It Doesn't Take Much for a Professional Soccer Club to Wind Up on the Pay-No-Min

Article excerpt

It doesn't take much for a professional soccer club to wind up on the pay-no-mind list, especially in a tough sports market like Chicago.

Just mismanage the roster, miss the playoffs three seasons out of the last four, shoot yourself in the foot in a very public way off the field and you've got a recipe for fan apathy.

Some soccer fans got angry. Most just tuned out the club.

While teams in Kansas City, Seattle and Portland have become the pride of Major League Soccer, the Chicago Fire has languished.

Now the Fire seems like it has a plan to create a much-needed buzz around the club.

"We're going after it, and we're excited to do that," said Fire chief operating officer Atul Khosla.

The highlights of the Fire's re-engagement plan with Chicago soccer fans include:

* Starting to fill the soccer void on sports-talk radio by buying time for a one-hour Saturday morning radio program dedicated to the team on ESPN 1000-AM that will run throughout the season.

* Putting up billboards throughout the Chicago area to promote the team as part of a seven-figure marketing campaign that will include TV advertising and digital advertising, some of it built around this summer's World Cup.

* Reaching out to soccer organizations throughout the area, including local park districts and the Arlington Heights-based Illinois Youth Soccer Association, to coordinate activities where appropriate and assist where it can.

"Our goal is very simple: We want to own that soccer conversation," said Khosla, in his third year with the club. "What I mean by that is we want to be part of the soccer ether.

"If someone is thinking about coaching, they're thinking about refereeing a game, they're thinking about their kids' travel teams, we are somewhere in those conversations. …