In 2009, I had the opportunity to cover the Chicago Red Stars at Chicago Tribune’s ChicagoNow – an online blogging community. Because of my affiliation with ChicagoNow, I also started following Fire Confidential, a blog covering the Chicago Fire at the same blogging community, Over the years, Fire Confidential has become one of the most credible sources for Fire news, thanks to the hard work and dedication of Guillermo Rivera.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Rivera. I hope you enjoy getting to know the man behind Fire Confidential as much as I did.
When did you first start Fire Confidential?
GR: Fire Confidential was started in 2009 as part of Chicago Tribune’s ChicagoNow blogging community. The Fire Confidential blog essentially replaced the Tribune’s “Red Card” blog, which was written by their last full-time soccer reporter, Luis Arroyave. Luis was reassigned to the Entertainment and Nightlife beat and the Trib decided not to replace him with a full-time soccer reporter. The original Fire Confidential writer was Sam Stejskal, who is now a contributor at MLSsoccer.com. I commented more frequently than other commenters on both blogs and began interaction with Sam via Fire Confidential.
What motivated you to start Fire Confidential?
GR: I didn’t technically “start” it, although the content is somewhat different than it originally was presented. Early in 2010, Sam received and accepted an offer to begin covering the Fire for MLSsoccer.com. This left a void and the Trib/ChicagoNow apparently had no one in mind to replace him. I felt that there wasn’t any other outlet available to Fire fans for actual coverage of the club and didn’t want the work that Luis and Sam put into reporting go to waste. I felt that “real”, daily Fire coverage was about to disappear, and I didn’t want that to happen.
I had an idea in mind of how the blog should be presented. I thought that there should be an outlet that covered and discussed the Fire in the same manner that all other major sports teams in the city were handled. It didn’t exist anywhere else in this market. Although the Sun-Times and Daily Herald had reporters assigned to the team – space and coverage was still limited.
I reached out to Sam and he put me in touch with ChicagoNow’s community manager, Jimmy Greenfield, and I pitched him my idea. He was more than happy to find someone who seemed passionate about covering the team, especially at the rates that were being offered, and he handed me the keys to the blog in April of 2010. My motivation for taking over Fire Confidential was based almost entirely on my feeling and desire to keep Fire discussion alive in someplace more mainstream than message boards like BigSoccer.
Had you done blog writing (or any kind of writing) previous to Fire Confidential? If so, where and what did you write about?
GR: I’ve always dabbled in writing. As a kid, I wrote short stories and self-published comic books – but that’s a missed opportunity story for another day. I’ve also half-written graphic novels and other stories that were pushed aside for various reasons like work, life, and procrastination. I’ve always been passionate about writing, although I never really followed it to any extent until now. I also wrote parody pieces in high school and college that gained the attention of many classmates and some local following.
Were you a Chicago Fire fan before you started Fire Conf? If so, when did you become a fan?
GR: I’ve been a Fire fan since Day 1. I grew up as a fan of the Chicago Sting and like many others, lost the game when the NASL folded in 1984. With the domestic league gone and the internet/information age not yet upon us, there wasn’t any consistent outlet for fans to follow soccer unless you were passionate about the indoor game. I was to an extent but not to the level of my admiration for the outdoor version. When it was announced that a top-flight league was returning to the U.S. in the form of the MLS, 10 years after the old NASL died, I was ecstatic. I was disappointed to find out that the league wouldn’t include a Chicago team right away. I’ve followed MLS since the beginning in 1996, and got more into it when the Fire debuted in 1998. That interest increased gradually in the early 2000’s.
How do you balance blogging with a full-time job?
GR: That hasn’t been easy but when I took over the blog I decided that I would only do it if I could do it correctly and do some justice to the work Luis and Sam did previously. It has evolved into game recaps, post-game and locker room video/interviews, as well as features, and breaking news. That takes a lot of time and it has turned into an almost second full-time job. Fortunately, my job afforded me chances to stop in at training occasionally, and I write whenever I can.
The hardest thing to do is find the time to actually sit down and organize my thoughts cohesively into a story that people will enjoy. ChicagoNow doesn’t have editors per se, so I’m usually self-editing as well. Balancing a full-time job, the blog, and family can get hairy at times but passion for the source material and the desire to write gets me through it. I’m up early in the morning and awake late at night sometimes working on something for Fire Confidential.
What player and/or coach have you most enjoyed interviewing or speaking with over the years?
GR: Just about every player, coach, team, and league representative I’ve dealt with have been professional and enjoyable to speak to. There have been a few who haven’t said much and offered many of the old sports cliches about “taking one at a time”, “not looking ahead”, etc., but there have also been some characters. Arne Friedrich was excellent, given his experience and willingness to answer honestly. Javier Leon, say what you will about his tenure with the club, was always entertaining for one reason or another. A few of the recent names that stand out are Peter Wilt and Kevin Egan.
From your perspective, what is one of your most successful posts to date? Why?
GR: The most successful posts on the site have been breaking news or scoops. There have been a handful of these types of posts, and they’re successful for obvious reasons. They drive traffic to the blog and drum up interest for the Fire.
Player trades or acquisitions are always popular. News of the Harry Shipp trade earlier this year gained a lot of attention and actually got “Fire Confidential” trending in Montreal on a Saturday morning.
What are your favorite types of posts to write?
GR: The Fire have struggled over the last six seasons, so the match recaps and player ratings have become a bit of a chore. It’s difficult to write at times because the monotony of losing makes it difficult to come up with new and entertaining perspectives that people want to read. I think I’ve written objectively since day one since I wanted to present the content in the same manner that ESPN utilizes to discuss Cubs, Sox, Bears, et cetera. My goal for each post is to write or include something that you will not find anywhere else – Whether it’s in an interview, a breaking news story, a rumor (which I steer away from unless vetted), I try to work that in whenever I can. I’ll also write the occasional longer-form story or opinion piece, which I enjoy, but they take more time and find I’m harder on myself when completing those.
Have you seen your writing evolve over the years?
GR: Definitely so. I’ll go back and read some of my early posts and wished I had phrased or written something differently on occasion. I think I’ve developed a format that works for readers and for the amount of time I have to devote to writing, but I’m always looking at ways to improve or tell the story in a more engaging and entertaining way without straying from fact.
How important would you say that social media (Twitter) is in relation to your blog/being a blogger?
GR: Social media, Twitter in particular, has been extremely helpful in attracting readers. It definitely helps to have an outlet where someone can sort, find, and click on a story which leads to others sharing and making the blog available to the next person. Social media has helped locate other soccer reporters, bloggers, and fans all over the world that have seen Fire Confidential. Through analytic reports, I can now tell where each viewer came from and what they’re reading. In the last month, Fire Confidential has had readers in 46 states and 70 different countries. I guess folks in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Maine don’t care about MLS.
You also cohost a podcast, Fire Confidential Live. Do you think the podcast plays a part in making you a more credible author of Chicago Fire content? If so, how?
GR: The podcast is interesting because that takes another level of time commitment to do it correctly. It certainly helps to sort of legitimize the blog a little bit because the featured guest is almost always someone involved with the Fire or MLS in some way, whether it be a player, a coach, reporter, or front office person. I didn’t want that to be just a couple of guys rambling about the Fire either. I wanted to present some content that again, wasn’t available anywhere else. Finding the right time to line everything up with my co-host Jeff Krause, and whoever the guest might be, is the trickiest part. We’d love to do them more frequently or on a regular basis.
What advice would you give to others interested in pursuing sports blogging?
GR: Be passionate about the topic and write as much as possible. Nothing will kill your interest and reader interest more than a blog that isn’t updated frequently or doesn’t provide something current to discuss. The old adage about “getting back on the bike” is true for writing and blogging as it is for anything else. If you don’t write, you have to get back into your flow and it becomes difficult to want to sit down and type out what you’re thinking or want to discuss.
There are two types of sports blogs in my mind. One is the fan blog which is more about supporting any given team and presenting your passion for that team via the blog. The other is the informational sports blog which is probably more equivalent to the discourse on sports radio, which features reporting, opinions, and fan interaction. They’re both entertaining and in the context of soccer, serve to keep fans engaged, while mainstream media still lags behind.
Thanks to Rivera for the great insight and history behind Fire Confidential. Be sure to connect with him at Fire Confidential and Fire Confidential Live.