The Blarney Stone in Vancouver’s Gastown was the venue for a Town Hall meeting on Tuesday evening which gave supporters group members the rare chance to quiz Vancouver Whitecaps’ front office about the direction the club is heading and a lot more besides. You may not like some of the answers given, but it was an opportunity that not many fans in MLS get these days to quiz the people in charge of their club, and that’s a positive move forward, hopefully leading to more such meetings down the line.
There were a number of topics discussed over the course of the evening, covering the playing side, the club’s identity and ambition, front office operations, gameday logistics, the relationship with supporters, and more.
A healthy crowd was in attendance (well numbers wise at least – looking at the beer and food flowing can’t comment on their general well being) from all three main Whitecaps supporters groups: Vancouver Southsiders, Curva Collective, and Rain City brigade. Fielding the questions were Jeff Mallett from the Whitecaps ownership group, ‘Caps head coach Carl Robinson, Club President Bob Lenarduzzi, VP of Soccer Operations Greg Anderson, and Chief Operating Officer Rachel Lewis.
I know a lot of fans who are not members of a supporters group were irked that they have not been presented with such an opportunity to quiz the front office and Robbo. It was argued this was prioritizing some supporters over others, leaving some feeling undervalued or unappreciated.
I totally understand that, especially as there was no preseason season ticket holder event like previous years affording such an opportunity, but this will hopefully be the first of more regular meetings like these moving forward. Consider this a testing ground for how they can best work. Smaller, more intimate groups allow for more questions being asked and people being heard, and in that regard I would say that Tuesday night was a success.
The event wasn’t recorded or livestreamed. This also seemed to piss a number of people of, but that was not the intention. Nor was this decision made to have it as a “secret society” where only those in attendance would be in the know, hence discussions online after the event and what we’re going to cover here. The reason both parties took this decision was to create what felt like a more open, hospitable, and intimate environment. Knowing a camera is pointed at you often makes people more wary in their responses and can also make those asking the questions more nervous too.
The club had said they would answer all questions put to them, some of which had not been publicly discussed before by the club. The caveat to that being that you may not like the answers they were going to give, and in that sense there will be some out there greatly disappointed at what was said. Some answers were also skirted around, with time and the number of questions, not allowing for fuller follow ups.
There was no sudden revelation that the Whitecaps are going to become a big spending side, bringing in world renowned players and high price tag Designated Players. If you were expecting that to come out of the meeting or a sudden change in the club’s playing style being announced then you were always going to be disappointed. That was frankly never going to be the case. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, but it’s the reality and fans need to decide how that sits with them. More on that later.
Those wanting to hear that and unhappy with how the club is run just now, won’t be feeling any differently, they might be even angrier, but issues were discussed and addressed, and explanations were given to how certain aspects of the club are run and how certain decisions are made.
We’re going to give you a recap of some of the main talking points here, without comment. We’ll discuss the meeting in more detail on Sunday’s AFTN Soccer Show and give our thoughts on some of the discussion points then. As I was moderating the event, I wasn’t taking any notes, so this recap is more paraphrasing and summarizing some of the stuff that was said and what I can remember!
The evening kicked off with an introduction from Jeff Mallett, welcoming everyone and explaining why the club felt this meeting was important to get the correct information out there on certain matters. Giving supporters the chance to hear the facts straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak and address issues of concern.
It became apparent over the course of the evening that the Whitecaps were keen to build some bridges with the supporters. When quizzed on the apparent disconnect between all aspects of the club to the supporters, from players to coaches to the front office, Bob Lenarduzzi said that he saw the evening as a chance for a “restart”, while Rachel Lewis admitted that the club did some things wrong in the early days of MLS and everyone was keen to put that right.
The Southsiders have been asking for more dialogue with the supporters for years (although this was the first time a format like this was suggested). A lot of animosity has built up in some quarters in the passing seasons. That helps no-one if there’s not a path to resolve that and the chance to air some of these grievances and concerns was long overdue and seemed to, on the whole, go down well with those in attendance, even if some of the content of the answers may not have.
So what was said?
– The club were in the top third of spenders prior to this season. Now they’ve dropped to the middle third. Aim is to move back into top third, but don’t expect them to compete and follow the spending of new clubs like Atlanta and LAFC, who they said have moved Whitecaps down spending charts (amongst others)
– The goal has always been, and remains, to win the MLS Cup. The club feel that they can still achieve that with their roster building strategy and compete with the big hitters in the league. They said they have not been left behind
– Don’t expect big name/money signings. The club have a mid range budget, and though that may increase, it will not increase to levels of the likes of TFC. It was mentioned that spending does not guarantee success, and Toronto’s struggles this season were highlighted
– Robbo talked about some of the difficulties in landing players for here. Mentioned that people say why don’t you bring UK players over and he talked about how much they’re paid there and ‘Caps can’t compete with that. Also talked about players having a false worth sometimes over there because their salary perhaps doesn’t match their talent. Said trying to sell the travel to some players has also been tough
– Pretty sure someone said final decision on who comes here lies with Robbo
– Whether the money that is being spent has been spent well, was brought up. Brek Shea was brought up and discussed as a “lightning rod” for these issues. The ‘Caps said they have eight players whose salaries could make them DPs. Rest were bought down with TAM or GAM. Decision was made to leave Shea at DP, so he’s there by name only and it could have been anyone (TAM/GAM is lost when a player subsequently traded as a sidenote from me)
– It’s been stated before, but was mentioned again, that club want to develop players then move them on for a profit. They want to see guys like Davies come through their system and make an impact. The Ajax model was mentioned again. A question was asked, but not really answered, about what would be done with Davies’ money. His sale seems like an expectation. I think it was thrown back who would we like to see it spent on?
– Lack of discipline was briefly discussed. Robbo said it’s not acceptable and talks have been had with players. Said people say why don’t you sign someone like Wayne Rooney. He said do you not think Rooney’s not going to get booked here
– Robbo was asked about being linked with various jobs like Wales, Swansea, and, most recently, New York Red Bulls. Said it’s flattering but he’s not going anywhere. Will be at the Whitecaps as long as the fans want him here. Said he’ll go back to Wales when he retires, no plans to go for a job
FRONT OFFICE/RUNNING OF CLUB:
– Jeff Mallett has a lot of interest in various sports teams but said that Whitecaps are his number one priority right now. He wants to grow the team and is here for the long haul. He has no plans on selling his share. Talked up BC ownership of team and passion for it. He is a fan first. Says him and Greg Kerfoot are the hands on guys. Steve Luczo more there for money he can put in to club. They are there to look after the club for the fans and all the owners are fans too
– The “football committee” was talked about. Jeff Mallett said it was the five people on stage (not me!) and Greg Kerfoot. Akin to what you would find in a board of directors at the UK, but more streamlined than a lot of the “old country” teams who have two levels of decision makers, which can hold things up, as he discovered at Derby
– The role of John Furlong was discussed. He is still involved, if not visibly so. Rachel Lewis said he is there as an advisor and brings with him a wealth of knowledge and connections that help them grow the business side of the team. They try to use his time sparingly, but wisely. Jeff Mallett indicated that it was in an unpaid capacity.
– The club have chosen not to use their charter flights more basically because of costs and budget. Said that each section of the business has an allocated budget and they choose how to use it. The decision was made not to use charters by the section that covered travel costs. Added that if they were to increase budget to cover charters, it would then have to be taken from elsewhere in the business.
– The club have already received their selling on transfer fee from Octavio Rivero’s transfer from Colo-Colo to Atlas (rumoured, but not confirmed or corrected when I mentioned it, to be $2 million). That money has already been put “back into the business”. Wasn’t indicated that this was on the playing side, so I would take it that it has gone elsewhere.
DEVELOPMENT/CANADIAN PREMIER LEAGUE:
– Club confirmed that they tried to move WFC2 to Calgary but it was blocked by CSA. They looked at other Canadian markets, including Victoria, but again no dice. They had to shut down team as UBC didn’t meet USL criteria and BC Place wasn’t an option. Fresno partnership hasn’t been great but they talked about some of their players getting minutes without going into if they felt it had been a failure in development terms. Still doesn’t fill void of WFC2
– They know they need to look at ways to get their young players playing time. They talked about loan deals such as Myer Bevan going to Sweden. Said they are looking at solutions and it is a priority.
– Whitecaps are fully supportive of Canadian Premier League. They want to work in conjunction with them to help grow the game here. Reaction back from CPL doesn’t appear to have been positive. Jeff Mallett said he might even look at buying into a club as a way to find out more about the league and get CPL talking about plans and what’s going on. A personal involvement, no an official Whitecaps one.
– Bob Lenarduzzi specifically interjected to add that he wanted to reiterate that club are not working against the CPL and is frustrated when he hears people commenting wrongly otherwise.
– The ‘Caps would like to work closely with CPL sides to get their players playing time and could see some sort of feeder system (my words, not theirs) working to supply talent and strengthen those sides. A win-win for everyone if developing Canadian talent truly is the goal from all parties (again, my words)
– No discussions held with TSS Rovers about having an official partnership with them for their Residency graduates who head to college
– Supporter/Club relations were discussed, as mentioned above. Hope from all parties is things can take a turn for the better moving forward. Robbo said he’ll speak to players about coming over after the match more but difficult to get 26 players out of their ways and on the same page. Said fans are important, but support goes two ways (my words paraphrasing what he said)
– Heavy handed security at BC Place was mentioned, including patdowns of children, as was the continued issues of having stuff approved and getting it into matches. Club said they would like feedback when this happens.
– The club had planned to induct another player into the Ring of Honour this year but that players lives in UK now and they couldn’t make a date work for him to come over and do it in person. They hope to do it with him and others going forward, whether in person or remotely. That may not then be till next year.
– The club plan to fully celebrate the 40th anniversary of winning the NASL Soccer Bowl next year. A lot of events will be planned and they joked about getting Carl Valentine out and about in his short shorts. Fans will be happy with the new strip next season with a nod to this. Cockahoop you could say!
– The evening was rounded off by each of the panel saying why people should continue to support the club, renew season tickets etc. Robbo talked about this being “your club” and that fans will be there long after they are
So that was basically it. There are probably some things I’ve missed off. If there are, just let us know in the comments below. I think/hope I’ve got what was said as accurate as possible, again, if not let me know and I’ll fix that. Hard to fully focus on everything that was said and plan where we’re going next at times.
As I said at the start, this has just been presented without comment. We’ll discuss our thoughts on some of what was discussed in the next AFTN Soccer Show. In the meantime we’d love to hear your thoughts on how you feel after what was said.