Andrew Hauptman knows all about the agony and ecstasy of sports.
While the chairman and owner of the Chicago Fire savors his team clinching a spot in this year’s Major League Soccer Cup Playoffs, he also laments the embarrassing loss by the United States men’s soccer team. It means the U.S. won't compete in the next World Cup—a "devastating" turn of events for fans of soccer, says Hauptman.
In a rare interview, the franchise owner and private investor talked about the state of soccer, athletes kneeling at the national anthem, philanthropy, and his friendship with Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts.
Hauptman runs the Fire under his Andell Inc. private investment firm in Los Angeles.
He's a former travel soccer team player whose passion for the game runs deep. But he's also a businessman who peppers conversations about work and sports with investment-speak.
The U.S. loss is "a big disappointment," he says, adding, "I'm incredibly bullish on the future of the sport."
That plays out in Chicago, where Hauptman is focused on building the Chicago Fire's brand field by field in the community.
He calls it a "soccer ecosystem." The Fire have built soccer fields all over the city, including a $22 million, 150,000-square-foot center on the North Side. More than 250,000 soccer players—adults and youth—go through those doors ever year.
“It’s the glue in our strategy. It deepens our connection to the community,” Hauptman says. "I like to think that we're a model for how to build energy for the game of soccer from the bottom up."
Hauptman counts other Chicago pro-team owners as friends, including Chicago Sky owner Michael Alter and the Cubs' Ricketts.
Hauptman says he values the insights they offer about engaging with the community. The team owners also enjoy watching their respective teams play. "One team's win is a win for the city," Hauptman said at the recent Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame dinner. He was honored with Ricketts. Later, Hauptman only half-jokingly acknowledged, "it's a lot less stressful" to watch the other guy's team lose than his own.
Hauptman splits his time between Chicago and Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife, Ellen Bronfman Hauptman—she’s an heir to the Seagram’s corporation. They have two children and a dog named Cali. They enjoy snow-boarding, Soul Cycle and listening to music. And they make headlines for their philanthropy.
The couple recently gave $1 million to the Obama Foundation. "The notion that the Obama Foundation can incubate and build on great ideas that make a positive difference, a kind of 'action tank' beyond a traditional think tank, is really compelling to us," Hauptman says.
And the couple are big supporters of City Year, the nationwide nonprofit program that mentors young people to go to college. They're donating $100,000 in the coming year to the City Year Chicago program. "It's all in the numbers," Hauptman says. "The data around City Year's impact is undeniable and my feeling is that we have a moral obligation to scale the program as much as possible."
It should come as no surprise, then, that the Fire owner would support players who kneel during the national anthem.
"They're kneeling in silence and bringing attention to something they see as an injustice," he says."They're not doing it to disrespect [the flag] but to shine a light, express their conscience and make a positive difference. I encourage our team to use their voice for good. How could you not?"