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October 14, 2019

Nelson Rodriguez

Chicago, Illinois

NELSON RODRIGUEZ: Thanks, everybody, for participating today in the room, online or over the phone. If you'll allow me, I just want to begin with a few comments.

First, on behalf of our club, I wish to extend sincere condolences to Fred Huebner on the passing of his wife Pat. I had the good fortune of meeting Pat on a few occasions. She had an ease and a grace about her that was truly warming, so I ask that everyone please include Fred in their thoughts tonight.

Second, I want to issue a congratulations to the National Soccer Hall of Fame inductees and recipients. The Colin Jose media award went to Tony Quinn. And the inductees this year are Abby Wambach and Sunil Gulati. To Sunil in particular, who was always very good to me in my career and very generous, a transformational gentleman who helped take the sport and the league from something that was seen as just orange slices at halftime to viewing parties of tens of thousands of people, so congratulations, well deserved, to Abby and Sunil.

And my final preamble is to a class of MLS veterans who announced their retirement this year. If I missed anybody or anyone retires subsequently, I apologize, but offer equal thanks to Tony Beltran, Chad Marshall, Michael Parkhurst, Nick Rimando, Tim Howard, and of course to two of our own, DaMarcus Beasley and Bastian Schweinsteiger. While your play was exquisite, your character is what really helped make this league better. Best of luck to you in your next future endeavors.

Last Tuesday was a very special day for the Fire family. It was a perfect setting, with past and present players, loyal supporters, great fans, dedicated partners. The mayor was present, all in celebration of our return to Soldier Field.

When I reflected on that moment, it emphasized to me that all of us have a stake in the future and in the success of this club. And what I most took was the excitement, the palpable feeling that Chicagoans are ready to embrace this club unconditionally and to showcase its spirit and our city to the rest of MLS and to the greater football world.

That feeling, that energy, that faith, that optimism is what makes missing the playoffs this year that much more painful. You know, it was there for us. We had all that we needed, and we didn't deliver.

I took the past week to collect my notes, to seek counsel and opinions of people that I trust, to elicit different perspectives, and to arrange my thinking: Why? Why didn't we make the playoffs?

I have to be honest in that some of those lines remain blurred to me, but some are also very clear. In my analysis, our football did not let us down. We can, most times, play with anyone on equal footing, home or away. I think our talent level was enough. You know, 10 former or present national team players, good depth. We had experience. I could recite all the statistics and chalk it up to bad luck, but I believe luck is the residue of design, and so if it didn't go our way, we had something to do with that, as well.

So I'm left with the conclusion that something in our environment needs to improve. Something in our environment just isn't right. Now, environment, at least to my perspective, is very complex. It involves people. It involves norms and customs, expectations. There's the physical environment. And everybody who touches the environment plays a part in it. And what I've done is first look at myself; what did I do that contributed to that environment, or what did I fail to do that contributed to that environment.

As I was trying to put my finger on it, I thought back to an article earlier in the year that was written about Jeremiah Gutjahr, where he spoke to the reason why he wears 33, and he defined his friend as someone who was available, and I realize that I wasn't available enough, and I needed to be. And I could have helped the situation more.

So to remedy that, we've initiated a search to add an experienced individual to our staff, whose focus will be the first team, the first team coaches and the build-out of our support staff. I'm confident we'll find the right person, and that person will provide us some much-needed support.

To me, it's another logical step in our evolution as a club, and it's in line with the strategic plan that we presented to ownership back in March and that they approved. You know, that plan was influenced heavily by Daniel Burnham's quote, "Make no little plans, for they have no magic to stir men's blood. Make big plans, aim high in hope and work."

As all of you did last Thursday, I want to thank each of you in the room and on the line again today for helping to share our story and how it unfolds as we move forward.

With that, I'll open it up to questions.

Q. You talked about your role in shaping the team's environment. How does Paunovic play into that and how do you assess him in that regard?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: As I mentioned, I think everyone does. I always think it's right and appropriate to start with myself and to recognize those areas in which I need to improve and get better.

In terms of Pauno, it's the same with players. Everybody contributes in some way. I think by and large, our players were put in a position to succeed, but we didn't, and I think it also would be unfair and unjust to just say that the players failed in that moment. I think that's incomplete.

And so I think we have to look at -- you know, it's something more than team spirit. You know, Finland was invaded by Russia, and Russia came over the lines with 450,000 troops. I think they had like 6,000 tanks and over 400 aircraft, and the Finnish had I think an army of 70,000, they had 32 tanks and about 100 or 100 and change planes.

But the Finnish have this sense, this spirit, and if I mispronounce it I apologize, it's not Finnish, but it's sisu, s-i-s-u, and it's about perseverance, even in extreme odds. It's about continuing to move forward, even if you have failed, and I just think that in critical, critical moments, in both boxes, the opponents in our own, we seem to let down.

And so I think that's a shared responsibility. I don't think it's about assigning blame, and I think we have to find a shared solution to improve that, to move forward.

Q. Being here in Chicago, one of the top three markets in the country, how do you explain or what can you say about the attendance last year or this season? And what do you guys know about that, and what are your plans for next year? Is it about signing a big name, a big star? Is it about doing something different?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: Not a literal but a pretty close translation, obviously attendance was poor this year. I think that's a result of the last several years of being a struggle, principally that the team hasn't won. In terms of plans for 2020 to improve it, we look at the entire fan experience that has to improve and change, and it will. We're developing different fan experiences. Our ticket offerings will be different. We'll have season tickets that are priced as low as $15 a game. We'll have a variety of plans for fans so that they can find something that is flexible.

But it also always comes back to the performance of the team. With regard to signing a big-name player, we won't look to sign a big-name player just for the name. I don't think you can fool fans. I don't think you can pander to fans. I think it's about the overall product, trying to build a winning team and a team that plays in a way that reflects the city and its citizens and a team that tries to win home and away each time out. I hope I did a good job there.

Q. Nelson, can you talk about the future of players with club options this season, including Nico Gaitan and if he'll be converted to a DP?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: Sure. First thing, that will give me an opportunity to break a little bit of news. First, we won't make all of our decisions at the same time. I think we have a lot of players in interesting situations, and so we'll make decisions to exercise options on a case-by-case basis. Earlier today we did exercise three options: Fabian Herbers, Jeremiah Gutjahr and Michael Azira. All three wanted to return, were excited to return. All three were newcomers. I think they assimilated very well into our club and into our team and provided great spirit and their great character in the locker room, as well.

Specifically with Nico Gaitan, I'm actually meeting with his agent tomorrow here in the city, and we'll have a discussion. For me part of the conversation always centers around does the player want to be here, because it doesn't help us to have players who may not want to be here.

So I'll speak to his agent. My end-of-season interview with Nico is also this week, so I'll speak to him directly, and we'll start to get a sense of that at that time.

I think there was another player you asked about?

Q. Is Dax offered a club option, as well?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: He is, as well, and I'll meet with Dax later this week to speak to him and see how he's feeling. You know, I think veteran players who have given so much, not just to the club but to the league, I like to afford them some latitude and see how they're feeling. A few years back, Patrick Nyarko had expressed a desire to leave, and we accommodated him in a way that he wanted, even though we had hoped to keep him. I'll talk to Dax this week, and I'm sure at some point I'll speak to his representation, as well.

Q. Another player in a similar situation is Aleksandar Katai. What you're looking at the DP situation, obviously now two of the three with Basti and Nicolas have moved on from the club, what's your approach when you look at the transfer market and how you're looking to fill those spots, and then as you've commented about Nico and Dax, is there any plan or discussion, timeline for deciding on Katai's future with the club?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: I'll take the second question first. So Katai's agent is coming to Chicago, and I'm meeting with him towards the latter of the part of the week. I'm not sure if it'll be Thursday or Friday, but one of those two days. Alex's contract is different; if his option were to be exercised, he could be a TAM player because the transfer fee was paid previously, so that puts him a little bit in a different situation. We'll speak to Alex. There have been -- there were clubs around the world at the close of the second window who had inquired about him. There are some MLS clubs that have inquired about his services. So we'll see where that goes with him.

On DPs overall, I said a few years ago, and my philosophy really hasn't changed much. I think DPs need to finish the puzzle. I think you need to make sure that the scaffolding is strong enough to support DPs. I actually feel good about our scaffolding. I think that with guys like Calvo and Kappelhof and Bornstein and Frankowski, we've got good pieces with guys like Bronico and Sapong, whether they're starters or not. We can rely on them. Herbers has evolved and developed.

So in an ideal world, we look to add a few more pieces before going the DP route, but we have to be nimble to respond to the market. We have some targets in mind, and if the market dictates that we have to move on a particular target, even if the timing is imperfect, we'll be prepared to do so.

Q. In your opening you mentioned that you were looking to add to the technical staff, I guess to look at someone in support of the first team. Is that sort of a technical director position? Have you kind of defined what that position would entail? Is it different than the search for a chief culture officer?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: It's different than the chief culture officer for sure. I'm not sure if this is a technical director or supporting director, the general manager. I think the qualities of the individual will dictate that. This person, though, will have as a primary and at least initially as a solitary focus the first team. I think that's where our focus needs to be on improving. Our academy continues to thrive and do really well. At halftime our 17s were up, and they had won their first two DA games, or Generation Adidas games this week, and our U-15s went 2-1 in the three games so far. We've had 27 players over the last three years be invited to youth national team camps. 27 different players, that's a quarter of our academy.

So they're doing pretty well. Our Fire Juniors is doing pretty well. So I want the focus to be on the first team, and we'll look to find someone who can help us in that regard.

Q. Nelson, this past year there were some changes in goalkeeping. You went from Ousted, went to Kronholm. What are we looking for in 2020, a quality goalkeeper, or are we going to stay with what we have for the coming next year?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: Well, we have -- Kenneth Kronholm is on contract for next year, and we see him as the No. 1. Like most players, the adjustment was challenging, even for him. From August 1st to the end of the year, by the metrics that we use and then through an outside group that we hired to analyze the performance of all of our players on our team, Kronholm was a top-5 goalkeeper from August 1st to the end of the year. He's clearly much more comfortable. He, I think, understands the league, understands the team now. He's a great guy, super positive energy at all times.

So we see him remaining as the No. 1 goalkeeper. We have options on Richard and on David and on Stefan Cleveland, who completed a successful season at Lansing, and we'll evaluate all three of those guys and make a determination in the coming weeks.

Q. It's our understanding that Ken Lolla was brought in as the consultant to the technical staff. Is he still with the club, and if so, how does what he was doing compare with the support position that you were talking about?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: First, Ken was not here as a consultant to the technical staff. Ken was here at my request and also in part as he is a candidate for a position that had been internally labeled as a chief culture officer. I've known Ken for a long time, hold him in high regard. I took the opportunity while Ken was here to have him share some observations with me, and he, in part of trying to learn for himself, exchanged ideas with the staff.

I don't believe that Ken would be interested. I don't know, I hadn't thought about Ken in this new position. We're still thinking of him for that other position that would affect not just the first team staff but the entire front office and every staff member in the front office. We have another candidate for that coming in at the end of the month, so that search continues.

But my general thinking is whether this is a technical director or some form, I hadn't thought about Ken. I don't know about his interest. We'll see if he's interested, and we'll see what candidates come forward.

Q. You've spoken about attendance. You haven't filled the stadium with 20,000. How do you intend to fill the stadium with 62,000? And in general, how are you going to try to appeal and attract the Hispanic audience more often?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: On the Hispanic audience, we need to do a better job of speaking to them directly, and we need to do a better job of being in their communities more frequently.

While we do a lot of great things in our community and our foundation does great work and our Plays program does great work, there's no substitute for being in the community more often and to speaking with the Hispanic population and all of our populations more directly.

To that end, in Sean Dennison's communications group, we hired Elizabeth Sanchez, who was formerly with U.S. Soccer, who understands that audience very well, is well-connected in the Chicago market in that audience. We've hired another young lady in our graphic design and creative group who previously worked with the Mexican Federation and Mexican football who is bicultural and bilingual, so we're making direct efforts to appeal to that audience in their way, in their language.

And another part of that is being more football than soccer, and we think that being at Soldier Field isn't a case of looking at 60,000 versus 20, it's about accessibility and being central and being more available to more of the public. For sure we recognize that that creates inconveniences or greater distances for the suburban market, and we'll have to win them over with our fan experience and with our product to make up for the extra journey, but we think being in Soldier Field will help.

One thing I didn't mention in Spanish, which I will, and I'll mention now, you know, while our goal is to fill the stadium for the first game, in general we're looking at a configuration of about 28,000, which is the 100 and 200 levels. Great sight lines and all of that. And much like Seattle did and much like Atlanta has done, we'll use an accordion to enlarge capacity as needed or when called upon or when it makes sense.

Q. Following up off of that question, we've heard about rebranding or re-badging or renaming or some variation of those. Can you give us any more info on where that stands, what's coming?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, I think we're pretty much done with that. We're just adding one or two final details. We will share that with Joe. We hope to share it publicly in the next month. We received great input and feedback from fans, from supporters, from partners. Joe has been involved. Andrew was previously involved. We're excited by it, and I'm hopeful that we'll be able to show it in about a month's time.

Q. Just obviously a huge off-season and season for you and the club and everything. What gives you confidence that you and Pauno are the right guys to lead this franchise through this off-season and into this 2020 season?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: Thanks for your time. I think a fair question.

Look, I understand that there would be skepticism or perhaps even some distrust. You are what your record says you are. When I talk about earlier in my opening some lines are blurred, you know, there's some combination of data, feel, some combination of third-party opinion, all that goes into the mix.

When you lose, it's also natural sometimes to question yourself or your abilities. You know, I think that as I reflect on the four years, I think the first year was a reset. It set us up and ended up being -- set us up well, and we did well in the second year, finishing third in the table overall. 2018, I lay at my feet, and I've said that previously. I didn't do a good enough job with the roster.

And this year -- and we had injuries in 2018, as well. We never made excuses during the course of that year, but they existed.

This year was tougher because this year it's hard for someone to convince me that we're not good enough. All the underlying metrics should say that we're not just a playoff team, we're probably top three, or at least top three in the conference, goal differential, which is a standard just around the world, and we have a better goal differential than four teams in the playoffs in the east, four teams in the playoffs in the west. So it's tough.

But one thing is clear: We cannot continue doing the same things in the same way and expect a different result. And so I'll be having conversations with Pauno this week and the staff. I have some things in mind that need to change and have to change, and we'll get better, and if not, then we'll be changed.

Q. The return to Soldier Field marks a new era; by way of change to the roster, can we expect a lot of exits and a lot of incorporations?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: In terms of incorporations and exits, look, that's what the next few weeks are about. We're excited by the incorporation of Alvaro Medran, 25-year-old midfielder who can play as a second forward or a winger or any of the midfield positions. He's got great pedigree, and we're excited for him. We have four or five guys in mind already for various spots, and we'll work on all of those in the coming weeks.

Q. With Schweinsteiger retiring and it sounds like Nemanja Nikolic is leaving from his announcement, it looks like you're having significant turnover with important players. Is that a challenge to try and replace that much quality in one transfer window?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: You know, for starters, we -- Basti was always on a one-year kind of basis, and so we always knew we'd think about that at the end of the year. With Nemanja, I always had an arrangement, an agreement with Nemanja that at any time that we received interest in his services or perhaps sought to move his services, that I would let him know. And a couple times during the course of the year, teams inside of MLS and teams outside of MLS expressed interest in Nemanja, and I always shared that with him. And his answer was always the same: He was grateful to have that type of communication, and he said, you have to do what's best for the club, but that he hoped that he could stay.

And I'll take this moment just to say that for me, he was a great signing for this club. He's the best teammate I have ever been around. Never missed a session. Never missed an opportunity to be uplifting to his teammates. Always positive. And even this year where he was in his rough patch of finishing, he still appreciated his teammates and gave his all.

But the idea of the DPs being out of contract or options, because Basti would have been our option even without an option, Katai is our option, Gaitan is our option, was done by design. Candidly, it was done for two reasons. The first was there's a new CBA coming into place, and we didn't know how that might play out. I wanted to give ourselves maximum flexibility against any changes in the CBA. And the other one was, look, frankly, if it didn't go well and we weren't asked back, that the new person who came in would have a good slate, could imprint it in a way that they wanted without the burden of some contracts or some important gaps filled.

I was cognizant of that and wanted to make sure that if I didn't have a role going forward, it was in a better place than when we found it, frankly.

But important players always need to be replaced, and at some point Basti was going to move and at some point Nico was going to move, and one of the things that's been a benefit is Borhad Zimateus (phonetic), the agent, and our use of the outside analytics group based out of Europe has really improved our pipeline. So we've been looking at several forwards through the course of the year, having a sense that this was going to be it for our time with Nemanja as a player because I want the club always to be open to him and to his family. And we know that we needed to add reinforcements in the midfield and in the back line, so whether Basti returns or not, we knew we wanted to add one or two pieces there, as well.

So I think it all falls into plan a little bit.

Q. When you first came, you mentioned that you always look at the person ahead of the player. Will that continue? What positions, what profiles, what parts of the world are we looking at to find reinforcements and replace guys like Nikolic and others?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: Yes, we will continue with the philosophy of first the person and then the player. I think it's fundamental. I think it has served us well. I think even this year, I don't think our team quit. I think our team continued to play hard and give its all for the club and the fans, even in the last game, even going down in the last game. I think we showed that. And I think that serves us well.

In general, I think we'd like to find a player profile that skews slightly younger. We'd love to be in those ideal ages, somewhere between 25 to 28 or 29, just like Medran, just like Katai has been the last few years, who's just 28 years old now.

Our primary targets at the moment are in Spain, Poland, Argentina, Paraguay and México. I think that's right. That's not to say exclusively so, but that's where the guys who -- we are three deep in each position, and I would say that's where most of our ones and twos are.

Q. You talked about understanding why people would be skeptical of both you and Paunovic heading into this season, so what would you say to fans, why should they trust you or what exactly would inspire confidence in a fan base that's maybe a little sick of losing?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: You know, I think on my first press conference ever, I said the same thing. There's nothing I can say, right. There's nothing who the person who follows me can say, whether that person comes in tomorrow or a year from tomorrow. The fans have all heard it. And they can see through it.

I also think that a lot of fans have seen that we were an exciting team this year, and I think a lot of fans also saw that we were close. You know, again, those -- I choose oftentimes not to provide spin, but if we want to talk about metrics, just look at big chances. Second in the league to LAFC, both in those created and those had. Second in the league to LAFC, who's considered one of the most exciting teams in the league.

If we finish some percentage of those chances, we're in the playoffs and we're not having any of these conversations, none of them, because then we're in the playoffs two out of the last three years, and who knows what can happen. But we didn't, and so I have to face that music.

I think we've shown the capacity to acquire good players. I think we've shown the capacity to attract players who previously did not consider coming to Chicago and now do, whether that's Gaitan or Katai in his prime or Kappelhof, who left his country for his first foray overseas to our team, or Frankowski, who's 24 years old and plays for the Polish national team. Congratulations, Frankie, on a fantastic first goal and an important win for Poland. These guys are -- they're choosing the club is what I hope is how they'd say it. For sure in part they're choosing the city. This is a fantastic city to live, work and play, and it's a great sports town. And I hope I can say with some element of humility that they're choosing us and our values and our vision.

But to the fans, all I can promise is to do my absolute best and for you to know that I bleed as you bleed. You deserve more, and we're going to keep working to deliver it.

Q. You talked a lot already about conversations that are going to be upcoming over the next couple weeks, whether that's transfers, players. Since last Tuesday, have you had the chance to speak at length at all with Bastian Schweinsteiger and has there been any formal thought put together on potential options for him to continue to be involved with the club in the future?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: No, I didn't. After the game Sunday when Basti shared it with the team and the staff, it was very emotional, and I think it speaks to his class and his character, that he waited until after the game, that he didn't want the spotlight taken away from the team. He didn't want the team to feel pressured in any way. He just wanted it to be a normal game. And I just think that that's in keeping with who he is and how he views the reverence and the respect for the game, the locker room, his team and his teammates and this club.

I have spoken to his representative in the past, and we have agreed to speak in the near future about an ongoing role with Basti. I think we both agree that we want it to be significant and not ceremonial, where his football intelligence, his values and his connections can contribute to the club rather than it be just putting his pretty face as an endorsement.

But Basti needed and rightfully is taking some time with his family, his two young children, and there's time for that discussion. But it will -- I don't know what will come of it yet. I can say I think there's interest on both parties to continue the relationship in a meaningful way.

Q. What were the positions that were sort of up for grabs throughout the course of the year like everywhere else? Left back was sort of cemented with Bornstein coming on. In relation to Raheem Edwards, he I believe didn't make the 18 until after midsummer and wasn't around very much toward the end. What is the situation with Raheem Edwards?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: The situation with Raheem was dealt with privately between Raheem and the club. Both parties wanted it to remain that way. We'll engage with Raheem and his representation now that the season is over again, and we'll see where that's at.

Q. Nelson, with Bastian and Nikolic leaving us, are we looking for this team to be more of a younger type team as we look forward, and how much is that going to maybe be something that we're looking for like a building process for the next couple years?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: No, I don't -- look, I think we have a lot of good pieces in place. And I say that also in part by the amount of teams who are looking at our players. So you know, some teams have not yet been willing to engage, which I respect because they're preparing for the playoffs, but of the teams we've spoken to, which is just less than half, 10 different players have been identified on our team as players of interest to other teams, and that does not include unsigned academy or home-grown players whose rights we have, otherwise that number would be greater than 10.

You know, in terms of age, I think, look, the trend of the league is that way. But I think -- I try to look at things through this general lens of a mosaic that's made up of a lot of little tiles. And when you have Andre Reynolds, who's 17, you need another guy in the locker room who balances that out with experience. That's one of the big reasons why we wanted to get Johnny Bornstein, frankly, and we tried to get him last January. So Johnny is now in a position where he can directly mentor Andre, even in the position.

We won't limit ourselves to younger players, but I think we still need to find more players in that sweet spot of 25 to 28, 29 years old. Those players also tend to be the most expensive. Those players also tend to be the hardest to find out of contract or you're paying large transfer fees for. But ultimately it comes down to fit; is it the right fit, and how does it relate to the other pieces of the roster puzzle.

Q. Nelson, I've got a two-part follow-up question regarding Pauno. You mentioned that you have some things in mind for him to change. First of all, what are those things? And after four seasons, is he capable of change, and why hasn't he made those changes before?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: First thing, it's not just Pauno. It's the entire staff. It's not one individual, right. We went into this collectively, and we will remain collective.

No, I won't share those things because I haven't shared it with him yet. Maybe at some point in the future I will, and I still have things to share with the staff individually as well as collectively. So I think it's proper to do that business that way, and I hope you can respect that.

And I think people evolve and need to evolve. In our case, you know, my opinion, I hope Pauno will forgive me, but losing impacts you. Losing hurts. I'll speak for me more than making any comments on Pauno, but a lot of people have trusted me. A lot of people have taken jobs here because of the vision that I've sold and the values that I have espoused and that I believe we must adhere, and letting them down doesn't feel good.

Knowing that sales representatives won't hit bonuses because their numbers aren't good and that that's a reflection of the team, those things are real. They're human. And they have an impact. And you have to find your resources of resilience. You have to find your nourishment of faith, and you have to evolve and get better.

You know, I mentioned that one of the reasons why I want to bring someone in is I needed to help more, and I didn't, and that's -- I take that on. But I think with help, we can continue to evolve in a positive way.

You know, another thing that's difficult, the blurred lines that I've referenced, is man, we played some good football, and in a lot of ways, that's hard to achieve, and I don't just say it; other teams say it. Frank De Boer has said it, Dome has said it, Jimmy Curtin has said it, Chris Armas has said it. It's our opponents -- John Thorrington called me this week, kind of him to check in and see how I was doing, but also to say, you know what, you guys easily could have beaten us and we were the first team to take a point off LAFC at home this year.

So I want to believe that we can get better, and we will get better, and it's my job to make that happen, and I have to do better.

The other part of it is, and Pauno knows this, if we don't change or we're unwilling to change, we can't advance because we've seen that story.

Q. I'm uncomfortable nervous about the immense challenge that you face, citing our history with great names such as Stoichkov and Blanco and all of Blanco's success and the jerseys that he's sold and the fans that greeted him at the airport and the number of tickets that he sold in 24 hours. I recognize that Pauno is a good coach and he's done some good things, but the results didn't seem to accompany him, and it's hard to compare, but you look at Atlanta -- how are we going to get there?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: I don't have a sexy answer. You know, it's a process, which no one wants to hear that word, but it's about relating to people on their terms. It's about proving that we listen and take into account the feedback and the desires and the wishes of our fans. Of course you have to win, although this fan base has demonstrated that it will come when we win, and Chicago fan base in general has said if they love you, just as they loved the Cubs for over 100 years before they won, that they'll continue to come.

So we have to work on the details, the gesture of just -- to the 68 fans, the season tickets, it's just a sign of we're trying to show a new face of the club, trying to show greater appreciation and trying to behave in the right ways all the time. But it starts with fundamentals and goes from there.

And the last thing is who are the players who you could sign and would flip attendance. I think probably the most obvious are Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar, but I don't think they're looking to sign with us or our league, and when they are ready, I don't know how much football they'll have left in their legs, so we'll see. And I welcome any suggestions.

Q. To be a little bit more -- if we can get a little bit more specific, you've talked about you have to do better. It's on me, you said. Looking at team business operations and fan engagement that we focus on, we've talked about that some. Does adding this chief culture officer and this new technical position, what does that free you up more -- is that more time for meeting with fan groups, season ticket holders, selling season ticket holders and sponsors, or something else on the business side? What do you see it being able to maximize?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: So when we provided a strategic direction to ownership in March and we went into some fairly significant detail, there were three main strategic pillars. We intend to rule all of that out as part of the brand refresh because that was a part of it, as well. We've spoken about one, which is this concept of being Chicago, and the biggest tactic to that was returning to the city, which we've been able to do through Andrew and Joe together and moving forward now with Joe.

A second one, which I hadn't planned to share but I'll share with you now, is this concept of being a club, and that is something that we can own. The Bears can't, the Cubs can't, the White Sox can't, Bulls can't, the Blackhawks can't. We can be a club and be a club in the sense of how it is around the world and also just in the sense of broader clubs that you like belonging to, whether it's the Soho House or Million Miles -- frequent fliers with a certain group.

So those areas have a lot to them. Being Chicago isn't just playing our games there or moving our offices there. It's being present in the lives of our fans, and in ways that they appreciate.

You know, I have this theory that we've moved into an area of end affiliation, where the individual wants to retain his or her desires or identity yet wants to belong to something, wants to affiliate with a tribe. And you look at that, and you look at the differences between how and what our supporters want versus how a family wants to be treated and spoken to and offerings, and ironically, in Soldier Field, because of its size and its conveniences that we didn't have here, that gives us more opportunity to do some of those things.

Part of being a club is having rituals. This club may have had some traditions. I don't sense them and feel them now. But whether it's Atlanta, and they create the Golden Spike or it's Portland, which had Timber Joey or Timber Jimmy or Timber Johnny, they have their things, or how they sing the anthem.

It's best if those things are natural and they happen on their own. But we may need to seed them or we may need to solicit from you or from fans or from supporters what they want to see.

We always have to keep in mind the lens of fan safety and things like that, but I think this gives us a new opportunity to do those types of things. I'll leave the rest of the story, if you don't mind, to the brand reveal.

Q. We got you on a roll. I thought we'd get all three.
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: I hope that helped a little bit.

Q. When you guys signed the ESPN+ deal I believe right before the 2018 season, the media landscape was different in the city than it is now, and the franchise was different than it is now. Are you guys working to change that deal for the 2020 season, get some games on more traditional broadcasts, and if you will be exclusively on ESPN+ locally, how did that fit in with trying to get more exposure to fans and trying to fill a stadium that will have at least 28,000 capacity?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, thanks. First, when we did that deal, the landscape was different. We did see trend lines of cord cutters and the convenience of accessibility wherever you were. Also I must say that part of it was just showing self-respect. Our previous deal just wasn't delivering on promotion and helping expand the growth or the relevance of the club.

I think what has happened subsequently is suitors have started to express their interest. We knew then that the Cubs were -- there were murmurs that the Cubs would look to start their own network. They have with marquee. And Joe is in agreement and has said so publicly, that accessibility, sampling of our product becomes really important, and so we'll look at that. We'll look to see if there's an accommodation to be had in the ESPN deal.

Generally you're negotiating a year out anyway, so it fits into our timeline, whether we modify our existing deal or just strike a new deal for 2021. Whether that's exclusively with ESPN or someone else, I think time will tell. But in general, what we're looking for is a partner who is vested in helping us grow, grow the sport and obviously grow our brand.

Q. Will you try to close all our most of your major incorporations prior to the start of preseason?
NELSON RODRIGUEZ: Yes, in general we'd like to have the majority of our team in place prior to the start of preseason. I think we were successful with that in 2017 with really just Basti joining us after the season started, but Dax, Nemanja and Juninho, who were three big acquisitions that off-season were all acquired prior to preseason. I think the signing of Medran shows that we are trying to move in that direction, exercising three options today shows we are trying to move in that direction, but it's always a case-by-case situation. Some players you have to wait until they're six months until the end of their contract, which for most European players means you can't speak to them until January, at which point that's when your negotiations can begin, unless you want to play a transfer fee, so we'll deal with it on a case-by-case basis, but we're hoping to have the majority of the team locked up prior to preseason.

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