Tuesday, March 13, 2012

One on One with Revolution President Brian Bilello

Brian Bilello has perhaps the hardest job in Major League Soccer right now. As the President of the New England Revolution, he is facing down issues that many might baulk at. Bilello is tasked with returning the Revolution to the power-house it was during the mid-2000’s and he has dedicated himself to that.

He knows that changes must be made, that there are fans to convince and some things simply need an overhaul. What you might not know, is that much of his project is already under way. Promoted from Chief Operations Officer in November of 2011, Bilello is on a mission to see the Revolution back to an organization of respect, dignity and a team to be feared on the field. I was able to catch up with him and talk about a number of these topics.

MLS Reserves: Can you start off by letting myself and the fans know what it is specifically that you do for the Revolution?

Brian Biello: “I just took on the Presidential role in the late fall, early winter. Before that I was our Chief Operating Officer, where I handled our ticket sales, marketing, communications and those types of the things. I worked with the MLS Board on behalf of our organization. But nothing on the team side.”

“When we went through a re-organization in the off season, we did so with the goal of improving the performance of the team on the field and that should tie into things off the field. As President what has changed for me is that all sides of the team report to me. I’m sort of overseeing all things on the team. That includes the philosophy of the team, what types of things we want to have through our team on the business side and what is important to us. Obviously hiring a new coach in Jay Heaps and bringing him on board.”

“As far as the day to day, it’s not micro-managing. Obviously Michael Burns knows his stuff and Jay Heaps works on the technical side so I try not to mettle in their affairs, but I do work with them on what we need to improve to make the team better.”

MLS Reserves: You were promoted in November 2011 whereas before you were the clubs Chief Operating Officer. In that role, you and the Revolution were subjected to quite a bit of fan scrutiny. Can you talk a bit about that and how the organization has dealt with it?

Brian Bilello: “First and foremost it has been a really tough few years for us on the field. And that is something that we really weren’t used to. So, as an organization I think we were slow to react to the changing dynamics of the league. In some ways we were a victim of our own success and we’d been so successful with that model for a long time, we didn’t want to deviate from that.”

“From a big picture perspective, I’ve learned a lot about how to be much more dynamic and to anticipate things that are going to happen and stay ahead of the curve rather than behind the curve.”

“It’s challenging when you know, we were winning and going to all those MLS Cups and winning the Open Cup…it’s hard to change when you’re doing well and we were just too slow to change and you can see the results of that on the field in the last couple of seasons. It’s an area where we want to be more dynamic.”

The Revolution had fantastic success in the early and middle parts of the last decade. The team went to the MLS Cup in 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2007. The team also won the US Open Cup in 2007 and the Superliga in 2008. The team produced league and national teams stars such as Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman and Clint Dempsey. Needless to say, for a time, the Revolution had an amazing on field product that fans could be proud of. 

That pride though, has soured in recent years. So much so that fans have become vocal about their frustrations. One incident back in June of 2011 is of note when several supporters were escorted away from the stadium due to swearing and misconduct. The incident caused a bit of a media storm at the time as the language was part of a chant used by fans to discourage the opposing team. For his part, Bilello feels that things like that can be avoided with simple communication.

Brian Bilello: “Off the field, we’ve had challenges with supporters groups and communication. The incidents with one of the chants that I know a lot of stadiums have issues with. It’s in that tough space with supporters groups…we want strong supporters groups but we don’t want to interrupt other fans in the building. We have to find that balance and now I think we’re in a much better place with our supporters groups and we do a number of things with them.”

“We’ve done things before with them in the past, but now we’ve made some changes with that. We had a big open forum with them which was very useful. We met with a bunch of the supporters groups and the security personnel, particularly those who work the sections around the Fort. We talk about what’s going on and it’s been a great help just so that everybody knows each other.”

MLS Reserves: So the dialogue is helping…

Brian Bilello:

“I’m pretty certain that we’ll be able to get some tents for them [the supporter's groups] out at games, just to help with their recruitment because it’s important to me to help those groups grow. It’s a delicate balance because we want to help them but we don’t want to overstep them, because so much of that passion is fan driven…you don’t want to put them in a tough situation. Hopefully we can all keep moving forward and really just have fun.”

MLS Reserves: One of the things I think has happened in the past few years, is that you’ve had disgruntled fans or groups, and what was not heard, was what the Revolution were doing to fix it. Since taking over, have you noticed a change in the relationship between the fans and the front office?

Brian Bilello: “I think to a degree I have. Certainly those who we talk to as far as the leadership in the groups… I don’t think I had a bad relationship before but they didn’t seem to have a relationship with say, our security teams before. So just creating those relationships has certainly made that side of it a lot better. But we have to continue to dialogue and work together to get to common goals and get where we want.”
What many fans now may not know is that in the team’s infancy, Bilello himself was a season ticket holder. Note that; he was a fan first, so he understands the challenges that come with supporting a team, particularly one that is having problems.
Brian Bilello: “Supporters culture is very important to me and the challenge is just balancing it out. [Fans] are an aspect that I recognize and that I want to help grow.   

MLS Reserves: The Revolution have been accused of being a cheap team and in my own interview with Jay Heaps, he acknowledged that. But one of the things he made a point of saying, was that the Krafts are really stepping up. In what ways is this happening and how is the organization changing?

Brian Bilello: “In my opinion the Krafts have always done what was asked of them, but I don’t know if on the technical side we were asking for as much as we should have been. It’s hard for me because I wasn’t there. I mean, I want to make the team better. I’ve sat down with Michael [Burns] and Jay [Heaps] and we went through all the things that we needed to do and they [the Krafts] have not said no to anything” 
Mike Burns is the team’s General Manager. He has been with the team eight years, but this is his first as GM. Like Bilello, he was promoted back in November from his previous position, which was Vice President of Player Personnel. Burns was a member the United States national team in both the ’94 and ’98 World Cups.

Brian Bilello: “So I’m coming from that experience in that we’re now possibly better organized and now in my role I can help filter that through…I can say we need A, B and C and this is why. We’ve added staff on the technical side, we’ve changed the locker room so we can do more strength and conditioning…it’s a bunch of things that we’re putting not just money but resources into to improve the team. From that perspective in many ways, it’s been more about the organization being more organized. We have a better vision and more clear philosophy about what we want to be and where we need to go.”

“In talking to the owners, they’ve given us whatever we need to get there. I think that in years past, it was more about the organization than the owners, in my opinion.”

MLS Reserves: Heaps talked about instilling a culture of winning. The reality is, that is just as important on the field as in the front office. Can you talk a bit about how you yourself have changed since November and what you’re doing to see that change happens top to bottom?

Brian Bilello: “For the last few years, we’ve tried to grow the front office. We’ve added staff for the past few years and had to move into our own building due to that growth. We’re being more aggressive in our sales and marketing as well. The real challenge is: How do you take an MLS original team and turn it into in what many of our expansion markets have done?”

“That is a real challenge. I talk about with some of my MLS colleagues and for us it’s a big project. We want to have our own soccer stadium. Working towards that has been the biggest off-field priority for 5-6 years now. That’s what will take us over the hump.”

“In the meantime, we’re still doing things to keep growing and make it as exciting atmosphere as possible. But we recognize that we need a soccer specific stadium and it has to be in the urban core here.”

MLS Reserves: Is there anything happening on that front?
It is here that I heard a loud and frustrated sigh from Bilello. If anything, it was evident from his tone of voice that he wants a soccer specific stadium very badly for his team and the fans.

Brian Bilello: “No, we’ve been working. I’m hoping in the next 60 days we might be able to talk about that. We feel good about the direction its heading, but we’ve said from the beginning: even if it takes long and costs more money, placing the stadium in the right, urban core is more important than getting it done.

MLS Reserves: I think that is a message a lot of fans will be pleased to hear. Perhaps it’s been said, but sometimes it’s not heard but-

Brian Bilello: “You know what, on that, I think it’s absolutely fair. Fans are tired of hearing things like that and to be honest that’s fair. They just want to see results, you know? They want to see here in New England, the things they saw in Portland the other night. And it is hard. You know, it’s hard for me that I can’t give that to them. I get it. I understand why the fans are frustrated. Believe me, I try to be as open as I can with the fans, you know, I’m on twitter, I will talk to them, I will meet with them.”

“I’ll never lie to them, I always say that. I may not be able to tell them things, but I’ll never lie to them. We’re not ever going to ‘string fans along’ with a stadium or anything. It’s just been a slow and difficult process here. We’ve spent a lot of money and we probably could have done something in a much less desirable location in the suburbs that might grow our attendance by 20-30% but we’d really like to do something in the city that will change the dynamic of soccer here.”

MLS Reserves: It seems that many fans feel they have been left to rot and the team has forgotten about them. What is your message to those who may still feel jaded or have been reluctant to return to the team?

Brian Bilello: “I think for this season, if there are fans that are disappointed and have been around, I hope they come and support Jay. He’s such a great face for the franchise in terms of what he’s brought as a player and the competitiveness that he has. I just hope they come and support him and the team behind him. He was a part of the good years.”

“Other than that, the proof is in the pudding. I’d love to say they should come back but we know fans want to see results before they come back. I understand it. For those fans, they want to see actions and results…I focus my guys on those results.”

MLS Reserves: Lastly, with the fantastic pre-season behind you, what goals have the Revolution set in the immediate future, for this 2012 season? On the field and off.

Brian Bilello: On the field it’s simple for where we are. One is to make the playoffs. If you don’t make the playoffs, then none of the other goals matter from an MLS standpoint. If we achieve that goal, the next one is obvious, win MLS Cup.”

“That doesn’t mean, ‘wow we had such a great season we made the playoffs and lost in the first round’. We have to look at this in stages. Winning MLS Cup is always the goal, but we break it down and say we need to take max points from every game. Jay and his staff are working on how we do that. We are also working to be more competitive in Open Cup than we have in the past few years.”

“Off the field, we’re showing good signs and we want to have something share with our fan base about a soccer specific stadium. I know from a corporate sponsor standpoint we’re going to have a very good year, which helps support the club. It’s not sexy and exciting, but it’s important to us. On the business side for the past two years, they’ve been the best ever and this will be too.”

“Our fans show a lot of loyalty and dedication and our staff works very hard to work for that. I think there is an opportunity to grow our ticket sales and fan base, we have to do that.

MLS Reserves: Brian thank you for your time and for your candid responses. It truly does make a difference, so thank you for that.

Brian Bilello: “You know, I’ve been in the fans’ shoes. I know what it’s like…with what we’re trying to be, we want fans to feel a part of it more than any other. Ask me a question on twitter and I’ll respond to it. That’s what we want here in New England. That’s what we want.”
Bilello’s candid and honest approach to many of the tough questions should encourage fans. He knows that there things still in need of changing and made it very clear that the righting the ship that is the Revolution is his mission. He clearly wants to see the organization achieve greatness and that passion should encourage fans of both the team and the league. Bottom line, Bilello’s message is simple: It will be better. 


  1. The toughest job in MLS? Don't you mean the easiest job? He works for Kraft. They promote failure.

  2. Whatta joke this president is. Another BS thrown at NE fans.

  3. Hopefully the supporters groups will help out the front office for the battle on getting a soccer stadium.

    Every proposed-stadium will have an annoying a neighborhood association or councilman that does not want a stadium.

    Timbers Army did great with their grassroots efforts on getting a stadium. This is from a Sounders supporter.

  4. Having been a fan of Soccer since birth..or at least since the first time I saw a pro game, the passion that surrounds an organization cannot be explained, let alone bottled up and spread on potential fans like holy water.
    Having now been a fan of the Revs since their inception, the ups and downs I've endured BECAUSE of this lack of passion has been the one critical factor that instills the negativity that I possess.
    My negativity is directly proportional to the amount of Apathy that we've endured at the hand of Kraft. I never expected him to be a Rah Rah type of owner..or have any of the qualities that we now see in Bob Heinman or Merrit Paulson. But, even the slightest interest and mention of the Revs when he's on a Radio show, etc. Would be nice.
    He can give all the excuses he wants about why he wasn't at MLS CUP 2006..but, in the end, if the REVS had won, HE WOULDN'T have been there..and that to me is a sporting SIN of the highest degree.
    Or when he says things like.."I'll be watching college football" when a reporter asked him what he was doing one particular week-end. That week-end was actually the final regular season game of the Revs up in Toronto(A city, that's not too far from Boston).
    Want to know why MY NEGATIVITY won't QUIT, BRIAN??? It will last as long as the Apathy that the Krafts show for this team, league and Sport!!
    They can promote Brian and Mike to even higher positions next year..and give us the same rhetoric as we've always heard. But, in the end..the ownership Apathy that we've endured for 17 years continues.
    They don't need to be Rob Heinman or Merrit Paulson. And last time I checked, Mr. Philip Anschutz is as reclusive as Howard Hughes once was..but, the passion he shows for LA, HOUSTON and whatever team he owned SHOWED...
    The Negativity WILL STOP, once I feel that the Kraft Apathy is over..!

  5. Back in 2009 on the team's now defunct "Defend The Fort" website, Mr. Bilello told fans the reason playoff attendance was so low is that fans had become "tired" of the team making the playoffs so often.

    Just so you know who you're dealing with.

    1. ... you make it sound like complacency isn't an issue New England fans of any team aren't known for.

  6. This interview is the same thing NE fans have been fed for years. "Soccer Specific Stadium news is on the way" and apparently consistently miss out on DP's because they couldn't work out the financials. Interviews like these just boil my blood because I know its just more garbage to string along the last of the STH's that continue to support the team.