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CHICAGO FIRE MEDIA CONFERENCE
July 17, 2019
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: Good afternoon. Thanks, everybody for being here and for those who are joining in and watching over social media. Please allow me to begin by offering our congratulations to the U.S. Women's National Team. They have added a fourth star to their jersey, and they did it deservedly so, and emphatically so. The entire team was an inspiration not only I think to Americans, but to people all over the world.
And there's a great opportunity for Chicagoans to show their love for members of that team. On Sunday, the Red Stars are hosting a welcome-back match. It has already set a record for tickets sold for a women's game, but I want to encourage Chicago to come out, make it a sellout, and have it be the start of purchase of sellouts and improved attendance for the Red Stars who deserve it.
I also think it's an opportunity to come out and personally thank the foreign members of the Red Stars, Morgan Brian, Tierna Davidson, Julie Ertz and Alyssa Naeher. So please join the Red Stars on Sunday.
As for our team, two days following Open Cup loss in St. Louis, I met with the group, the guys and the staff, and I shared with them that while I still had confidence, that I needed to see some changes and I provided a five-game window which closed with the recent match on Saturday against Cincinnati.
While the effort and intention was there, the results weren't. And so our team, and the entire league, knows that we're open for business.
I understand that whatever else I say and however I may answer the questions that are posed today, are going to cast a judgment, and that judgment is likely to fall along these lines: Is it that I have conviction, or is it just stubbornness? Is it that I have insight and faith, or just folly and blind spots? I think for the detractors, they will see it one way. For the loyalists, they will see it the other.
I believe that I'm a self-aware individual, and I do try to protect others against my being wrong in that record. For example, for our ownership, I make sure that they have access to data that is unvarnished, uninterpreted by me. I've asked an outside, independent group to write a report on our team and how we conduct our soccer operations, and this is my way of ensuring, or try to ensure, that we don't have blind spots.
I do this, also, because I know that I'm neither omniscient, nor do I have some playbook that gives me infallible answers. But I also know that I'm good at what I do, and I'm very disciplined about remaining with our three principles of trying to do the right things, trying to do things in the right way, and in being a giver.
On March 11, we presented our ownership with a strategic plan for the entirety of the club. They accepted and supported that plan and the easiest proof of their support is the massive investment they really made in obtaining an amended lease with the Village of Bridgeview. Andrew Hauptman's persistence over time and Joe Mansueto's support since his arrival made it all possible and provided a great business deal for the Village, and it's opened up for us a return to the heart of Chicago, something that we consider vital to achieving our ambitions.
But everything always comes back to wins and losses, and sitting below the red line, it's aggravating. It's frustrating. It's heartbreaking and there's nothing that I can say that you haven't heard quite a few times over already.
All we can do is try to mimic our fans. Fans who even on Saturday during a lengthy weather delay, were full throttle, saying in full voice, and did everything they could imploring and urging and pushing the team to stand ask deliver.
We will do the same, all of us. Those associated with the team directly, those in support positions, and every member of our staff. We will continue marching. We will continue trying to improve to deliver the results that we all dream about, and those that remain within our control and within our reach.
Unfortunately I know we are going to make mistakes; we're human. And when we do, we'll own them. When announced that Bastian Schweinsteiger made it to the All-Star Team, we issued a release that listed all previous Fire players who made the All-Star Team, and unfortunately, in the first issue of that release, just through a simple human mistake, we omitted Mike McGee.
Now, that's not great, and we'll get better at that. But I personally spoke with Mike. I apologized to Mike. He very graciously accepted the apology and in turn, very generously, offered to help the team in any way.
While results will always be the primary objective, they don't define the totality of our club, our efforts and even some of our successes.
To many, what I'm going to say next won't matter, or won't matter as much as a five-game winning streaks or getting in the Playoffs or winning in the Playoffs, but they are no less important: ESPN, while the specific details are embargoed by ESPN, our ratings are triple improved from this time last year. Our average viewership is up. We're top five across all MLS teams in average viewership and top five among all MLS teams in average new subscribers per game. We're double our ratings from our previous broadcast provider.
And I think equally important is that in just ten months, ESPN+ now has 2 million subscribers, which means our available audience dwarfs what our previous broadcast provider could offer.
We were just named by ESPN as the Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year. It's the fourth major award our foundation has earned in the last five years. We're grateful for the generous $100,000 grant that comes with that and allows us to continue to expand our reach Plays Program and reach our goal of being in 40 schools by next year.
And I do want to take a moment to acknowledge and recognize the other finalists for the award this year, which also included fellow MLS brethren New York City Football Club, the L.A. Dodgers and Anaheim Ducks who are all doing great work in their respective communities.
Just like the last round table where we announced AT&T, we have another blue chip partner that's joined the family in Captain Morgan. We are excited. They are creative. They are innovative. They are going to our their IP rights on their bottling and packaging, and we think it's a perfect pairing for us.
We are also making great efforts to reconnect with our former players under the direction of Graham Parker, we are going to reunite with a lot of former players, try to recognize and celebrate their legacies and their contributions. He's already spoken to 30 players directly. We're going to reach all 295 in some way or fashion. We're looking to bring back players in ambassador roles in, paid positions.
Frank Klopas will miss some games in August due to a family wedding in Greece and we've lined up Patrick Doody to serve as the analyst, and he does work already with the Big Ten Network. And Graham is aiming to develop and issue a first alumni and network newsletter before the summer is over.
Our academy continues to make positive strides. We're one of only five MLS teams that had all three of its eligible academy teams participate in the US soccer development academy Playoffs, and since his arrival, we've had 25 different players make it into youth national teams, and that includes a player who was with the Polish youth national team and one with Macedonia.
These are just a few but tangible examples of the progress of our club. But it's not enough without, first, team results.
We are renewing our commitment and our connection to the city, and that starts with our connection to each other. Since Saturday's loss, I've met in different groups with every member of our staff, our team staff, and in each, I asked every person to commit in three areas.
First, for them to remain proud to represent this club and this city; to stand tall and to operate with pride.
Second, to try and create at least one week -- one win per week; to find or make ways that yield a positive contribution to the club, because there is a compounding effect in the accumulation of even small wins and no victory is insignificant.
And third, I challenged everyone to be an even bigger giver. To do something nice and unexpected for someone else.
Lots of people look at the club for inspiration, for escape, for a sense of belonging, for camaraderie, and while winning championships is our primary goal, our influence and our intentions must be greater.
So we will remain bold in our ambition, brave in our attempts and big-hearted in our actions.
With that, be happy to take questions.
Q. Just first of all, with the announcement of the amended lease, is there a time frame for an announcement on a new stadium and is there a possibility that this team might be splitting games between here and another venue, Soldier Field, next season?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: I appreciate that, Brian. We finally just got done reaching an agreement on the amended lease. We've had a preliminary conversation with the folks running Soldier Field, and we'll continue to look at all options.
There's no timeline designated, but every minute and every day matters, knowing where we end up, where our fans can find us, and so we're planning for that future, and no other decisions at this moment have been made.
Q. Planning for the eventuality of a permanent home outside of Soldier Field or another facility within the city limits, do you have a long-term idea of what your ultimate goal is as far as a soccer-specific stadium within the city?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: We've seen it work both ways throughout the league. In Atlanta and in Seattle, it's certainly working for them to share a venue with an NFL counterpart. We've also seen great success in markets like Sporting Kansas City, where they have built their own stadium and control it.
I'd like to take this a little sequentially. We are grateful for our time here in Bridgeview. We're grateful for the partnership that we experienced with the Village and it's public and Mayor Landek.
I'd like to first find our next port of call, do some games there, and then we'll look about the broader future after that.
Q. Looking at the details, how do you feel the way this panned out, the situation of continuing to invest in the local community here in Bridgeview, along with giving yourself that option to play elsewhere, why was that the ultimate deal that got done, rather than, you know, sending a straight bio to the City of Bridgeview and leaving that all behind and keeping a presence in the community?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: I can't speak for the Village, and I don't, but I think this is a fantastic outcome, for all parties. For the Village, they are unencumbered by our presence; so they can pursue any events in any way that they want.
We are going to make an immediate $5 million in additional or enhanced facilities, which gives them a chance to grow a soccer ecosystem for themselves. I think we gain some benefit by that, as well, while the team continues to train here, while the academy continues to be here, improved and enhanced, and increased facilities will be good.
So I'd like to view it as a win/win. I think the fact that the Village agrees -- signed and agreed, probably suggests they feel the same way.
Q. With the next stage of a new stadium and attendance being what it is, if you do move to Soldier Field, what is the plan to draw more fans?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: When?
Q. Soldier Field is 61,000 seats, and this is a 20-thousand seat stadium that doesn't sell out.
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: It's not about the size of the venue. I do think that the location of the venue matters, and it's been challenging to get here for many fans. Soldier Field is well known, easier to get to, and even on events like the gold cup final, which had 62,000 fans, which clears out pretty easily and pretty quickly.
We do not believe that moving to the city is a salve for all of our issues. We know that there's a lot of other work that we need to do, and our strategic plan has very specific tactics around that.
You know, simply broad highlights, we have to do a better job of connecting with people where they live. So we intending to face-to-face in all 77 neighborhoods. We need to do a better job and have already begun doing a better job with social media. Our level of content and the quality of our content is far greater than its ever been, and the metrics are showing that as we are up across all social media metrics since the start of the year.
We have to market our team more. But I said it somewhat in jest, but the reality, also, is we have to have a product that resonates with the fans, that starts with winning. You know, everyone equates winning with quality, with being good, with entertaining. So.
We have to find ways to win, do so in a representative style that the fans and the public of Chicago will appreciate. But it's a lot of different factors coming together.
Q. When you said "open for business" in your opening statement, how is that different than normal, I guess?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: Well, look, we're not going to give guys away. You know, I think some teams are trying to capitalize on that knowledge.
So when I receive an offer of 50,000 of allocation and a first-round super draft pick and for Alexander Katai, I'm somewhat from bemused to insulted. But it more than ever should highlight to the players that our sense of urgency is far greater. We have shown I think more than reasonable amount of patience for the group to come together and to gel.
And so now I'll also be more aggressive in seeking opportunities rather than waiting to see what may come our way.
Q. After indicating that you gave the group five games before making decisions, do you feel after those five games that the season is lost?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: We have always adapted the attitude that if a trophy is on the line, we are going to play to try to win it. Sure, it's more complicated by having a game today, Wednesday and Saturday, before next Tuesday's match.
Pauno and I have already discussed that but we are going to make every attempt to win against a great rival who is in great form, and our expectation that Cruz Azul is also going to play its best players in an attempt to win.
Q. Has there been any discussion in dismissing Veljko Paunovic, and how would you look at his performance this season?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: You know, Brian, I have said previously and I'll repeat again today: I'll never discussed status of a coach because no answer that ends the discussion.
Q. You brought in David Ousted earlier this year, and a starter for a good part of the season -- what is the situation with him now as he appears to be behind Sanchez, and is there more than just one bad game against San Jose that led to him losing that position?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: Listen, the could he have of coaching staff makes the decision as to who plays and doesn't play. David is a thorough professional; so I want to be clear, there's nothing outside of how the coaching staff is evaluating performance, performance and training, and what they think is the best lineup to earn a win. Nothing other than that.
Q. On the Adams trade that became official this morning, you said in your press release that you hope this is going to allow the opportunity for a successive move in this window. Can you talk about what parts of the team you are targeting in this window and how you think you can best manage that money?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: First of all, to be clear, we'll receive the allocation money next year. So this is more a matter of how we manage our roster, roster spots, creating cap space for the senior roster, and the like.
Our plan for this window was designed back in February and March. It evolved a bit as the first window carried through and some of the things we weren't able to do and tried to do. We always try to improve along the lines, so even if we can improve a player that we consider 17th or 18th on the roster, we will do so.
We know that we need to improve competition at the outside backs and we'll continue to look to do that.
We also knew and mentioned that in this window, we would try to see if we could secure designated players, some players that we had been following for a while, even if that meant on-boarding them in January.
A few weeks back, we made a $5 million offer for a young South American player. Unfortunately, a European Team has come in and offered 10 million, and so I don't believe at this point that we will look to match that and sign that player. We have other players, DP level, that we continue to track, monitor. We have not yet made a decision whether to make offers for those players, but we'll see what happens.
And the trade talk within the league is starting to pick up. This window feels short and is short, and so we're fielding more in-bound calls. We have proactively reached out to every team. We're engaged in two, I would say, serious discussions of trades with two different players with two different teams, but we'll see where it takes us.
Q. Could you talk more about the decision to trade Adams, considering the age of the central midfield and the depth of the position?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: We made a decision with Mo that was impacted by a few different things. First, we didn't think he would make our 11 for the protected list for the expansion draft and currently, you only get $50,000.
Second, and please, Jeremy, hear me carefully here. We think that that holding midfield position, we believe that in our academy, we've quite a few players with high potential. The careful part is, I'm not suggesting they are ready for next year or this year, but they are progressing well and we have quite a few of them.
So when the opportunity came for us, that served a few purposes: One, it was more money than we could get than risk losing him in the expansion draft.
Two, it's going to create some cap space and flexibility with how we maneuver the roster to try to add another piece that we feel is more critical to improving the team now than Mo could provide.
And then third, just having foresight, succession planning, and seeing that we feel we've got some good players in the pipeline.
So I hope it works out for Mo, but we had to make the difficult decision to move.
Q. Every time we've done one of these, we talk about the re-brand. What are you thinking about and what is the latest on that?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: We are just about done with yet another wave of seeking input from fans and partners. We've gotten tremendous responses from surveys that we've done. We've completed two; we have one more survey to do in addition to some small focus groups and even some one-on-ones. It's been interesting, the range of answers that we've been getting.
You know, we've focused on asking about the current name, the current logo, our current colors, our current uniform and even the meaning of the name and what among those things are really important to people, what among those things are they more open to changing. The answer that has had near unanimity, I would say, like 90 percent, is everybody just wants us to represent all of Chicago and not be limited to a particular geographic area or thinking that way. That's been the most unifying answer.
Beyond that, you know, you have diehards what wouldn't everything to say the same. You have people who say: I still don't understand why we are named after a disaster. You have others who say: Bring back the fire truck; and others who say, hey, get rid of this whole association with firefighters all together.
So we are working through that. We are working with the league. We are working with an outside agency. When we feel we've got something that's the winner and encapsulates everything that we want to be and who we are, we'll bring it forward.
Q. At the first round table, you mentioned in order to bring players, you need to remove players. Are you scouting players? Are you close to signing players? What's the current status?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: So my answer is, we now have a full-time scout, Borja de MatÃas, who is experienced in the league and in Argentina. We're excited by that. He's working with us on a full-time basis and is employed.
We have reached a point now where we have three candidates at every position that we follow on a regular basis, but that list is constantly changing and evolving as we drop guys off or add new guys on.
We are looking at either making additions this window, or reaching agreement for players now, but to join us in January.
Q. Have you talked to or asked permission to talk to any other coaches about coaching this team?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: No.
Q. Last night during the international Champion's Cup game, the chant was back; the chat that about three years ago you went on the pitch and FIFA announced stronger penalties on Monday. Do you think we'll reach a point where it does go away, and what do you think it's going to take for that to happen?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: Boy, I really hope so, and I appreciate your asking the questions, Paul, because I think our fans deserve a lot of credit, because they don't do it.
And that chant is predominant in Mexican soccer and I think that's fair to say. We have a large fan base that has Mexican heritage, yet they don't do it here. It is offensive, and it has no place. It's not clever. It's not creative. It doesn't do anything to add a positive element.
I don't know what FIFA can do. I'm just grateful for our fans agreeing that that's not representative of this citizens and the spirit of Chicago, and we don't to it. I'm grateful to our fans for that. If I had an answer -- if I had a solution, I'd offer it. I just hope people come to their senses and realize how offensive it is and there's a better way to show -- there's a better way to show love and support, and there's a better way to show frustrating than homophobic chants.
Q. The defense, and in particular, the lineup, has experienced a lot of changes, and we receive goals typically very easily. From the midfield to the forward, it's a potent group, a very good group. We brought in Marcelo, but yet he finds himself on the bench. Do we think this can be a factor as to where we stand and will there be reinforcements or a change in attitude and direction and coaching to improve it?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: It's not just the defensive line that contributes to the defense. It has to be the whole team. There have been a few times, albeit only a few times, where I think we've shown the requisite defensive mentality, and I use the example of the game away at LFC against a potent offense. Admittedly we had chances in that game but I think we were stout and resolute in defending.
If I'm not mistaken, the lineup changes along the back line have in part been caused by injuries and suspensions, and for sure, there would be a benefit, if we could settle on a back four and work the back four.
I think there's been heightened attention and more time spent in training on defense, not just the line, because everybody has to contribute to the defense. And one other comment I made was at times, I think if we were to convert in front of the other goal and go up 1-0 or 2-20, then defending sometimes becomes a little bit easier, as well.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports