The National Women’s Soccer League officially announced that the Boston Breakers would fold on January 28, 2018. It is now April 5, over two months after that official announcement, in which the league stated “Breakers fans who have placed deposits on their 2018 season tickets will be contacted, and provided full refunds.”
NWSL managing director Amanda Duffy was tight-lipped about season ticket holder refunds in a league preview conference call on March 21. “We can’t comment to specifics as it’s an ongoing discussion with the entity and their legal counsel,” she said. “As soon as next steps are able to be taken, they will be.”
In response to repeated requests since then, an NWSL spokesperson was similarly unable to comment on the status of these refunds. As of March 30, the spokesperson said, “We are still having ongoing discussions with the Breakers and are not able to comment further at this time. We recognize season tickets holders’ frustrations with the delay in receiving their refunds and are working to resolve it as soon as possible.”
“Ongoing discussions with the Breakers” is a reference to the league’s communication with representatives of Boston Elite Soccer, the LLC that was formed to operate the Boston Breakers. According to filings with the Commonwealth’s Corporations Division, Boston Elite Soccer is managed by Michael Stoller. Stoller listed himself as the Breakers’ managing partner on LinkedIn, where John Power also listed himself as the team’s owner. Neither Stoller nor Power responded to requests for comment as of the writing of this article.
The agonizing delay on these refunds as well as the refusal to comment due to “ongoing discussion” perhaps points to an extremely thorny process as the league and the Breakers untangle themselves from each other. But fans who are already upset about losing their team and then not receiving hundreds - and in some cases thousands - of dollars in refunds have had their frustration exacerbated by the almost total radio silence.
Melissa Kenny, a Boston Breakers season ticket holder since 2009 when the Breakers played in Women’s Professional Soccer, bought a Category 1 seat from the Boston Breakers for $331. “I have heard absolutely nothing other than the e-mail from Elise McLear on February 2 which said we would hear from the league office about refunds,” she told TBM via e-mail. The e-mail she referenced was a message from former Breakers head of partnership development and marketing/assistant GM Elise McLear, bidding farewell to Breakers fans and explaining that she and other Breakers staff had been out of work since October, immediately following the end of the 2017 NWSL season.
Erin Henry finally bought season tickets for 2018 after attending every home game but one in 2017 and attending off and on in years prior. She purchased three premium pitch side seats for her family to the tune of $2,991. After complaining on twitter, she said her complaints were forward to the Breakers, whereupon she received an email from the team stating, “The process is ongoing between us and the league office, we are expecting to release refunds in the next 10-14 days once everything has been wrapped up.” She got this response on February 20. When asked, Henry agreed that she would be more inclined towards patience if only someone would give her a reason for the delay. “It is the silence that is so incredibly frustrating,” she said.
Compare this to the response when FC Kansas City closed up shop and moved to Salt Lake City. The Blue Testament reported on the folding on November 15, 2017 and Real Salt Lake officially made the announcement on November 16. Several members of the Blue Crew supporters group say they received refunds for their season tickets by December 1 and 2 - just two weeks later.
There’s an obvious difference here, which is that a new owner with deep pockets took over FCKC, while the Breakers simply ceased to exist. In light of reports that the Breakers were behind on payments, there were no doubt creditors who were first in line to get their hands on whatever was available for debts, if anything was available at all. In which case - who, then, is responsible for refunding Breakers season ticket holders?
It’s pure speculation at this point with the league so reticent to say anything, but perhaps the issue of responsibility is part of the reason why the divestment of club from league has taken so long and still appears to be tied up in legal processes. Is Boston Elite Soccer on the hook, or is NWSL obligated to take over their debts? One suspects that fans who are hundreds of dollars in the hole with no team to show for it don’t particularly care where the money comes from, so long as it comes.
In spite of all of this, both Kenny and Henry said they would be willing to put their money towards a new women’s club in Boston, if one ever returned. Perhaps not one that has anything to do with the old Breakers; Kenny expressed distrust of the club organization and the way NWSL searched for potential new owners, while Henry said that the refund process and the Breakers collapse “raises a red flag” for her about the sustainability of the league. But both Kenny and Henry said they would be willing to invest in a new Boston team, and Henry said she was waiting on her refund in order to turn around and put that money right back into another NWSL team this season.
It’s remarkable how willing women’s soccer fans are to support the sport no matter the setbacks; hopefully NWSL will do right by them in the end.