Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Revolution Supporters Speak out Prior to 2012 Season

Several weeks ago, a concerned season ticket holder for the New England Revolution spoke to me about all the frustrations his fellow fans were having with the organization. This person was new to the area and proud to support his team, but put off a bit by how out of sorts the fans were over their treatment in past years.

Some were no longer renewing their tickets, while others blatantly refused to attend matches. Some were so lost as to what their team was doing they could not find the words to express their frustration. It’s been no secret in the past few years that media and fans alike have accused the Revolution of being stuck in MLS version 1.0. Fans of the team have recognized this and are finding difficulty with it. 

Almost a week after I was contacted by one fan, another sent me an audio recording of the team’s supporters summit. It was out of the blue and very unexpected. In listening to it, I could hear the fan frustration with the goings on first hand. The Revolution fans are frustrated. Some are angry and some have given up. 

Needless to say, the Revolution for their part, do not want the fans to walk out on, or leave the team. But this account below would suggest otherwise. Evan Whitney, speaking in proxy for several former and current season ticket holders, outlined his problems with what has been going on. Here is what he had to say on the number of subjects I asked him about:

The organization as a whole:

“While early on-field results suggest some measure of promise looking ahead to 2012, the inescapable fact is that the New England Revolution find themselves behind the curve both on and off the field in comparison to their MLS counterparts and at this point, run the risk of being lapped if they already haven’t been. Through a combination of benign neglect, an unresponsive and outdated business model, and questionable front office decision-making (including poor player personnel management), the Kraft family finds their soccer interest – not long removed from a strong of MLS Cup appearances – in a non-competitive situation both on and off the field.”

“Actions speak louder than words and the Revolution faithful are tired of the empty promises and lip service being paid them by ownership and club management. You don’t need a canary in the coal mine to know something’s wrong when the organizations’ Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Player Personnel are promoted after two seasons that have seen the Revs miss the playoffs, attendance stagnate, foreign acquisitions fail to make an impact, stadium security issues, and effectively finish dead last the League in 2011. You don’t need a degree from M.I.T. to understand that giving Capt. Smith a promotion for getting the Titanic 3Ž4 of the way across the Atlantic doesn’t make sense, nor do you need one to have the common, professional courtesy to return the calls of Peter Wilt when he extends an offer of help.”

How you've been treated as fans:
"Compared to the early years of the organization when there were frequent issues between club supporters and management, the overall relationship between the two parties is generally better than it has been in the past. Rather than engaging in an adversarial relationship that benefits neither side, both sides have recognized that only by working together can the needs and desires of both be achieved.”

“That being said, breakdowns in communication influenced by a number of considerations have presented challenges to fan/club relations over past few years. Questionable conduct by TeamOps Security and the Town of Foxboro Police Department and the unsportsmanlike actions of a few rogue supporters have contributed to an air of distrust and credibility gap, most readily evidenced through the notorious ‘Fortgate’ incident that saw the arrest of supporters, possible civil rights violations and an impassioned protest by fans in The Fort that were supported through additional protests by fans and supporters clubs both within MLS and beyond.”

“The thing is, the relationship has worked best when understanding that there’s a measure of reciprocity required of both parties: the club making concessions to supporters with the fansfollowing suit in some way. It’s only when there are breakdowns in communication – some influenced by the organizational dynamic of the Krafts Sports Group – that the relationship is threatened.” 

“The club and its supporters can no longer put themselves in a position of taking a ‘one step forward, and two steps back,’ not if it aspires to a more progressive relationship that is found at any number of other MLS clubs that have embraced MLS v2.0.”

What you expect as loyal fans and season ticket holders:

“First and foremost the institutional attitude on the part of the front office) that suggests you’re not a loyal or committed fan unless you’re a season ticket-holder needs to be eradicated, period. This assumption is unfair untrue, and incredibly arrogant. To have a club official explicitly tell you that, and I paraphrase, to be heard you first have to be a season ticket-holder is astounding, especially considering the dwindling attendances over the past few years.”

“I was a season-ticket-holder for a number of years and rarely missed a home match for the first twelve seasons the Revolution played, most of those as a Fort ‘regular’ having blistered my hands from drumming or blown my voice out from singing more times than I can count. I’ve also served as a philanthropy chair for a Revolution independent supporters association (helping raise thousands of dollars for charity in the name of the Revolution); have helped the club sell tickets; volunteered to chaperone tours of Gillette Stadium during its construction; made road trips from Toronto to Columbus; designed supporters scarves and fan banners… I’ve even walked the entire Boston Marathon course twice supporting charities in the name of the Revolution. I’ve been a committed ‘die-hard’ for as long as I remember by any stretch of the definition.”

“Thing is, round about 2007 I started attending matches less frequently, in part due to financial and family concerns, but also because I was unhappy at how the front office was treating supporters and how it was running the organization. I gave up my season tickets, but still sung my heart out, bought the replica kits, made away trips, etc. What blew me away was that at no time, not once did Revolution officials or ticket representatives speak with me about my decision not to renew season tickets. No phone calls, no emails, nothing, except for a smug comment from a then high-ranking club official who said, “Well, maybe if you renewed your season tickets we’d listen a bit more to your concerns.”’

“As a Revolution supporter, no matter whether I buy season tickets or show up just a few times a year, I would expect to be treated the same way regardless of how much money I spend on the organization, and by that I mean being treated with respect. Yes, it’s nice to have concessions in The Fort like being allowed to wave flags, stand, chant, etc., but it doesn’t matter worth a damn if the club see’s my ‘value’ to the club as being nothing more than the price of a ticket.”

Questions you have for the organization that have yet to be answered:

“In general my biggest question is the following: What are the New England Revolution/Kraft Sports Group doing or planning to do that will see the club make the necessary move forward from MLS v1.0 and join the rest of League in taking a more progressive, dynamic approach to club management and team operations? What are they planning on doing to make the New England Revolution a competitive entity both on and off the field? It all starts and ends with this otherwise it doesn't matter worth a damn what questions I have about designated players, a new stadium, etc.”

What changes you'd like to see (realistically) to make the Revolution 'experience' more positive:

“If the Krafts and the Revolution effectively see club supporters as not much more than ‘consumers’ of a sports entertainment product, then they need to understand that the consumer circa 2012 is more discriminating and demanding than those of the early days of MLS. Gone are the days of fans getting their soccer fix by bellying up to bars at 10:00AM on Sundays to catch satellite telecasts of matches from far-flung leagues, not when they can now stay home and watch matches for free, in high definition whether it’s the New England Revolution, Manchester United, or some bottom-feeding club in the Jupiter League.”

“The biggest failure of the Krafts and the Revolution in general is that they haven’t worked to cultivate a relationship between the organization and fans where there exists an intimate connection to the club, this unlike the Celtics, Bruins, Patriots or Red Sox. When you treat the Revolution as sports entertainment and its fans as mere consumers you’re not going to capture the imagination and cultivate a culture where fans feel a connection to the club.”

“Quite frankly, the grade-schooler who came to Revolution matches in the 1990’s and was sold sub-par soccer along with a side-show of soccer celebration isn’t as likely to feel a connection to the club (or likely to buy season tickets) when, now as twenty year-olds they can get more bang for their buck elsewhere. To that end, those fans who do feel a connection… feel that New England ‘belongs to them,’ suffer not only from poor form on the field, but a detached and/or ambivalent attitude towards them on the part of the organization.”

“As for changes? There are any number that immediately come to mind:

• Increased active oversight and support of club operations and management by the Krafts Sports Group. This should include, but not be limited to: greater support of the club through increased expenditure on marketing, player personnel, facilities and resources.

• Greater transparency of club operations and real accountability for club operations both on and off the field. Quite simply, I can’t support an organization that rewards poor performance: Mike Burns shouldn’t have been promoted, but fired, and I can’t bring myself to attend matches until this glaring error in judgment is resolved: You don’t reward someone who hasn’t done their job.

• Better, more regular access between representatives of club supporters groups with individuals charged with personnel management of TeamOps Security. Several problems that have been brought to TeamOps attention in terms of in-stadium and event security concerns having a bearing on supporters have been marginalized if not outright dismissed. Revolution supporters have long wanted to work with stadium security to find ways to enhance in-stadium atmosphere and improve fan/security relations in such a way as the concerns of all parties are both considered and respective and this cannot take place when TeamOps operates with relative impunity and no accountability.

• An improved, enhanced, and expanded relation between the Revolution independent supporters groups and the organization where supporters can contribute more to the direction of the organization. Examples of this might include recruiting supporters to develop better targeted, more effective marketing ideas; seeking out input on future stadium development issues; and a better, more standardized system for accommodating away supporters that travel in numbers.

In short, it’s time for the Kraft family to stand up, step up, give the Revolution all the resources they need to be competitive (and then some), listen to and engage supporters and finally, show some love for the Revolution and don’t accept anything close to mediocrity.”

While Evan’s comments may not speak for the all of the Revolution fans, they do seem to echo what the media have been hearing for some time now. It would stand to reason that the club would like to have a good relationship with its fans and that there should not be a three page list of gripes from season ticket holders. 

For their part, the Revolution have been making a number of changes from 2011 to 2012. New signings, a new coach and with that new coach, seemingly a new mentality for how things are done. There seems to be, from the outside looking in, a new approach to many things from Jay Heaps. In my own interview with Heaps back in December, he seemed to acknowledge that the team has had issues in the past,but that things were certainly getting better. If you’ve missed that interview, I encourage you to read it for another perspective. It does provide a hope for fans in 2012 and beyond as Jay acknowledges past failings and vows to make it better.

Heaps discusses creating a culture of winning. If that culture can transcend the coaching staff, front office staff, then it will lead to the fans. Here's hoping one of Major League Soccer's founding teams gets it right.


  1. That's nice, but Jay Heaps is still working with one arm tied behind his back because the Krafts treat the team as a "summer carnival" venture, one that exists to fill stadium dates- not operate as a professional, top flight soccer team. There is no metric where the Revs are even close to the rest of the league. The marketing is subpar, akin to a minor league baseball team's. The staff is woefully out of their league, and most are first-timers at their positions with no history of success to point to. Find me another MLS team who's radio broadcast is the TV audio like the Revs' is. The team's profile in the local sports scene has not grown one iota in over a decade. Yet all we hear is how much Mr. Kraft loves soccer and is committed to the Revs. They doth protest too much, methinks.

  2. I was a 15 year season ticket holder. Now I refuse to attend any games. I got sick of the rhetoric, sick of the poor product, sick of the apathy. To be honest, I'm not sure what they can do to get me back. They are so far behind the rest of the league that it is nearly impossible for me to even want to support them.

  3. I think the "minor league baseball team" analogy is the best way to describe the Revs at this point. It's a Saturday night out with the kids and soccer moms, not watching the game, and only making noise when they're shown on the JumboTrons.

    As for those troublemakers who sing and cheer the whole game - we only matter if we buy season tickets and $11 Sam Adams beers inside...

  4. Couldn't agree more. The Revs are the league antithesis of a team as dynamic and forward-thinking as the Portland Timbers. It doesn't help when Kraft has what appears to be a pretty cozy relationship with Gulati. My particular beef, though, is with how the team is presented to the general public, and anyone who's watched a CSSNE broadcast knows what I'm talking about.

    As if it wasn't painful enough to watch this team play in the name of New England, the media for this team seems to be on par with a high school AV club. Jeff Lemieux's weekly little online bits are static, underproduced and boring. Likewise, Brad Feldman doesn't bring nearly enough to play-by-play. I remember one game against the Dynamo last season that was audio-only...on television. I listened to a black screen for 90+ minutes. Couple this with when the Revs comm. department decided to start making hastily-written comedy sketches and posting them to the team site ('Live the Play' for those of you who haven't been scarred yet) where Brad gives the play-by-play for wacky office hijinks like employees pouring coffee, it just tells me this is a team managed by people who have no idea what they're doing on any level.

  5. as a new englander that has played and supported soccer for 35 years, Revolution games are the most unwatchable in MLS. Creating atmosphere in a cavern is part of the problem and the Revs organization needs to do everything they can to help supporters groups in that regard. However, it all starts with the onfield product - which is where the Revs lag behind the rest of the league. Sadly, Steve Nichol was one of the best managers in the league, but no manager can win without the resources to compete effectively. Good luck Jay!

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  7. Everything you need to know is summed up in one sentence in NESN's article about Kraft decided to not pursue buying Liverpool a few years ago:


    "Kraft prefers an environment in which the amount of money he spends does not determine his team's chances of success."

    So despite all the assurances that fans hear about how things have changed, the bottom line remains the same. The money needed to seriously compete in this league, which is far more than is currently being spent on the Revs, isn’t coming.

  8. I'm sorry, but real supporters are season ticket holders. You don't deserve the same voice if you come to one game a year (unless forced by geographical regions)as the same as someone who comes to US Open Cup matches and shit regular season games.

  9. Anon, the issue isn't "having the same voice" as season ticket holders, the issue is being given no voice at all. And frankly, when you've got 3,000 or so STH and only around 11k people coming a game I'd listen to as much consumer feedback as possible because you are clearly DOING IT WRONG. The people know what they want, the front office doesn't know what the people want, but when the people try and tell the front office what they want they are ignored.

    Like Evan, I will not buy another ticket to a home game until Mike Burns and very likely Brian Bilello are gone, beyond running the franchise in to the ground and getting promoted for it, they have ZERO credibility and have eroded any sense of goodwill with this former Revolution die hard. I support the players, but I will not financially reward the incompetence of the Revolution Front Office.

  10. I consider myself a real supporter and am not currently a season ticket-holder for the aforementioned reasons in the article, so I respectfully disagree with "anonymous." I've been to U.S. Open Cup matches, "shit" regular season games and have spent thousands of dollars making road-trips to such places as Columbus, Toronto, DC and elsewhere. I have a closet full of Revolution jerseys, scarves (a number I've designed), and a basement full of flags and blank banner material that could be used in The Fort... I don't need to prove anything to anyone at this point with respect to my being a "real supporter." The thing is, nobody within the Revolution organization seems to care that I'm not buying tickets and most likely not coming to games this year. They simply don't care because all things being equal I'm only as valuable to them as the dollar amount printed on the ticket. In short, if I'm only valued as a consumer then I'm easily replaced.

    I'm hopeful for the coming season and excited to see what Jay Heaps can do but it's going to take some effort for the organization to re-earn my trust at this point.