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Volume 27 No. 28
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Joe Mansueto Opens Up On Fire Ownership, Pandemic Strategy

Fire Owner & Chair Joe Mansueto during yesterday’s virtual Intersport Brand Innovation Summit said his first year as majority owner has shown him how a pro team is a "three-legged stool" with a sporting, business and civic side. While he expected the first two legs, Mansueto said he did not have an appreciation for the civic side. He said, "That’s been super fulfilling, really connecting with the city.” He then added a fourth leg to the metaphorical stool: “family connection.” Mansueto said his own family’s support of the team has “forced an even deeper connection with my family, and having them enjoy it has made it more enjoyable for me.” Among the many changes he has made within the organization, Mansueto said, “One of the first things I did was split the business side and the sporting side.” Mansueto: “It seemed to me they’re very different skills, and I’d rather have somebody focused on each with deep domain knowledge on each.”

Below are some of the highlights from the rest of the conversation with Mansueto:

*On growing the fanbase in Chicago: “There’s a huge soccer audience here and we’re not reaching enough of them. And so we’ve made a big investment in marketing. We’ve got a great marketing leader in (Senior VP/Marketing & Digital) Kyle Sheldon.”

*On adjusting digital social content to better connect with fans: “A soccer audience skews a little younger. … They’re on their phones, their laptops, engaging in social media. And so our social media team has just hit it out of the park. We’ll often lose a game and the fans will comment on Twitter, ‘Bad loss. But boy that social content is awesome.’ … (Efforts include) vignettes of the players, great music in a way that really engages with a younger audience.”

*On getting more broadcast exposure in Chicago: “One of the things we’ve done is moved to on-the-air broadcast. … The Cubs moved off WGN last year to go to their own cable channel. … So we came to WGN, formed a great partnership, and now they’re broadcasting every game. And so we’re exposing millions of people in Chicago to the Chicago Fire in a way that really hadn’t been done before.”

*On how the organization took a “shared sacrifice approach” amid the pandemic: “I came into this thinking that I didn’t want to lay off any staff. … We all hunkered down. We didn’t lay off staff. We didn’t cut salaries, but we kind of cut back on other areas of the organization. Bonuses, variable pay, we cut those back. And so we all kind of shared in the pain.”

*On if the pandemic might delay strategies planned for years to come: “It doesn’t change the long-term plan at all really. I think as soon as we can get fans back in the stadium we’re kind of back to the original plan. … That pent-up demand is growing. And so the long-term future is just as bright as always.”

*On his advice for any prospective owner looking to get into sports: “If you’re passionate about the sport, if you’re passionate about the city you live in, I would highly recommend sports ownership. … I really do think it’s a privilege to work in sports.”