BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The Chicago Fire say they were simply trying to call out a small group of unruly fans at the Fire's recent U.S. Open Cup loss to D.C. United in an editorial posted to the team website by director of communications Dan Lobring on Wednesday night.
Fans, media and spectators sure didn't take it that way.
By Thursday morning, the editorial was featured in online articles for the Chicago Tribune and Deadspin.com. Fans filled the Fire's Twitter hashtag with angry posts, with several threatening not to renew their season tickets.
But chief operating officer Atul Khosla, who read and approved the article before it was published, rejects the assertion that the front office was lobbing grenades at the team's fan base as a whole.
“There were fans being called names, threatened walking down the aisle, walking back out of the stadium, getting into it with some other fans,” Khosla told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday, recalling the scene during the team’s USOC loss on Aug. 7 at Toyota Park. “When that small minority, a very small minority, jeopardizes the broader experience for everybody, we just felt that we have to take a stand and say, 'Hey guys. Time out, that's not OK.'
“We want to make sure we have a great atmosphere for everybody. The editorial was just a way for Dan to personalize what this did, and it kind of highlights the way the one percent or the minority can take away from the majority who wants to constantly support the club and do good.”
Lobring began the article by relaying his own experience of being criticized online after his hiring for his lack of soccer experience. He also asked why he was seen as a “[crappy] hire from Day 1.”
He followed with non-specific accounts of real-life complaints from fans at the game that Lobring described as “personal attacks, threats, accusations, etc.,” some of which seemed to be directed at owner Andrew Hauptman and his family, who were sitting in club seats.
“People are having a negative experience, and we're hearing about it,” Lobring told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “This is not made up, and that's going to hurt everybody. I think that was just an example where, yeah, criticism online, or saying the team needs to do better, players suck, that's all fine, but this something that's a little different in that it actually became a real issue with fans involving other fans.”
Khosla clarified that the complaints the team heard were not directed at Section 8, Chicago's main supporters' section, and neither was the editorial.
He went on to defend Hauptman against criticisms that the LA-based owner is “'cheap,' 'doesn’t care' and only sees the team as a 'toy,’” all mentioned in Lobring’s editorial.
Hauptman, meanwhile, told the Chicago Tribune that “Dan was impassioned in his blog editorial, and I truly applaud that even if it was perhaps misunderstood by some.”
Lobring said he was surprised by the negative response from Wednesday’s article, but he took the blame for what the club is calling a misunderstanding.
“I was surprised that people interpreted it as throwing all Fire fans under the bus or something like that. I think it was more the opposite,” said Lobring, who was hired by the club in February after six years with a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency. “The way I closed the story was that the majority of people I've dealt with from Section 8 members to season-ticket holders to bloggers to fans, people have been really welcoming. I was a little surprised, and that may have been in part due to just not being clear enough about who we were really calling out.
“From that point of view, it was really surprising. The positive is that our fans are really passionate and are talking. We expect this to sort of be another piece that pushes that dialogue forward. The club, by its own admission, is not always going to get things right. But at least we're engaging fans and trying to be more transparent with where we want to go.”