now explore because we have the luxury of a little bit of time, we’re taking advantage of all of that and being aware of the situation around us.”

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