The Chicago Fire have some major changes on the horizon as the club looks to restore its place among MLS's elite.
Next season’s return to Soldier Field isn’t the only significant development coming for the Chicago Fire. Ownership change is on the way as well.
The club announced Friday that Andrew Hauptman, the private equity investor who purchased the Fire in 2007, is making way for minority partner Joe Mansueto. Hauptman’s 12 years in charge have been mostly frustrating ones for Chicago fans, who have endured MLS’s longest trophy drought and been forced to watch as their team suffered a decline in local and national relevance. Hauptman’s ultimate legacy may be in laying the groundwork for the stadium and ownership transition.
“I’m extremely proud of the positioning of the club at this historic juncture,” Hauptman said in a statement. “I know that the next step of returning to Soldier Field will make Chicago proud and I look forward to cheering on Joe, the club and its supporters as they continue this legacy.”
Mansueto, 63, is an Indiana native and University of Chicago graduate who is the founder and chairman of Morningstar, a financial services firm. He bought a 49% stake in the Fire in July 2018, and now has completed acquisition of the club. He will be its chairman and sole owner. Forbes pegs Mansueto’s net worth at $3.8 billion.
“I joined Andrew as a partner because he developed a tremendous platform for continued soccer growth across Chicago and beyond,” Mansueto said. “The timing of this transaction couldn’t be better as we return the world’s game to the city I love. Andrew and his family will always be part of the Fire family that he cares so very much about.”
Hauptman purchased the Fire from Anschutz Entertainment Group in 2007, a year after the club won its fourth U.S. Open Cup title and moved to Bridgeview, Ill. A leading club during MLS’s first decade, the Fire never found its footing out in the suburbs. Attendance peaked in 2008 and fell to 14,806 per game last season, the second-worst mark in the league. Following a third consecutive defeat in the Eastern Conference final in 2009, the Fire have qualified for the MLS Cup playoffs only twice in nine seasons, losing in the knockout round both times. Fan relations have suffered as well, as several PR missteps frayed the connection between the dwindling number of loyal supporters and the club. #HauptmanOut became a popular rallying cry for Fire fans.
Tied to its onerous lease in Bridgeview, which will cost a reported $65.5 million to break, Hauptman did try to find other ways to boost the Fire’s fortunes. The 2015 appointments of GM Nelson Rodriguez, a longtime MLS executive, and head coach Veljko Paunovic, who managed Serbia to the 2015 U-20 World Cup crown, looked good on paper. Both men remain in their posts. In 2017, the Fire signed German World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger to a club-record Designated Player deal, as well as Hungarian striker Nemanja Nikolic, who won the MLS Golden Boot. That summer, the club hosted the MLS All-Star Game at Soldier Field. Hauptman has beefed up the front office, thus avoiding some of the PR blunders that plagued his ownership previously, and made commitments to recreational and youth soccer throughout the area.
But the Fire still haven’t won a playoff game in a decade. So ultimately, more drastic change was required. Mansueto’s 2018 arrival paved the way, and the deal to leave SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview soon followed. Now, the transition is complete, with talk of potential technical staff and roster changes, and a potential rebrand, sure to follow.