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April 8, 2008

New Fire Owner Opens Up About Fire Purchase
Kathryn L. Knapp


Last September when the Fire switched owners, people had very few ideas about who Andell Holdings and this Andrew Hauptman guy were. Prior to this year’s first home game, the media had an opportunity to get to know Hauptman.

Hauptman has a refreshing outlook on the Fire. He seems to honestly care about the tradition, honor and passion that make the team what it is and is determined to take the Fire back to the top of the league.

Hauptman and his wife, Ellen Bronfman Hauptman, founded Andell, a private investment firm based in Los Angeles, in 1998. His main focus in life is to provide for his family. Hauptman started from the beginning and explained what exactly caught his attention about the Fire.

“It’s an interesting investment. I was not looking for a franchise to buy. It was not my goal. It was more about the opportunity. The more I learned about MLS and the way the league has been put together, the more I became intrigued. In a conversation with AEG, the Fire came up. At the time the Fire weren’t officially on the market, but AEG was looking to expand ownership.

“I came to Chicago to watch the Fire play Cracovia. I was struck by a lot of things. John Guppy took me around. I don’t think he knew what I was there for. There were 16,000 fans and the stadium was pumping. A 12-year-old girl sang the national anthem. It was a very warm feeling. I left not sure about purchasing the Fire, but felt it was worth having a closer look.

“Sunday I went to Soldier Field for the Gold Cup finals. It was an experience. The stadium was packed. It was a phenomenal game. The U.S. players proved themselves. I looked around and thought all these people are soccer fans in Chicago, where are they going to watch games? It was an eye opener. The Spanish TV ratings for that game were 40 percent higher than the Stanley Cup Finals.

“I had one conversation and the deal was done. Six weeks later I owned this team and thought now what?”

Hauptman said everything about owning the Fire has been a learning experience and that he truly sees potential.

“All I see is opportunity everywhere I go – sponsorship, ticket sales, suite sales, concessions, our TV deal. We’re moving in the right direction. With a little bit of new energy and focus, we could start to accomplish something. Obviously we want to win on the field, but off the field as well.

“I’m not interested in being average.”

When asked if the off-season drama was enough to scare him away, Hauptman just smiled.

“There were aspects that were disturbing, scary and somewhat entertaining. As for the coaching situation – I didn’t hire him [Juan Carlos Osorio]. He didn’t want to be here. He had a clause in his contract that gave him the right to walk away and he did. That would never happen under our ownership.

“The search for a new coach – It wasn’t about speed. We wanted to get the right guy behind the bench. My initial inclination was that Denis Hamlett should be the coach. The search went right back to Denis. We added Mike Jeffries, Chris, a full-time goalkeeping coach with Daryl [Shore] and a technical director [Klopas]. We have five guys with the highest level of integrity.”

What about the loss of two goalkeepers? Hauptman said it was definitely interesting.

“Each of the issues had unique circumstances. I did not speak with Matt [Pickens]. I know we gave John [Guppy] the green light to do what he needed to do to keep him here. As for Dominic [Cervi], his agent wanted to make precedent changes to a rookie contract. That’s not allowed.”

Hauptman said he truly feels Hamlett is the right man for the job and he feels this season will equal good things for Chicago soccer.

“We REALLY want to win. The way I’ve seen players rally behind Denis is incredible. There’s so much depth to a lot of those relationships.

“It means so much to have Frank [Klopas] involved. He’s so respected in this community. It was a no-brainer to add him to the coaching staff. It was also a high priority to have Chris [Armas] as a part of this organization.

And then there’s the superstar. Hauptman said he’s happy Cuauhtemoc Blanco will be here for the whole season.

“We have Blanco for the whole season. There’s something very magical about that guy. Our players feed off that.”

At 39, Hauptman is most likely the youngest owner in MLS. He’s young, passionate and has a vision. The Fire experiment could prove lucrative for him and Fire fans. For now, he’s enjoying the ride in Section 8, alongside the fans.

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