Daily Herald
Hauptman makes quite an impression
By Orrin Schwarz | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 4/9/2008 12:09 AM

Might as well fess up now: I like new Chicago Fire owner Andrew Hauptman, and it's not just because he picked up the check at a recent dinner for a few media members.

It has a lot to do with him just being willing to sit down with 11 of us and answer questions for more than three hours.

Can you imagine Jerry Reinsdorf inviting the media to join him for a few hours?

Hauptman is an interesting guy with a wide variety of interests. He's bright, self-deprecating, personable and thoughtful, though you have to wonder about his decision to buy a Chicago sports franchise while producing a movie about legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi.

But enough about the other football.

Hauptman didn't make much news at the dinner. Zinedine Zidane is not about to come to Chicago.

Hauptman bought the Fire not only as a soccer fan -- someone who spent 10 years living in London and watching Chelsea play at Stamford Bridge -- but also as a businessman who sees opportunity in Major League Soccer.

"There's been a lot of growth slowly but surely, and I don't see why that can't continue," he said.

He also has seen missed opportunities, such as the team's failure to market its preseason training in Mexico better. After all, this is a team with Cuauhtemoc Blanco on its roster.

Hauptman opened up about how former coach Juan Carlos Osorio walked away from the team after just a few months to coach New York, just after Hauptman took over the team.

His lack of respect for Osorio was palpable.

"He didn't want to be here," Hauptman said of Osorio, adding that the coach had a clause in his contract that gave him the right to walk away anytime. "That (clause) would never happen under this ownership."

That statement brought up a question about general manager John Guppy, and when told his response sounded like a lukewarm endorsement of Guppy ("There's more work to be done," he said), Hauptman just smiled and said, "No comment."

Hmmm.

Hauptman sees opportunity for more sponsorships, ticket sales, suite sales, concessions and even a better TV deal than the new arrangement with Channel 50.

"It's not good enough, but it's moving in the right direction," he said.

He also said all the right things about bringing a winning team to Chicago, calling it "Priority No. 1."

"Hopefully, you get a sense of my excitement," he said.

He said he's in Chicago and MLS for the long term and knows he has to have some patience, but "It doesn't mean we aren't anxious to perform now. We are anxious to perform now."

Later he said of the Fire front office and coaching staff, "They know they've got 100 percent our backing to put the best 11 guys on the pitch."

So, yes, Hauptman is going to get a honeymoon period with the media. Heck, he gets the benefit of the doubt just because he was willing to buy into the league and reduce the number of teams league benefactor Phil Anschutz owns. But he also knows that the fans and media will be watching what he does.

"I'm sure I'll screw up along the way and you guys will make it clear," he said with a laugh.

We promise.