TFC Town Hall Meeting – Part 3
Cynics might call it all a PR exercise. Others might call it damage control. And to an extent both statements might be correct. But the three TFC Town Hall meetings I have attended in the last week, including the third with the U Sector supporters group on Wednesday evening certainly felt like more than just simply an exercise in spin.
And it is no coincidence that MLS Grand Poobah Don Garber was also in Toronto this week extolling the virtues of the MLS Cup and all things TFC. This PR offensive is definitely a sign that the club believes that they have both of course on and off the pitch royally screwed up and that fences have to be mended and hearts and minds have to me won over once again to the plans the club intends to carry out moving ahead.
On Monday evening Ton Anselmi committed to the Town Hall meetings process, and they will be a continuing fixture going forward. One TFC senior staffer told me off line that in fact at the conclusion of the last public session on Thursday evening the club is going into “war room” mode that night so that they can as quickly as possible draft and publish what they as a club are wiling to say they have either learned or are willing to change going forward from these meetings. Do not be surprised if there is another “open letter” from the club before the end of the week as part of this process. And with the Friday season ticket renewal deadline upon us I think they truly believe that another message to wavering fans is definitely going to take place.
On the substance side of the meeting itself there was not much new information to report that was not covered off in my earlier two reports about issues off the field. However some positions the club held appear to be slightly changing. In the first two sessions I attended Tom Anselmi stated that he felt the biggest thing he felt fans were angry about was season ticket sticker shock more due to the inclusion of additional games like the CONCACAF matches and the MLS Cup rather than the per game increases. Ansemli stated on Wednesday however that he was now very much aware that it was of course the opposite for a larger segment of the fan base that he was aware of going before going into the Town Halls.
On the field issues were more of a point of discussion on Wednesday than in the first two meetings I was involved in. Assistant GM Jim Brennan spoke to the future of the club on the pitch, and he spoke in significantly more detail than previously. Brennan stated that as part of this renewal Toronto FC needs to find and embrace a true style of play/philosophy that can be used to build the club around. He lamented that in the past four years there has been way too much “kick and run” played by TFC and that he wants the club to embrace more of an “...on the deck…free flowing style of football...”. He also stated that there will be less of an emphasis placed on recruitment from the British Isles and more of a focus placed on Central and South America for affordable players that are willing to play here and embrace this style of play. When asked about “the revolving door” on the dressing room that saw the club go through more than 80 players in four seasons, Jimmy and Interim GM Earl Cochrane confirmed that they do envision at least one more off season of wholesale changes (this one!). A staffer off line opined to me that he thinks that at least a dozen or more on the current roster will be moving on soon.
The MLSE representatives also collectively stated that they feel that the TFC job is one they think is highly attractive in the soccer world. They feel that the club is well supported financially and when resources like “Pro-Zone” or highly paid conditioning coaches like Paul Winsper are requested they are always obtained. No one would elaborate on if they are going to go with the “New York Red Bull” approach of having a collective management group run the club or going the “Bruce Arena/Stevie Nichol” type of management model with a coach being the primary leader of the club going forward. A senior staffer told me one on one that we can perhaps expect a significant management signing as soon as a week or two from today. When pushed on the point Anselmi confirmed that it is likely to be a name soccer fans will recognize and that the individual has a “…significant record of success…”.
Stay tuned on that front I guess.
On the Designated Player front Earl Cochrane offered a spirited defense of controversial DP Julian de Guzman by stating that he feels that JDG is a wonderful player that needs better quality players around him to prosper and that expecting him to score goals is unrealistic. When asked about the future of DP signings Cochrane did state his personal belief that the DP, if used properly can be a great tool to tun around the fortunes of the club. He also stated clearly that it is also his belief that the DP is best used on offensive minded players that can get you the 10-15 goals per season a MLS club needs to be competitive. What that says for the future of de Guzman with Toronto FC is I guess open to interpretation.
Finally Cochrane intimated that there are two TFC Academy players that he thinks are close to perhaps signing with the first team in 2011. Reading between the lines I guess he is referring to Astone Morgan and Oscar Cordon, who acquitted themselves well in the season ender for TFC at BMO Field Tuesday evening against Arabe Unido.
So there you have it. Three nights of meetings with senior TFC staff leave me with the following conclusions I want to share:
- On the season ticket/pricing issues do not expect any more changes or concessions other than the ones already made by the club in spite of widespread fan anger.
- We will definitely see another communication from the club on or before Friday as they will probably post another “open letter” such as the one we all read last week.
- The club is bracing for what very well may be an embarrassment during the MLS Cup if they fail to whip up fan interest in the game. Don Garber’s visit on Tuesday was the beginning of what is likely going to be a PR offensive by the club as they try and convince wavering fans that the Cup Final is a spectacle worthy of watching live.
- TFC seriously thought that the MLS Cup being included in season ticket packages was not going to be the issue it has become for thousands of fans. Anselmi stated that the lesson here is that TFC is the product and not Major League Soccer for better or worse to most of the TFC fan base. TFC has failed in my eyes in selling MLS as a product and interest here in the league is scant in spite of TFC playing in it. This is arguably one of the biggest errors in club history.
- TFC is willing on the face of it to accommodate some of the unique interests of supporters groups as long as that can be accomplished without negatively impacting other paying customers at the same time. And they also get the fact that one of the primary concerns of supporters groups members is that they do not long term want to get priced out of the building little by little year by year.
Toronto FC’s much vaunted season ticket waiting list will probably get a real test next week. Without a doubt there will be a drop off in the number of season ticket renewals in comparison to the 2010 campaign. There will yet be more fan unrest and dissatisfaction for the club to deal with in the run up to the MLS Cup. No matter what the type of response comes out of these Town Halls will be will not be enough for many.
For many supporters the honeymoon is over and they are walking away. Many others are giving the club one more chance to get it right. Others appear be more sanguine and are willing to give the new regime, whoever that tuns out to be, the chance to turn things around.
Whether these meetings or the other measures the club is planning to take will be enough to get fans back on board I guess we will know soon when the first real metric of season ticket renewal numbers come out. If you are on the waiting list expect a phone call…
For a more detailed blow by blow of the entire meeting on Wednesday and all the responses to U Sector’s specific questions please take a look at the following link: http://z15.invisionfree.com/U_Sector/index.php?showtopic=14112&st=0&#entry6863573
Your comments as always are greatly appreciated.