When I received an invite to sit down with Jay heaps and Brian Bilello as a un-renewed season ticket holder, I was skeptical. One of the great privileges I've been afforded is the ability to speak with either as a media representative, but the idea of this blog has always been to be writing from the point of view of a supporter. I would rather make use of events like this to really hear what they have to say to the fans and supporters. Going into the event I thought it was going one of two ways... a cheesy sales pitch about how much they love us and things will be better... or a an opportunity to vent, ask questions and really have a dialogue with two of the most important people in this organization... it was the latter. I suppose many of my readers expect me to rip them a new one but I'm not...
I was a huge fan of the idea despite my skepticism, but apparently not everyone was. Perhaps it was the unseasonably warm spring day, but when I pulled into the lot 30 minutes before the event I was one of three cars in a vast lot, and the only car that actually had someone attending the event. About 10 minutes before 3 other cars had shown up for a whopping total of 6 people attending including myself. All those who did choose to attend were Fort regulars. I hope that this speaks volumes to them. As critical as we are here at TDIF it has always been my belief to give praise when due but also to be open to hearing everything out and giving a chance for the team to explain itself. I was quite honestly shocked at the low attendance, and until others showed up was wondering if I was going to have an awkward impromptu interview with Jay and Brian that I wasn't prepared for. We all went in together and were brought into one of the luxury suites overlooking the stadium.
Brian and Jay both started with quick remarks, but went right into opening it up to the attendees. The common theme of feeling like second class citizens was raised and also the disconnect from both the organization and the players to the fans. One attendee noted the fact that players did not acknowledge the fans and especially the Fort after games last season and that it was disappointing. I added that not only was it disappointing but also demoralizing to people like myself, who have been capos (though not last season for myself), and those that work so hard trying to get chants going, create banners and well do what supporters do. It was something that both Jay and Brian had noticed. Jay talked about noticing that from the booth last season and being disappointed by it. His thoughts were that the players just didn't know what to do after games last year and felt awkward acknowledging fans given the poor results of most of the season. Jay promised that it would change and that he will be making sure that the players are aware that the supporters are there for them through good and bad; that it is important to acknowledge not just their efforts but all the fans.
It was suggested that the FO make use of the talents of the supporters and work on joint volunteer opportunities to help build the goodwill of the organization in the community but as another way supporters can feel a true connection to the team. Brian said that they will be try to make use of the talents of supporters and that they further want to strengthen the relationship with them. The team wants to assist them as they can but also doesn't want to step on their toes and the proper balance needs to be found.
A stadium was talked about, and well there is nothing really new. They had a site in Boston in 2006 that fell through, although it is still undeveloped, Somerville fell through, spending lots of money, working really hard, etc. Again it was stated that they are currently working on a site and hope to have some news within the next couple of months. Subway accessible is the only option, no Worcester, Providence or suburban stadiums.
DP... tell me if you've heard this before... They were really close to one that Brian said would likely have been the biggest DP in the league but couldn't work out the financials with the players current club. They are still looking and it is still on the table for the summer transfer window.
The issue of the team being slow to react to change... Brian admitted that the team has been slow to change. They thought that they had a a pretty good formula with making the playoffs 10 years in a row, MLS cup (despite not winning) 4 times, and winning both Superliga and US Open cup. They didn't think they needed to change it. They realize that in the past few years that there has been tremendous change in the league and that they were wrong to not adapt. They are changing now, but know that they need to catch up. They know that many fans and supporters are at the point that only results will convince them, and no amount of words will sway them. The team is asking for patience for those that are on the fence because they feel they have changed direction but that not everything will be noticeable immediately. US Open Cup will be a priority this year.
Jay said that his main goal, other than MLS Cup, was to have an great home record, unbeaten even. He wants other teams to worry about playing the Revs at home. I issued him the challenge that if he can come through on a great home record that it will be easier for myself and other supporters to bring people back and expose new people to the team. It is hard to sell someone after you pitch the great time they can have when the first question is 'well how is the team doing?' and the answer for the past few years has started with 'well uhh...'. It was one that he gladly accepted knowing that having a strong supporters would help in the goal of making Foxboro a place that other teams worried about. Jay spoke a bit about this weekends game and that how things did not go to plan. He was very quick to say that he would not however make excuses and will never make excuses.
My biggest takeaway was the candidness of Heaps. If I do renew it will be because of him. Many have spoken about the drive that he has and the passion, and well that's all good in such, when you read it, watch him talk in interviews or hear others say it about him. Now that I have spoken to him in person I've seen it for myself and he very obviously is taking the job personally and as a challenge. The man truly cares what happens to this team.
Most of the conversation was more geared towards Bilello, and he was more candid that normal but still did not giveaway much. I did not have the expectation of hearing anything new or earth shattering going in and I was right, and that's fine, I was more interested in the tone of the event. In such a small group both seemingly let their guard down a bit. In Bilello I noticed that he seems to genuinely want to change the direction of the organization. His current remarks about admitting the wrong direction of the team versus conversations I had with him a couple years ago about the team thinking they had a good formula going are a positive to me. I still need to see evidence of these changes however. One thing I noticed was that though many of the comments and concerns were directed to Brian, Jay was very obviously listening and I could tell he was thinking about all of it and not just waiting for Brian's answer. It was good for him to be there and to hear all the complaints and comments that we had about the off field issues.
Issues like the ManU friendly tickets, spending to the cap, TeamOps, weren't really discussed (well TeamOps was but its nothing you haven't heard before) likely because they've been discussed ad nauseum at this point and I don't think anyone really expected to hear anything new.
As we left we were asked to fill out a short survey, all of our ticket reps were there and willing to answer questions, but did not pressure anyone into making a decision right then and there. I appreciate that they did not turn this into a high pressure sales event as it would have most certainly turned me completely off of renewing.
After this event I have high hopes for Jay Heaps. When I first got the invite, before the season started, I was 50/50 on renewing my tickets. After the last 2 games, and as I walked into the event I was not very interested in renewing at all. I did not renew yesterday, nor did it appear that anyone else did. I am back at 50/50 however and as I said it is all because of Jay and the obvious commitment he has made, his comments and body language while listening to everyone's gripes. I will make my decision prior to the second home game. When I do I will let you know what it is and why.
Related: Don't Renew 'til You See The Whites Of Their Eyes....