At least once a year, someone publishes something about the Kraft ownership group that gets New England Revolution fans in a bit of a tiff. Either it's another article praising Robert Kraft for his successes with the New England Patriots, which earns the ire of Revolution fans for ignoring the Revs, or it's a piece about the Revs' perceived lack of ambition and the total apathy shown by the ownership group, which tends to get Revs fans clucking about issues they already beat to death on a daily basis.
An article was published on the Boston Magazine website for print in the April 2014 issue that goes a step beyond the second category. Here, Kevin Alexander does a straight-up analysis of the Krafts, but as owners of the New England Revolution. Titled "The Krafts Are the Worst Owners in the League", it was not a sycophantic examination of their success with the Patriots, but it is also not an indirect criticism of their conduct with the Revolution via the progress of the Revs' franchise as a separate entity. Alexander took aim squarely at Robert and Jonathan Kraft and opened fire.
To be fair, he revealed very little that most Revolution fans - at least the ones with more than a casual interest in the club - did not already know. It was the way he went about his analysis, though, that sets him apart from other "conventional" media who have taken a look at this issue. Normally one has to visit the myriad of blogs and independent publications (like this one) to find a column that sheds pretense and caution to cast a truly critical eye on Foxboro's titan in white cuffs and his management of the Revolution.
Here's a look at some of the more interesting quotes from current and former MLS players who Alexander contacted for the piece:
"It's just a different feeling walking into an NFL stadium," says the [still-active MLS] veteran, "where there's no real permanent signage for the team, you see the football lines and feel the hard turf, and you can hear echoes of emptiness."
This was the first quote from a "still-active MLS-veteran" who had several things to say about the team. No one questions the veracity of this, or that even the most ardent, navy-blue-bleeding Revolution player feels this way whenever he walks out that tunnel. Heck, the supporters feel this way sitting in the stadium most of the time. Nothing new here.
"I remember being there at the MLS Cup during my rookie season, and it was huge, and packed, and incredible," Martino says. But now, he says, "You can literally hear people's individual cell-phone conversations. It's sad."
Kyle Martino was a big contributor to this article. Frankly, this quote is just saddening. 61,316 people turned out in Foxboro for the 2002 MLS Cup. Nothing even remotely close to that has been seen for a competitive Revolution match since. No one believes that 60,000 people should be turning out for average Revolution regular-season matches, but a 2013 attendance average of 14,844 is well below what it should be.
"New England has fallen way down the line," the MLS veteran says. "It's just not a place veteran guys are looking to play."
Martino agrees. "When I was getting towards the end of my career, and knew my time was numbered, L.A. wanted to trade me to the old K.C., and I basically said if that was my only option, I'm going to retire. And now New England has kind of turned into that team where you'd rather hang it up, as a player in your last years, than play at. And if you're not getting the veterans, you're sure as hell not getting any significant DPs."
This is a double quote, but there's no reason to split them. This is the very thing that the Revolution front office denies up and down, claiming that they have never lost out on a player because that player did not want to play in New England. But what does that really mean? Is it an outright lie, or are those players not even leaving themselves open for consideration by the Revolution? Clearly there is a discrepancy here.
Martino's comments about preferring to retire are troubling, but not without basis - Nate Jaqua, of all players, chose to leave the game rather than ply his trade in Foxboro. It's the fact that a current player, even under the condition of anonymity, can say that veteran players don't want to be there that hurts the most. Especially when the Revs are currently trying to fill their last two roster spots with contributing veterans.
That same player later said that "Solid DPs would never go [to New England]." The Front Office often claims that what they look for in a DP is specific due to financial constraints, or that, again, no one has ever turned down the Revs because of Gillette or Foxboro. But really, is it just the stadium or the location that is turning them away? Is the club choosing its words carefully so that they aren't lies, but fail to reveal the whole truth? The question can certainly be asked.
"The reputation of the Revolution is that they're cheap." He mentions a story of the team, a few years ago, having to make two connections on their flight to a game. It's a little thing, but it sends a signal. "It's stuff like that that gives you the rep among the players and the fans," the ex-player says. "They don't hold their breath that the Revs will ever get a legit DP. Not when you know you're second on the totem pole within your own organization."
This was a quote from an ex-player with close ties to the organization. This is perhaps the most damning. Again, the condition of anonymity forces us to simply speculate as to the identity, but if a former player who is still close with the organization - who, presumably, is still friendly to the organization and has some affection for it - says something that condemning, there is definitely a problem.
Revolution officials tend to shy away from the question of whether or not the Revs are secondary to the Patriots, or they say that it's easy for it to look that way given the gargantuan shadow the NFL casts over the entire American sports landscape. It's the club's job, though, to make the players and fans feel valued and important. Moreover, it's the ownership's job to give equal attention and care to all of their sports properties. Clearly the players do not feel that they are valued at the appropriate level, at least not universally.
One source with knowledge of the organization put it this way: "I think Jonathan Kraft is a soccer fan, but I don't think Robert cares about the game. I think he cares about the people on the team, and he's always been good at knowing who you are, and remembering things about your wife or your girlfriend. He's always been a great people person, but do I think he likes soccer? I don't think so."
Here is the "I told you so!" moment for the Revolution supporters. Militant subsets of the New England fanbase have been saying this for years, and the organization has been denying it wholesale. If they choose to address it at all, the Revs higher-ups will probably brush it off, or point out that it's easy for an anonymous source to make these claims, but there is not legitimacy to them. Or the club would just say that these complaints would be much quieter if the club were winning. These are the usual responses.
Revolution fans seem to know better, however. Kevin Alexander's article has gained heavy traction in social media circles that follow the Revs closely. National soccer media is picking up the story. More importantly, Boston Magazine will be running this piece. It may not be a full-page profile in the Globe sports section, but this is as big-time as it has ever been for this kind of article.
This piece hits a little harder than many that have come before it. In the end, people expecting change as a result are probably being overly optimistic, but this piece does bring its own sort of progress. Mainstream Boston media are paying attention, and for once, instead of idolizing the Kraft Sports Group, that same media is looking critically at the lack of success before them, and saying something about it.
No review of this piece would be complete without a mention of Kevin Alexander's article-ending mic drop, however:
When I requested interviews with the Krafts through Revolution PR, I was never given a reason why Bob would not answer questions. Jonathan, at least, offered an explanation: He said he was too busy preparing for a Patriots playoff game.
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