New Fire Owner Joe Mansueto Now At Forefront Of Club's Rebuild
Billionaire investor Joe Mansueto has taken over full ownership of the Fire from Andrew Hauptman after purchasing 49% of the MLS team in '18, and the sale "brings Mansueto to the forefront of a franchise that's about to take a big step toward raising its profile in the city by moving its games back to Soldier Field from suburban Bridgeview," according to Danny Ecker of CRAIN'S CHICAGO BUSINESS. The deal is also a "big vote of confidence by a powerhouse investor and well-connected Chicago businessman in the future of MLS and a club that's labored to build its brand throughout its 22-year history here." Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 9/13). THE ATHLETIC's Tenorio & Rivera cited a source as saying that the Fire was valued at $400M, which "puts the final sale price" for the 51% of Hauptman's stake at $204M. Hauptman's company, Andell Holdings, purchased the club from AEG for $35M in '07. The Fire are currently 10th in the Eastern Conference this season and have only made the playoffs twice since '10, and those "failings on the field made Hauptman a disliked figure with the fanbase." Additionally, the club's "relationship with some of the most ardent fans has been fractured, at times in public disputes" (THEATHLETIC.com, 9/13). In Chicago, Brian Sandalow noted 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 '09 and a "dwindling fan base" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 9/14).
HITTING THE RESET BUTTON: THE ATHLETIC's Sam Stejskal wrote the sale to Mansueto "gives the Fire a rare shot at a new beginning." This is a chance to "wake up a sleeping giant, an opportunity to turn the U.S.'s third-largest metro area into a meaningful MLS market." Sources around the league are "wildly optimistic that Mansueto is the right man to lead Chicago into its brave new world" (THEATHLETIC.com, 9/13). SOCCER AMERICA's Paul Kennedy wrote the Fire sale "comes at a critical juncture for the club." They are about to "miss the playoffs for the eighth time in the last 10 years," and the club is "last in MLS in attendance with an average of 11,926 fans a game" (SOCCERAMERICA.com, 9/14). In Chicago, Orrin Schwarz noted Mansueto has a net worth of $3.8B, which is the "kind of fortune that can lift the Fire from MLS have-nots to MLS elite." Hauptman "never figured out how to manage a professional sports franchise." He "declined to invest" in the Fire the "way it needed to compete in today's MLS." Mansueto "can change all that, and it will be interesting to see what changes he makes in the next few months" (Chicago DAILY HERALD, 9/15).
FUTURE PLANS: The DAILY HERALD's Schwarz noted the Fire earlier this summer announced it will pay $65.5M to the village of Bridgeview, Ill., to "get out of the SeatGeek Stadium lease that was to end" after the '36 season. The team is now "nearing a deal to play at Soldier Field" starting in '20, as it "did its first few seasons" starting in '98. Under Mansueto, the club is "expected to try to build a soccer-specific stadium within the Chicago city limits." The club has said that it will "continue to use SeatGeek Stadium as its training facility, although Mansueto also could join the MLS trend to build a state-of-the-art training facility" (Chicago DAILY HERALD, 9/14).