The Interview - Ishwara Glassman Chrein, President at Chicago Fire FC
It was an honor for SPSG Consulting to interview Ishwara, a former colleague of Carlos Cantó at IMG. Ishwara has continued to soar in her professional career ever since, reaching today the role of President at Chicago Fire FC. Given her extensive experience and knowledge in the sports industry from many different angles, Ishwara talks to us about the main trends moving forward, the future of soccer in the USA, the importance of ESG pillars, and how Chicago Fire FC implements them.
You have been exposed to and actively involved in the sports industry from many different angles: consultant (McKinsey, IMG - Endeavor), working at a media right company (Yahoo - Verizon), and now being the President of Chicago Fire, one of the most important MLS clubs. According to your understanding, which are the main trends of the Sports Industry moving forward?
This is such a big question to answer. It’s certainly one of my favorite topics to discuss, but let me discuss one of the trends that we are most focused on at the Fire: bringing content to our fans where they want to engage with it. As we know, the way that fans consume content is everchanging and we need to continue to evolve with it. We want to grow fandom, so we put out content in different formats for different audiences. We produce and partner to produce content in English, Spanish, and Polish – the three major languages here in Chicago. We put all of our games onto free to air TV and on our Fire App for free locally as well. We want it to be easy for people to watch our games and to grow the fan base as Chicagoans are going through the stations to fall on us. On social, our team does a great job of distributing short form content and I believe we have one of the best content teams in the league and in all of sports. The same team recently launched an internally-produced behind the scenes show called “No Little Plans” that we distribute via our app and social handles. Then we have joined the podcast world starring NBC’s voice of the Premier League, Arlo White, and the voice of the Fire, Tyler Terens. The show talks about MLS and the Premier League to help us reach fans of both leagues and generate a new audience and fanbase for our Club. We want to be where the fans are, not make them come to us.
You are the President of Chicago Fire, one of the most important MLS clubs, and one of the few females in this position. How do you envision the future of football/soccer in the USA within the next years, taking into account that USA+Canada+Mexico will host the FIFA World Cup (male) in 2026?
There is so much potential for soccer and for MLS in the United States, in growing our corporate and fan base in the third biggest market in the country, and with the support we have from our owner, Joe Mansueto. I think the World Cup will be another catalyst for growth of the sport in the US. For example, you’ve seen how much soccer’s popularity has grown in Canada in the past year with the success of their national team, but we need to continue to grow here in Chicago. With the United States, Canada and Mexico coming together to host the World Cup, I think we will continue to see the growth in the States, but also can capitalize on Fire players that are representing their countries in the tournament.
Chicago Fire is working hard in aligning the organization with the Environmental - Social - Governance pillars. Why is so important for CHICAGO FIRE to be aligned with the sustainable framework and what specific activities are you, as a Club, putting in place or in-process to be implemented?
For environmental, we’ve made sure to partner with merchandise partners that are working towards sustainability. In 2023, our adidas kit will be 100% sustainable and one of our partners, The Wild Collective, is 100% sustainable as well. The Club is furthering its efforts this season and beyond with the help of partners. We also want to continue our work here in the city of Chicago with helping all kids have a safe place to play after school and our P.L.A.Y.S. Program, part of our Fire Foundation, helps 1,250 children per a year and is part of over 50 schools. In addition, we are excited to open the North Austin Community Center where we will offer 20 hours of free programming per week for the community. Lastly, we’ve added Evan Whitfield, a former Fire player, as Vice President of Equity, Alumni Relations, and Engagement and he will oversee our Club-wide efforts to support DEI programs and initiatives. Over the past several years, we have built 50 mini soccer pitches across Chicago to improve access to soccer.
The owner of Chicago Fire, Joe Mansueto, acquired last year another football/soccer club, FC Lugano, in Switzerland. Several European football/soccer clubs are owned (or co-owned) by investors coming from the USA. What do you think it makes so attractive for USA investors (corporate conglomerates and investment funds) the European football/soccer clubs and leagues?
Joe would tell you that he got into soccer because he enjoyed watching one of his kids play. For him, the Fire and Lugano are projects he does out of love for soccer and love for Chicago. There’s so much potential for us to collaborate across the football side and on the business side, and continue to hit both fan bases via partnerships, broadcast, and more opportunities.
The incremental generation of revenues for a Club is always a relevant and pivotal task. What are the main activities and projects that you are implementing in order to increment the revenues for the Club?
We’ve been focused on three initiatives.
1. Making the Fire a great place for a diverse group of employees to work and thrive. We have improved parental leave, family leave, work from home rules, dress code, parties, etc. 2. Connecting with corporate Chicago. 3. Packing Solider Field with passionate fans.