It is emotional to transfer leadership of an organization that one helped create, nurture and grow. At the same time, I understand that I was simply a custodian for Chicago's professional soccer team and now I have an opportunity to assist with the transition of leadership to assure continued success.
While there is no perfect time for something like this, there are several factors that make this a good time for new leadership. We have accomplished most of what we set out to in 1997. We have won four championships, developed one of the most identified and respected brands in American soccer, grown our average attendance to more than 17,000 per game despite moving our fan base to and from Naperville. We have also developed the most respected youth development program and charitable foundation in Major League Soccer.
Most importantly, we have worked with the Village of Bridgeview to develop the first 100% publicly funded soccer and entertainment stadium in the country. No longer will Fire fans endure half a dozen mid-season schedule changes as they did last season. Starting next spring, Fire fans will be able to support their team in a true temple to the sport. The stadium will be the finest of its kind in the United States, will allow the Fire to be a sound business entity and will showcase the team in an appropriate venue that reflects the urban nature of its surroundings and will integrate the history of soccer in Chicago and America with elements throughout the stadium. I am proud that I will be represented in the stadium through one of those elements, the Illinois Soccer Hall of Fame, which for the first time will have a permanent home in the stadium.
I am most proud, however, that the organization accomplished all this with integrity, honesty, sincerity and hard work. I will stay on to work with the team side exactly as I have in the past. Once the transition is successful, I will be able to consider new challenges.
It is very important to me to leave my successor with a platform for continued success. I believe we are positioned for that success on and off the field this year and in the future at the new stadium in Bridgeview.
John will take over an organization that is on budget and on target to set team records in revenue for sponsorships, suites, camps, season tickets and group tickets this season.
Group ticket sales for opening day will be more than double any of the home openers from the last three years and we will follow up with a record Chicago Fire crowd for the April 27 double header with Mexico and Poland. John is also taking leadership of what I consider to be the best front office staff in MLS.
The staff divided its time since last season selling the 2005 season as well as the new stadium in Bridgeview. Early indications are that those efforts will result in tremendous success in 2006. The suite sales effort led by the Fire and the naming rights and stadium founding partnerships led by AEG and assisted by the Fire are all going very well.
On the field, I believe we are also positioned for a return to glory. I am extremely confident that the off season acquisitions and the dedication of our coaching staff led by Dave Sarachan will lead the Fire back to championship games this season. I will continue to support Dave and his staff as I always have and will do everything in my power to help bring yet another soccer championship to Chicago this season.
I will continue to proudly serve as President of the FireWorks For Kids Foundation's Board of Directors and I will also be a resource that John can count on for advice or information as needed.
Looking back at the many honors the Fire has earned over the years, there are four, which hold special significance:
Finally, I would like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Anschutz for their dedication to soccer in the United States and for the opportunity they gave me to help build the Chicago Fire. I would also like to thank all of the Fire's current and former staff members, coaches and players for their support and great efforts, the dedicated leaders of Chicago's tremendous soccer community and the best fans in the country for their passion and undying love of the Chicago Fire, which I will continue to share.
Peter J. Wilt