Amidst all the offseason trades and signings, the Boston Breakers have also decided to shake up their front office. The team has announced that longtime general manager Lee Billiard will transition to a new role, President of Soccer Operations and Development, while Mark Thomas will take over as President of Business Operations.
As per the team statement, “Thomas will oversee the day-to-day business operations of the Boston Breakers organization. Responsibilities include sales, marketing, sponsorship, and day-to-day management of the business operations. Thomas will work on building off the current platform with a view to continue its growth financially and expanding the Boston Breakers brand. Under his new role, Thomas will be working on both short- and long-term strategies that will continue moving the organization forward off the field.”
Thomas was Head of Business Development at Norwich City Football Club from 2013 to 2014 and had a stint as a pro with Wimbledon FC in the Premier League.
“Having attended a few games last season and listening to Matt Beard and Lee Billiard’s plans for the 2017 season, there are certainly reasons for optimism moving forwards,” said Thomas.
Now Billiard will transition into focusing more on the actual soccer side of things, from the senior team’s roster down to the academy level.
“I have been working with Matt [Beard] the past couple of months on the roster and trades. It has been a lot of hard work, but fun, and I believe Matt and I have a very good working relationship. We both trust each others’ opinions, and we both share the same views of the standards we want to bring to the field, not only for the pro team, but also from everything we operate on the soccer side below the pro team,” said Billiard.
Billiard took over the reins as general manager in 2012 from old GM Andy Crossley. Side note, Crossley’s blog is a treasure trove of stories about Women’s Professional Soccer, giving fans insight into what it was like to be a GM in the old league.)
Billiard helped develop the current Breakers business model, which now has a “development pathway” from academy to college and reserve teams. The Breakers have gone to their reserves several times over the years, most recently signing defender Kylie Strom.
"We feel strongly that this split of responsibilities between business operations and the soccer operations will see immediate results on the field as well as in the business," said co-managing partners Michael Stoller and John Power.
It’s interesting that Billiard would be moved away from the business side of the club considering he has helped the Breakers drive an increase in average attendance despite a declining performance record. Conversely, he has also been criticized for previous years’ rosters and some trades that were considered strange at best, disadvantageous at worst.
There was some thought among fans that part of the team’s new look would involve head coach Matt Beard having near-complete control over his roster. To a certain extent things do look that way based on recent player signings; Beard has wanted to sign Norwegian Emilie Haavi for a while and both Amanda DaCosta and New Zealander Rosie White played under him at Liverpool. Should Whitney Engen return, that would make another former Liverpool player. Beard has clearly been using the connections he developed through his time in the FA WSL to strengthen the roster. Perhaps with Beard covering the international side of recruiting, Billiard will be helping with college draft picks and domestic development.
This all seems part of positive developments in the 2016-17 offseason though. Ownership seems to have realized that the team needed a shakeup and are providing one from the top down. At the very least they can’t be accused of not caring; strong international player signings and more front office staff to help split up loads are certainly the signs of owners who give a damn. Hopefully audiences will continue to grow in 2017 and will be matched by growth in on-field performance.