TFC Town Hall Meeting – Part 2
On Monday evening I was the guest of the Red Patch Boys Supporters Group, who invited me to attend and observe their group’s town hall meeting with MLS management and document what I observed. First off I want to thank Boris and Phil from RPB for the invitation and giving me the opportunity to come to their meeting to observe and also giving me the chance to compare for myself what the MLSE party line in these sessions is for individual supporters versus supporters groups.
Suffice it to say tonight’s meeting was significantly different in tone and in content than the session I attended last week and I will get to the specifics in a bit.
Before I do I wanted to get to the substance of the session. There were at least 100+ in attendance this evening. Unlike last Thursday Jim Brennan was in attendance along with Tom Anselmi, Paul Beirne and Earl Cochrane. Tom Anselmi covered off pretty well just about the same ground he covered last week with regards to their response to fan anger over price increases. The open letter published last week pretty well covered it what they spoke to. He mentioned again the removal of the CONCACAF games as a response to fan anger. Many in the room literally scoffed at that statement. One fan stated that it was not a break for true supporters by removing the CONCACAF games as they would certainly buy those games anyways if the team qualified.
Earl Cochrane, in just about the only time he spoke, quickly talked about the tight time lines he and/or his successors are facing with the expansion and re-entry drafts coming in weeks and with the combine and SuperDraft coming early in 2011. He stated that himself and Jimmy Brennan are getting on with the job and that decisions are not waiting for the new powers to be. Like last week I must confess Earl Cochrane impressed me with his demeanor and apparent intent to remain part of the future of Toronto FC. Jim Brennan was only asked one question and it was asked to him from the perspective of a recent player rather than a part of TFC management. He was asked if the lack of support from the supporters sections last Saturday would have impacted him as a player on the field. Essentially he confirmed that it would have.
Red Patch Boys members kept coming back again and again to the pricing increases and the apparent lack of justification from the club for them. One fan stated that the timing of the increase before Christmas was particularly bad for him. Paul Beirne replied that there was an increase from three payments to four for fans choosing to buy tickets on the installment plan to try and lessen the hit. Another fan, like yours truly did last week, tried to pin Anselmi down on a justification or the per game increase and the hit on their collective pocketbooks. Many supporters were visibly upset and talked over one another often trying to get their collective points across about the price increases during this part of the session.
Tom Anselmi in my opinion continues to not get the issue, or is at least not willing publicly to acknowledge what is really getting to fans about this point. Each time RPB members tried to communicate their issues with the per game increases Anselmi kept coming back to the results on the pitch. Yes the on field product has been a significant issue for supporters, but if Tom Anselmi gets 25 questions and Earl Cochrane gets zero then it probably means that one of the largest groups of organized TFC fans out there feels that getting priced out of the stadium is more of a concern for die hard fans than wins and losses are.
There were a number of questions and statements from disgruntled supporters and time/your collective patience precludes me from getting to all of them. A few specifics stood out for me.
One gentleman stated that he had an invoice from TFC for almost $10,000 for six tickets that he was walking away from. Even though he was walking away from the stadium and giving up his tickets he still felt that it was important for him to come to the meeting tonight and voice his personal displeasure to Tom Anselmi directly. He cared enough about the club to voice his issues directly even after his decision to not renew in the hope that it may lead to change.
Another question about the MLS Cup and why it was included in the 2011 package got Paul Bierne to publicly acknowledge that the ticketing for the cup game was in retrospect an error on their part. Apparently MLSE is getting their heads wrapped around the fact that the MLS Cup would not be the showcase event they originally thought it was going to be and they are surprised by it.
When asked about consolidation of supporters in specific sections, as many are scattered throughout the field, Paul Beirne stated it was hard to do as you would have to make current seat holders move. He committed to looking into it if and when the stadium is expanded.
On the subject of scalpers Paul stated that they are committed to getting them of fCNE grounds. Again many in the room scoffed at that response considering that there have been dozens of them on CNE grounds all season. There was no response to questions about what they are trying to do to get tickets out of scalpers hands. Once again MLSE is not seriously making an effort to address this long standing concern in a public manner.
On the “news” front there were three things that stood out for me. One was when Tom Anselmi angrily stated, when questioned about the level of influence that Mo Johnston’s former agent Barry MacLean may still have with Toronto FC. Anselmi stated that MacLean “...has no fucking influence on me…”. He stated that he may have had in the past (alluding to the somewhat uncomfortable/cozy relationship between MacLean and Mo Johnston) but does not now. As an agent with players on the roster he is able to come to games.
When pressured to commit to a future supporters section price freeze Anselmi stated that this was something they were willing to look at for the next season ticket campaign in 2011. The room was quite noisy and some thought that he stated that he was committing to do so. I can confirm that he did not do any such thing. Publicly acknowledging it as something they might consider in the future was definitely newsworthy.
Finally on the news front Paul and Tom both verbally committed to the continuation of this “town hall” process going forward. Again in response to a question there will likely be some sort of “open/letter” type communication to fans before the season ticket renewal window closes this week covering of what MLSE feels they have learned from this process.
Other than the specifics covered above there are two general observations I picked up from this meeting that I thought worthy of sharing. On many occasions RPB members were very emotional in their approach to the questions asked. In a few cases one question from one supporter would elicit another follow on question from another even before MLSE management would even have the chance to answer. In my eyes this was nothing more than fans feeling so let down by MLSE that they were on a few occasions not able to control their emotions as much as they wanted when they were given a chance to vent directly to the people making the decisions they vehemently disagreed with. Again this should put into more perspective how truly upset much of the dedicated TFC fan base actually is.
The second was the change in tone from Tom Anselmi himself. Sitting up there and getting pounded session after session by angry fans questioning your ability, integrity and competence is definitely not the easiest thing to do. And I can honestly report that unfortunately this process may be getting to him. He was significantly more abrupt and testy in his responses this evening than he was four days ago.
There will be one more session I will be attending on Wednesday and I will report back on that session as well.
And again thank you to the Red Patch Boys for allowing me to attend their session.