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Takeaways From Supporters Summit
Here is what you need to know about Thursday's event
A Supporters Summit was held after on Thursday at Gillette Stadium with New England Revolution club president Brian Bilello taking questions from fans amidst the most turbulent time in club history. The summit was organized by The Rebellion, who requested and coordinated the event.
The Blazing Musket received information from the event via sources. Here is what you need to know.
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Bilello opened up the event with a statement highlighting how he started as a Revolution supporter and his dedication to fans. The executive stated that he still considers himself a fan and added that he understands supporter culture more than most club presidents.
“I’m here tonight because I respect supporters’ group and what you bring to the club,” Bilello said. “You won't like all the answers I give. There's some answers that I might not be able to give you guys, but I always try to be as honest as I can. I never lie.”
The club president addressed why Clint Peay and Curt Onalfo were not present. Bilello stated that was due to them serving in interim roles.
Unsurprisingly, among the first questions that Bilello received was regarding Bruce Arena. According to Bilello, the club had no idea how long Arena would be suspended. The club president stated that the organization was never given a timeline.
Answering another question, Bilello highlighted that Arena admitted to some level of fault in his resignation.
“The reality is Bruce decided to resign his position and admitted fault,” he said.
The club president also highlighted the fact that Arena would have to apply for reinstatement if he wanted to come back to MLS. Furthermore, he said the club had no decision-making in that.
It appears that the Arena controversy hasn’t affected ticket sales as the club has already set a new record for new season ticket memberships in 2024, according to Bilello, and had a record low cancellation rate this year. The club president also stated that his vision as well as the Kraft’s vision for the club hasn’t changed with the departure of Arena.
“I think you're gonna continue to see us invest heavily in the club,” he said. “I think our payrolls still relatively high and hopefully we have some money to spend next year. And then, depending on what happens with the rules, maybe we'll have even more to spend.”
But the Revolution aren’t necessarily going to go out and grab the biggest name in soccer to try and sell tickets.
“I think more big names wind up not being great contributors versus not,” the club president said.
Bilello then discussed how MLS did market research “years ago” and the research found that MLS fans want to see really good soccer. Apparently, a simple statement like that wasn’t obvious to the league.
“Because I think the direction that people are going is ‘we should use our DP mechanism as a league to sign stars’ meaning it doesn't matter how old they are, it doesn't matter how good they are, doesn't matter what they can do. If they have big names that will get people to come to games. And what we really found, we being the entire league, is that soccer fans who are open to MLS or MLS fans actually understand good soccer and they want good soccer. They care about that more than the name of the player.
“So I'm not saying we won’t get a big-name guy,” the club president said. “I'm just saying like, we're gonna prioritize quality over that every single time.”
When it comes to Arena’s replacement, Bilello mentioned that he personally prefers to have a separate sporting director and manager compared to the combined title that Arena had.
“I think with Bruce, he was a unique animal,” he quipped.
Still, the club president expressed some flexibility in terms of what the future of these roles looks like. In terms of candidates for the positions, Bilello highlighted the importance of having diverse candidates.
As reported by The Athletic, New England’s first step will be hiring a sporting director. The club president stated that whoever gets that position will play a role in the head coaching search and selection.
Bilello described the timeline for hiring a sporting director as “ASAP.” He added that by the end of the year, the club will have a permanent sporting director on staff.
A particularly fascinating part of the night was when the club president provided some insight on the transfer of Djordje Petrovic. Bilello stated that the club received “real offers” in the summer that the club turned down.
“And I’m not sure how many clubs would have turned down the offers that we got for Petrovic this summer,” he said. “Essentially, the owner didn’t want to sell the player.”
According to Bilello, the club felt that they had weathered the storm and would be able to hold on to the goalkeeper until the winter but they might sell him for less money due to not selling him in the summer.
“And we were willing to leave, frankly, millions of dollars on the table to have Djordje for the rest of the season,” Bilello stated.
Chelsea changed everything.
“But when the Chelsea offer came in, like frankly, we were toast,” Bilello said.
The club president added that he wasn’t taking a shot at Petrovic but when an offer like that comes in, the player is “gone” due to the club’s stature and the personal terms Petrovic was in line to receive.
Bilello admitted that the organization wasn’t prepared for the accelerated transfer process that left them down a goalkeeper. He stated that Tomas Vaclik was the best option the club had considering they could only sign free agents at the time.
The topic of Turf vs Grass came up (because of course it did) and Bilello revealed that the turf would be replaced with new turf for the start of next season. The club president stated that for the World Cup grass will replace the turf and won’t simply be placed on top of the turf. While still unsure, Bilello did believe that as a result the Revs will play on grass until the World Cup once the grass is installed.
Then there was of course the stadium questions. While refusing to comment on any specifics or timeline for a soccer-specific stadium for the Revs, Bilello did talk about how getting one would affect the club.
“I think if we had a soccer stadium, like that, I think we're a juggernaut and one of the jewels of MLS,” he stated. “But there's some addition, by subtraction, we will lose some of our current fans, we will lose season members who have been with us for 20-plus years and that sucks. Like that doesn't make me happy. But I think for the club and to move the club forward, you need to have that. And I think if you're there, if you're in Greater Boston, like, you're opening so many people's eyes up to the sport and how wonderful this sport is, and how unparalleled, frankly, because of what we do with our supporters culture, how different it is to go to an MLS match than any other matches in any other sport in this country.”
The club president added that the organization has focused on making the Revolution a great club “even without a stadium.”
A difficult part of not having a soccer-specific stadium is playing in a relatively empty Gillette Stadium for U.S. Open Cup matches as the club did this year. Bilello confirmed that Arena was against playing in smaller venues. The club president disagreed with Arena on this issue so with a new coaching staff in place, maybe the Revs could go back to Harvard when the 2024 U.S. Open Cup campaign begins.
Some questions Bilello couldn’t answer as they don’t exactly fall under his role with the club. One notable one was when asked about permanently purchasing Tomas Chancalay.
The club president stated that would be a decision for a permanent sporting director but joked “I would be really surprised if any sporting director would not pick up the option on Chancalay.”
So heading into Decision Day, Revolution fans got some clarity on the state of the club and its inner workings. The path ahead still has some question marks but is a little more clear as New England’s postseason campaign nears its launch.