It's a question that has plagued many New England Revolution and Major League Soccer fans for years; why is Bob Kraft complacent with this organization being at or near the bottom when measured by every modern MLS standard? The man was on the cover of Sports Illustrated for what he has done with his NFL franchise, yet he's detested by fans of Major League Soccer for what he hasn't done with the Revs. The Revs are unique when compared to the other four professional teams in New England; the majority of New Englanders are unaware of their existence. Even a good chunk of the ones who are aware likely don't care, whereas the "big four" have a fervent following. In some situations I find this short sighted herd-following an embarrassing indictment on what fandom has become in the area: a person who "follows" teams because they are part of daily conversation.
I've always respected and regarded Revs fans as the best fans in New England due to the amount of effort they have to put into following this club. News sources are scarce, and tracking the team takes dedication and action, whereas you are barraged with news, schedules and highlights from the big four. In my estimation, the organization has failed to properly market this club to the masses and as a result the brand erodes each year. Most New Englanders have no allegiances or emotional ties to this club. They don't see it as theirs. When something is not yours you likely don't care as much when it fails.
I'm sure every MLS fan in New England at one time or another has had to respond to a snarky comment about how no one goes to Revolution games or that MLS as a whole is a joke. They likely deduce this because they don't hear stories constantly recycled through the news-wire about the club like they do with the other four; hence they are irrelevant. You probably respond with the "go-to" defense that MLS has the third highest average attendance above the NBA and NHL (yes, thank you for taking up a sword in Garber's army). You probably go onto explain that New England is an aberration, an exception, and that the rest of the country and league is seeing incredible growth, that the league is financially stable and maturing well through its adolescence.
They may ask a few difficult follow ups, like: why doesn't anyone go to Revs games? Why is their attendance a league low again? Why don't I see them marketed? Why don't they have a soccer-specific stadium? Why don't they buy Ronaldo? How come Seattle can put 50k into their stadium? Why are they losing? How come I don't hear them on sports radio? How come I don't see local TV covering them? How come games at Gillette are never on NBC Sports?
The overused response is most likely, "Bob Kraft doesn't care!"
In my opinion this club and product as a whole is allowed to fail, quietly. There is no magnifying glass on this team when they stumble or falter. There is no sports radio station recycling coverage all day about how star Benny Feilhaber has been relegated to the bench. There is limited debate in the media when Shalrie Joseph, team captain, is traded and there are whispers of a conflict with manager Jay Heaps. The Josh Beckett fiasco played out for months. Wes Welker's snap count goes down and the air raid sirens are going off. If Tim Thomas made a comment about a website that rated his performance negatively via Twitter it'd be everywhere. Darrius Barnes did, but what percentage of the 12k that show up a Revolution game are either aware or care about that? When Stephen Gostkowski missed the game-winning field goal this weekend, deep down he knows, whether he cares or not, that a miss will bring a huge spotlight upon him. You can say traffic drives coverage and this why the Revs aren't covered. But how would someone want to know more about something they don't know about in the first place? It has to start somewhere. I'm concerned that soccer fans in America have learned to adapt to use alternative means like Twitter and fan blogs, and will fail to see the reason to consume content from sources that ignored them for years.
I believe huge component of the complacency with failure from the Krafts is due to the fact they face limited criticism across the board. The chorus of angry fans who have witnessed an MLS 1.0 powerhouse allow itself to inhabit the doghouse of MLS 2.0 are too few. The Season Ticket Holder events, supporter summits where the few opportunities exist to question the ownership, happen quietly in front of small crowds where all the answers are generic and vanilla. Three hundred upset supporters on social media lamenting - often times accurately - about how this club can improve isn't going to force the Krafts' hand.
What if every day in New England there were fans, writers and reporters repeatedly ripping apart the Krafts and the Revs for their inability to construct a proper facility for the club to compete in? Do you think we'd have our SSS by now?
...and Bob Kraft has spent more time helping his new girlfriend tryout for movies than he has promoting the New England Revolution to the public. -Abram Chamberlain, The Bent Musket
The crux of the issue remains that Bob Kraft and Jonathan Kraft are well insulated from any thorough questioning regarding the New England Revolution. In interviews they are tossed softballs, and if that softy gets remotely hard, don't worry there won't be a difficult follow up. Actually, these guys aren't even tossed softballs; in most interviews, they are intentionally walked. Is the Kraft family even aware that they are so protected? Do they know that anyone with a microphone or a keyboard affiliated with a major outlet faces more risk than reward by providing an honest, scathing assessment of the organization?
I'd like to know why at the Season Ticket Holder event Jonathan Kraft didn't recognize that the green tree on my Rebellion scarf was the New England flag. You know, that thing that's the corner stone of your product's marketing campaign? He actually asked me what it was about, and subsequently a little piece of me died that day. Let that sink in. One of the owners didn't even recognize a flag that supporters have waived for 17 years. One of the owners didn't recognize the symbol the Revs so proudly put upon their 2012 jersey as an ode to supporters.
Is it insane to want the owner of the team to know that stuff? It's not like I'm asking him to argue with Eric Wynalda on Twitter or hang out and drink beer with the supporters. I just want him to come to a few games a year and make an attempt to understand his fan base. If he can't do that, that's fine. Just make sure you give someone who will do those things (Brian Bilello) more power and more money.
Any #revs fans in Columbus? I'm heading out at 1:00 then game time. Let me know where you are, I'll try and stop by and buy a round.— Brian Bilello (@RevsPrez) September 11, 2012
It's not all negative as it sometimes seems. There are things the Revs are doing well. A jersey sponsor was procured. Jerry Bengtson appears to be a great long term solution at forward. The security situation in the Fort has greatly improved, as well as communication between supporters groups, the front office and security. The organization has been willing to foot the bill for buses for the supporters multiple times to encourage away support for the club: most recently, last year's trip to Philly that was destroyed by Hurricane Irene. Do you think a Kraft had that idea? Probably not. I'd like the Kraft family to continue to give the people in their organization that get soccer the power to get things done. All I ask of them is to promote the brand proudly.
In summary, I understand that players on a field are accountable to each other. From the coach down that can be enacted and enforced. Yet I believe a culture of ignorance around this team, starting at the ownership down to the media has allowed players, coaches to avoid criticism and accountability. If there was greater interest in the team, more coverage and increased involvement from the Krafts, I believe players would respond. Increased accountability, or the fear of being held accountable creates positive stressors that individuals use as motivation to avoid failure.
Share your thoughts in the comment section below and keep an eye out for the The Bent Musket 2.0!