Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Troubling Time for Supporters in New England

New England Revolution marketing supporters and their section "The Fort".
Photo Credit: The Drug is Football
At this point in American soccer I thought we were really past this. I thought that, for the most part, Major League Soccer teams had decided that supporters were a good thing. Yeah, sure they occasionally dropped the f-bomb and, oh yeah, we'd really appreciate it if you left the smoke bombs at home, but you all keep on doing what looks good on TV and to the rest of the fans at the stadium... cheering your brains out for the home team.

Wrong.

Last weekend the New England Revolution took to the field at the massive Gillette Stadium against the Chicago Fire and what occurred around the 60th minute of this match can only be described as madness. The solid New England site, "The Drug is Football" has documented the incidents well and we''ll be borrowing their descriptions liberally.
"What can only be described as a planned operation took place against the Fort (the supporters section for Revs fans) and Revolution Supporters Groups. Gillette Stadium security, TeamOps, went about ejecting and in multiple cases having the Foxborough Police Department make arrests. The start of all of this is from the "You suck asshole" chant that is routinely done around the league after goalkeepers take a goalkick."
From various accounts of the incident, which you can also read in more detail at two other Revolution sites, "The Indirect Kick" and "The Bent Musket", supporters of the Revs were forcibly removed from the stadium after security responded to multiple complaints over language (during this match and all season) coming from "the Fort". Of others who were not removed many left the game in silent protest of the security details' tactics.

Whether or not this was a premeditated operation is unknown., but members of "the Fort" noticed an increased security presence during the match, more security supervisors from TeamOps (which is owned by Revs team owner Robert Kraft), and the lack of the Revs Girls who normally roam freely around the section cheering with the supporters. An omonous foreshadowing of things to come.

"The Drug is Football" reported that at least 10-12 people were arrested and more than 20 people have been banned from Gillette from the match. Their account again:
"One person who was arrested has gotten in touch with us, due to pending legal action we will not publish his name however he told us he was arrested for disorderly conduct. We witnessed him being arrested and he was peacefully leaving The Fort along with many others. He also has told us that when he was arrested by the Foxborough Police Department he was not read his Miranda Rights, when he asked he was told by the arresting officer "Fuck your rights", in addition when they ID'd him he gave his military ID to which the officer said to him "You must be in the Navy because you're acting like a pussy". 
Obviously we cannot blame this directly on the team, but these actions by the Foxborough PD are appalling and the disrespect they gave to an active member of the military is shameful considering we are a nation still fighting multiple wars. These officers may be or have been members of rival branches of the military but there is no excuse for bringing that into their job. One cannot help but think this all could have been easily avoided."
The Revolution's Chief Operating Officer Brian Bilello confirms what sparked the incident (full statement here):
"Unfortunately there was an issue last night in the fort which was a culmination of multiple weeks of complaints from many of our STH who do not sit in the fort. This was related to one particular chant which our supporters' liaison has spoken to the supporter group leaders about on multiple occasions this season."
While Bilello calls the situation from last Saturday an "issue" for the members of the supporters groups (the Rebellion and the Midnight Riders... both previously profiled in our "Better Know a Supporters Group" series) and other unaffiliated fans in "the Fort" this was more than just an issue. His PR backing of the security's actions will only make the current situation worse.

Why TeamOps decided Saturday's game was the day they were going to come down on "YSA" or any other poor language we may never know. Given the treatment some supporters experienced the response by Bilello appears short-sighted and tone deaf. Blaming supporters without giving a hint of remorse to how they were treated or maybe acknowledge that TeamOps may have been over-zealous will haunt him and the team for a long time.

The New England Revolution are one of the founding clubs of MLS (and the only team still with its original crest) and the former home of some great American soccer players including Steve Ralson, Clint Dempsey, and Taylor Twellman. The team missed out on several MLS Cup titles in the league's early years and, since success in the in the 2007 U.S. Open Cup, the team has struggled missing the playoffs in 2010.

Gillette Stadium, home to the NFL's Patriots and located 30 minutes south of Boston in Foxborough, is the home of the Revolution, but even decent crowd sizes, something that has been hard to come by lately, are swallowed up by the nearly 70,000 seat behemoth. The team's owner, Robert Kraft, one of the saviors of MLS in its darkest years has been accused of indifference to the team and whether or not that's completely accurate it's easy to see why that charge has been leveled against him.

"The Fort" during last Wednesday's poorly attended TFC match
and what it might look like each game going forward.
Photo Credit: The Drug is Football
What occurred on Saturday night at Gillette was the culmination of years of difficult relations between the Revolution Front Office, the ever rotating set of TeamOps security personnel, and the supporters of the Revs.

Rebellion Vice President Brendan Schimmel said, "The failure is everywhere. The FO has to respond to complaints from STHs, in doing so they risk alienating a majority. Security, for their tactics employed being perceived as disorganized, inconsistent and indiscriminate. Everyone and their mother knows the behavior at a Pats game is ten times worse, except they don't have one section they can scapegoat.

"Although, I can assure you the FO did intervene before security took action Saturday night allowing us the chance to curtail the profanity. The expectation that anyone had the power to prevent a crowd like this from swearing is unrealistic and the result was unfortunate. The response to these requests is what forced Security's hand. This is a bad situation that put good people in difficult positions."

"I love the Revs. But the feeling of being treated like criminals in your own house is frustrating," he continued.

"Celebrating supporters for their joint road trip to Red Bull Arena one week and then having ejections occur for the same behavior a week later at home is inconsistent and it brings multiple underlying issues that linger with many supporters to the surface."

Schmimmel even acknowledged that Revolution supporters have been working to stamp out "YSA" as it is offensive, annoying, sophomoric, and unoriginal. Both the Rebellion and Midnight Riders released a joint "Fan of Code Conduct" which looks to rid the supporters section of such actions. Unfortunately, running a supporters group is much like herding cats and cultural change takes time.

The mess that transpired only serves to highlight the bigger problem the Revolution organization has... that they are stuck in what is commonly referred to as MLS 1.0. The fact that newcomers (and even some older clubs) to MLS have soccer-specific stadiums, supporter friendly policies and expectations, and successful marketing that shows positive growth in their team's area. The Revolution has none of these markers of a successful MLS franchise.

And while Schimmel points to "healthly" relationships with the Revs FO, the rot in the club comes not from well-meaning people behind desks, but a lack of understanding coming from the ownership of what it takes to become a successful American soccer franchise. Look at the Revs hesitation in signing a "designated player" (Benny Feilhaber basically fell into their lap via the allocation order rule and even then it seemed as though they were going to pass), look at the lack of progress of finding the team a proper soccer home, look at the limited marketing and family-sanitized approach to game day operations and one can see the frustrations underlining what transpired last weekend.

Where do the Revolution and its supporters go from here?

Schimmel wondered out loud, "Honestly, there is no one solution that can probably satisfy everyone. Regardless of the advances we make, overall, the perception of our ownership and the venue we play in will always serve to create discord."

"The incident has ballooned into something far bigger than a simplified argument about a fan's right to swear. It is now for better or for worse serving as a referendum on how the club's most loyal fans feel about the organization," he said.

Teams across the league use its supporters to market the team, the atmosphere they create is the stuff that draws the TV cameras in, and is, more often than not, celebrated by the fans in the rest of the stadium. In the cavernous Gillette "the Fort" is often the only audible crowd noise and when the majority of the section left the match the difference was clear. The Revolution can't both promote "the Fort" culture and then actively restrict some of the elements (and off-color comments) that come from it.

This is a crucial time for American soccer in New England. After drawing 65,000 to the same place for the U.S.-Spain match the Revolution drew barely drew 6,500 to a midweek match against Toronto FC (although it was during the Stanley Cup Game Seven with the Boston Bruins) and 14,500 to the Fire match. The potential for growth in the Boston-area is there and has been since the Revolution's arrival in 1996.

Stories like this one only heighten the perception that the ownership isn't serious about American soccer and putting down solid roots. With much of the American soccer world's eyes on Kansas City last week and seeing their ownership's commitment to American soccer and the positive working relationship the club has with its supporters (including its own members bar!) just shows that it can be done.

Many long-time season ticket holders and members of the supporters groups are questioning their commitment to a club they've given so much support to, but that the club has given so little back to them. If the actions from Saturday's game and Bilello's comments are to be taken as evidence, the team appears to have put its lot in with family-sanitized game day "atmosphere" (which research shows the family dollar in American soccer is credibly fleeting) rather than the supporters who are there game in and game out. If the Revolution loses "the Fort" then they may have just lost the entire plot.

The Revolution supporters have meetings scheduled with the Front Office, but only time will tell if American soccer in the Boston-area can survive such a disaster that occurred this past Saturday. At this point both sides are talking past each other with the Revs FO concerned about the language and the supporters concerned about their treatment by security personnel and other issues festering underneath this latest incident.

In the end the best solution to this problem might come from the most simple idea. One commentator wrote that to end the "YSA" chant just "put the fucking ball in the net and there won't be a goal kick."

There you go.

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18 comments:

  1. Minnesota Nice FCJune 21, 2011 at 11:55 AM

    The Revs FO is terrible and takes most of the blame.
    But I do wish that the supporter's culture that thinks "you suck asshole" is anything other than banal, stupid, and annoying would go away. I'm more than tired of showing up to US games and hearing the Outlaws (who are a fantastic presence and I like many of them) spout ridiculously dumb obscenities that do nothing to "create atmosphere". Last year's Turkey friendly brought us this gem: "Fuck you Turkey!" Really?

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  2. While the "you suck asshole" chant is one of the most boring chants that can be used, it still shouldn't be an issue. Going to any professional sports game will leave a person inundated with vulgarities far worse than that.

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  3. i understand the supporters frustration over this matter. as a father of two small-ish children as well as a member of the supporters group for now defunct CP Baltimore i stradle both sides of this argument. do i want to have my children listen to swearing, no. do i want to diminish the fan culture that is still developing alongside U.S. soccer entities, no. i believe the supporter's groups in new england have taken positive steps to lessen negative behavior. swearing for the sake of swearing shows no imagination and frankly is just embarrassing for whoever does it. though i remember when i was new to drinking too. the front office however should better educate its ticket sales people and and other fans about where to sit in order to avoid this behavior. i have run into similar issues at dc united matches. when they run specials (four tickets and some sort of item that is usually family oriented)for a set price the tickets are always near the supporter's sections. i realize this is done to boost the appearance of spectators at the match but my children still aren't tall enough to stand and see over adult patrons. a simple check box on the order form asking not to sit in the supporter's sections would eliminate this issue. i feel that a similar guide line offered to fans not wanting to stand or hear foul language could remedy many of these issues. in new england's case, it is my understanding they have historically used only one sideline and end section for revs matches. make the sections from midfield to the goal line furthest from the fort family areas. i know many supporters who wish families would stay away. however even in europe there are plenty of people sitting along the sidelines who don't stand or sing. those operations just have more experience segragating fans in areas where they can get the match experience best suited to them. simple steps by the front office in any operation can head of these issues better then any draconian measures can.

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  4. Thanks for the article. One correction, Bob Kraft is not the "cheese magnate" He owns (amongst other things) International Paper.

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  5. Thanks Monty... that was pointed out to us and has been corrected. Lazy conclusion there on our part. Fixed!

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  6. Seems like 1000 ways they could have handled it better then they did. I would be curious what type of proof they need for the arrests when it seems like they just went after a fan section. Out of curiosity is there an official list of things you can say and not say? You can drive around with "A*s" on a bumper sticker... or t-shirt why cant you say it in a stadium? Do they prefer "butt hole"?...is adding "h*le" on the end of "a*s" that crosses the line? Can you say "Jackass"??...because they can run ads for "Jackass" the show and movie without issue all over the airways and in theaters. Can you say things that rhyme like "you suck brass pole"? Do they want you to be more clinical like "you suck sphincter" or "anal meatus" (i hope not)? Can MLS still have Dick's as a sponsor? Crazy...it all sounds like Ungulates Manure to me. -Andrew

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  7. http://theshinguardian.com/2011/01/26/mls-cheering-for-fan-friendly-not-family-friendly/

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  8. http://assets.sbnation.com/assets/641594/IMG_0525.MOV

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  9. @Minn Nice FC - Not to be a jackass, but if someone can't stand obscenities shouted during a US match, don't sit near the supporter section. I bristle at the suggestion that Outlaws and other "fan groups" are the main problem here that need to be clamped down on. (I appreciate your support btw and your care in differentiating that you do approve of some of our members) I personally joined the Outlaws because I was tired of the "Family Friendly" atmosphere that dominates US Soccer, such as in the Sam's Army. Now I don't have children, and I'm not such a rude person that doesn't care what children hear; quite the contrary. I believe if children are around we SHOULD censor ourselves. However, do not bring your children into a supporter's section and expect us all to behave. We can all agree that going to ANY professional sports avenue, there is much worse in the general stands very frequently. (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB) Does that stop you from bringing children, or make you complain to the front office? No. In fact, they would laugh you from their office for suggesting they curtail that stuff. It is a given fact that supporter sections are going to be more off-color than general seating. Why should we in American Soccer be forced to chimp down for the sake of a small minority? Soccer clubs around the world have fans that are far rowdier and far worse. Am I saying we should imitate that? Definitely not. The point being is that we will not get anywhere or get airtime with spectators that act like they are watching croquet. It's fans, rowdy, vocal, enthusiastic and passionate that are going to energize viewing and get people to come out. The perception in the US is that soccer is BORING. How are we going to change that if we start cracking down with an Iron Hand upon supporters sections that sing bawdy chants? Should we stop playing basketball because people threw drinks on the court? Or football because they threw beer bottles on the field because of a call? Hell no. And we will not stop being outspoken and passionate just because a chant has language that offends. Double standards should not, and will not be accepted just because we are "Soccer Supporters." Go USA.

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  10. Hey Monty, Kraft is CEO/Chairman of the Kraft Group, which includes International Forest Products, not International Paper.

    Support the Fort.

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  11. For a variety of reasons (including the one below), I haven't been to the Fort in some years but I hear a lot of stories.

    When I was last there, there were signs at the top of the stairs down into the Fort. These signs were unambiguous warning that the occupants would be standing and singing and if you didn't like it, they could go elsewhere with the aid of an usher. Yet still people went down in there and then complained and, for whatever reason, the security people didn't reseat them but chastised the people in the Fort for doing exactly what the signs said they'd be doing. Extremely frustrating....

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  12. I invite you to a game in the EPL when people start getting stabbed, have small scaffold poles thrown at them, have traffic cones smashed over your head, have bricks the size of your fist thrown in your general direction,

    but it has calmed down now thankgod, but in the late 70s/80s it was a hell of a lot worse,

    just watch a film called "Green Street" to see what it mean

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  13. Anon 2:38 PM - Nice video. Majestically awesome that the police can arrest someone for swearing whilst telling them to "shut the EFF* up." I'm surprised with a double standard like that that they weren't beating him mercilessly for questioning the arrest....

    *Stupid comment form doesn't like the eff word either, must be owned and operated by the Kraft family.

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  14. The Krafts own the stadium. It is not public property. I was at the game that night. They asked people over the loudspeaker during the game to not use profanities. The people in that section continued to do that many times over. There were way more than 16-20 people continuing on. It was ridiculous and unnecessary. I personally think the fans in that section need to get a life. They don't even seem to watch the game.

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  15. "Anonymous said...

    The Krafts own the stadium. It is not public property. I was at the game that night. They asked people over the loudspeaker during the game to not use profanities. The people in that section continued to do that many times over. There were way more than 16-20 people continuing on. It was ridiculous and unnecessary. I personally think the fans in that section need to get a life. They don't even seem to watch the game.
    June 22, 2011 5:37 PM"

    in response - I was also at the game that night in the fort and i never heard anything overr the loud speaker BECAUSE IT WAS LOUD AND WE WERE CHEERING FOR OUR TEAM! you need to get a life yourself.

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  16. FREE THE FORT

    Disgusting actions by the Revs FO. They have set their club's support back many years.

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  17. It wasmt played over a loud speaker and if it was that's a very idiotic method in which to reach people

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  18. who cares about krafty bob and jon? there nothin. were the younger son left to grow up on are own. are dead beat dad, engrossed with are older over achieving brother, has no time for us. who needs him?

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"Anyone who tells me soccer is boring, I'm going to punch them in the face."
- Former Dallas Burn (aka FC Dallas) coach Dave Dir

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