Behind the MLS Ambition Rankings: Chicago Fire
• How much money has your team spent in the past five years on youth development? How much in the past year?
The Fire spend more than $1.25 million annually for a fully-funded academy housing seven teams beginning at U-10.
• How many homegrown players have you signed? How many have played in MLS league games for your first team?
Eight, including four on the current roster. Five of the six signed prior to this off-season have appeared in an MLS match for the Fire.
• Who pays to play on your youth teams? And how much do they pay?
On average, the best 20 players by age group in the Chicagoland area. The Fire academy is fully-funded.
• How many season-ticket holders do you have? How many did you have in 2015?
6,500: same as 2015 and three times the 2011 total. The club is also one of three MLS clubs to sell more than 100,000 group tickets in 2015.
• Where does your first team train? Did you build the training facility yourself? If so, how much did it cost?
The Fire first team trains at the stadium training grounds built and maintained by the Village of Bridgeview as a part of the $100 million project in 2006. The first team also makes use of the club’s $20 million facility, The PrivateBank Fire Pitch, for select training sessions.
• Do you have a model for integrating your academy with the first team? How closely do your academy teams resemble the way the first team trains and plays?
GM Nelson Rodríguez: "Play is to me irrelevant. I don't believe in playing the same way top to bottom. I actually believe it's faulty and flawed. I always say: 'Train them so they can play for any club in the world. Treat them so they only want to stay with us.'" When it comes to training, Rodríguez wants to have a similar methodology for training at younger ages, but not a carbon copy.
• What’s your philosophy on the use of technology in your training and preparation for matches?
Rodríguez: "Our new coach [Veljko Paunovic] believes in it in a big way. So do I, from something as simple as using practice video as a teaching tool ... We envision in the near future a time where we're supplying our guys with tablets and customized video with the expectation they have to study on their own. I think player responsibility has to start creeping back into things. That has to apply to the academy players as well ... Personality profiles of players. Our coaching staff wants to know how each player best learns. We want to use technology and other resources to create an individual development program for every player in our system."
• Who is your jersey sponsor? What’s your total income on sponsorships this season?
Valspar Corporation. The Fire have more than 60 corporate partners.
• Local TV deal: How many of your games this season are shown on local television? How much is your local TV deal worth per season?
The Fire will air 28 matches on CSN Chicago this season in year two of a three-year deal valued more than $1.25 million annually. The schedule also includes a five-game schedule of Spanish-language simulcasts and four special edition all-access shows.
• Local radio deal: How many of your games this season are broadcast on local radio? In English? In other languages?
All 34 Fire MLS matches will be broadcast live in year one of a two-year deal with 97.5 FM Poder, the club’s Spanish-language radio partner.
• How many front-office employees does your team have? How many have you added or subtracted in the past year?
76. The number is slightly higher than in 2015.
• Have you hired any additional technical staff over the past year to reduce doubling-up roles? Are you planning on expanding your technical staff in the near future?
Rodríguez: "I can't speak to what we did before ... Our academy director left and we have not replaced him yet. That's in large part on me, because I've been concentrated heavily on the first team. When I dive into the academy, I don't want to immediately hire an academy director. I want to first look at seeing if there's a better structure and process we could develop."