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Krafting in New England

In the late 1980s/early 1990s, then New England Patriots ownership attempted to move the franchise out of Massachusetts. Moves to Jacksonville and St. Louis were mooted, opening the door for Robert Kraft, a local fan, to buy the team. Two years after taking over the Pats, Kraft founded the New England Revolution. The Revs are one of the original 10 pioneer clubs in Major League Soccer. Piggybacking off the success of hosting the 1994 World Cup, Kraft saw a growing opportunity with soccer in the United States. With all the news in the past few days swirling around the relationship among Kraft, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady, I thought it would be a good idea to explore the two clubs in Foxborough under Kraft’s control.

The Empire

Just a few seasons after Kraft took over the Patriots they went to the Super Bowl. This was their first appearance in over 10 years, and ended a drought during which fans were getting used to losing. Their only playoff appearance between the ’86 Super Bowl loss to the Chicago Bears and their loss to the Packers in ’97 was a loss to the Cleveland Browns in 1994. Yes, the Browns. I know.

Little did we know as Patriots fans that we were a couple years away from becoming a force. Bill Belichick took over the reins as Head Coach in 2000 and led the Patriots to a 5-11 record. That season is now the most recent the Pats have finished with a losing record. Since then, they have had only one season in which they finished with single-digit wins (9-7 in 2002), won their division 15 times, been to 7 Super Bowls, and won 5 of them.

We already know all this, though. My point is the Patriots are good. Under Kraft’s ownership they have become perennial winners, have developed a winning formula, and have created an atmosphere in and around the stadium that fans flock to. On game day, if you don’t yet have tickets, you can simply go to one of the many bars and restaurants at Patriot Place to watch a game. And people do. It’s an exciting place to be… when you’re there for a Patriots game. After all, it is the Patriots getting very good that pushed Kraft to fund a new stadium, then build a retail destination to draw more and more people in.

The Here and Now

Much has been said over the past few days about cracks beginning to show in New England. That Tom, Bill, and Bob aren’t on the same page. I’m sure over the years there have been disagreements and as Tom ages decisions about how to move forward get more difficult. However, I don’t think this means the dynasty is crumbling to the ground. The Patriots are poised to make another deep playoff run. If they make the Super Bowl this year they’ll be a win away from mirroring their 2001-2004 success when they won their first 3. That’s insane. And thoroughly enjoyable as a Patriots fan.

Even if they start to show break apart, the machine that is the New England Patriots will carry on. The system is just too regimented and precise to not. We’re still looking at a few more solid years of success from the Patriots. Sorry, not sorry everyone else.

What about the Revolution?

The Revs are a team who have been up and down over their 24 year history. They’ve had solid US players such as Alexi Lalas, Taylor Twellman, and Clint Dempsey. They’ve made it to, but lost, 5 MLS Cup finals. Since 1999, they’ve been managed by Liverpool legend Steve Nicol and former Revs player Jay Heaps. Under Nicol, the Revs made the playoffs in 8 straight seasons and fought to their two Eastern Conference first place finishes.

After running through those stats, you may be wondering what the heck the problem is. Let’s shift gears to the revolution that’s not happening with the Revolution. For as great as they are as owners of the Patriots, the Krafts seemingly ignore their younger step-brother. Why is this? Let’s take a look…

The Designated Player

I’d like to start by saying I really dislike the Designated Player rule, but for now it’s something I (we) have to live with. Essentially, it gives a club the chance to sign players who would otherwise have been outside their salary cap. This rule came into play back in 2007, just before David Beckham came to MLS with the LA Galaxy. It was created to open up the ability for MLS teams to compete for signings of International stars. Here’s how it works:

  • If over the age of 23, $480,625 (latest charge as of 2017, will likely increase in the 2018 season) of a Designated Player’s salary is paid by the league, with anything over that paid by the team’s owner.
  • 21-23 year olds count for $200,000
  • Players under 21 count for $150,000
  • Teams can have up to 3 Designated Players at a time
  • If already using 2 spots, and signing a DP under 23, that player won’t be charged as the 3rd DP.

MLS salary rules are convoluted and should be fixed (among other things) in order to continue to become competitive with other International leagues. That said, The Revolution rarely take advantage of the Designated Player slot. Currently, they are the only team in MLS without one (check out the others here). Ugh.

Designated in New England

The last time the Revs went all in on a DP was when they brought Kei Kamara in from Columbus via trade two seasons ago. That had mixed results. The last truly impactful DP for NE was Jermaine Jones, who came in halfway through the 2014 season and helped lead the Revolution to a 10-1-1 record and into Extra Time in the MLS Cup final against the Galaxy. They lost that game, but the impact of having a star caliber player was apparent.

The Krafts are clearly not afraid to spend money, so they need to take advantage of at least 2 DP slots in the coming season in order to get themselves back into playoff contention. New head coach Brad Friedel, a legend of a US Goalkeeper who played internationally during his career, will be expecting some more flexibility. He’s going to need to find a way to put a true mark on this team and help them move out of the stagnant waters they’ve been lingering in for the past few seasons.

Stadium Accessibility

Gillette Stadium is not an easy place to get to, and that needs to change. There’s a train that runs from Boston’s South Station to Foxboro, across the street from Gillette. For Patriots games, it’s a great way to show up to tailgate and not have to worry about how you’re getting home. The problem though, is it only runs on Patriots game days. Whittle that down to approximately 10 times per season (if they make a playoff run). If you’re paying attention, you’ve realized that it doesn’t run for the roughly 17 home games the Revolution play.

What does this mean for Revs games? Fans who may have otherwise gone to the game are deterred from going. There’s just no easy way to get there. Public transportation to a sporting event is crucial. Fans will be more likely to go, and it’s going to do nothing but improve potential revenue at the stadium. It feels like a waste right now. The average attendance is abysmal, and it looks even worse due to the size of the stadium. Gillette has a capacity of 66,829. The average attendance for the Revolution in 2017 was 19,367. What does that give you? A stadium that looks like this.

Boston has a constantly growing International community, with a flourishing tech boom and a ton of college students. The ticket prices are reasonable, so why not make it easier for them to get there? If the only option to attend a soccer game is to drive, we’re missing at least half of the potential fan-base. I was a season ticket holder for 2 seasons and found it difficult to get to as many games as I would like because I don’t have a car. Granted one of those seasons I spent the majority of it living in another country, but that’s besides the point.

If You Build It, They Will Come

Much of the step-child syndrome can be fixed if Kraft is able to find a place to put a new stadium. Many teams in MLS started in dual-purpose stadiums, then shifted to soccer specific ones. Others have come into the league straight into a soccer specific stadium. It’s important to create atmosphere. Think about it. 19,000 people in a 66,000 seat stadium compared to a full 30,000 who were more easily able to get to the game. To me, it’s a no-brainer.

Since 2006, there has been talk for the Revolution to make a move. Unfortunately, potential deals keep falling apart for one reason or another. In order to get to that next level and build a true culture in and around Boston, this needs to come to fruition. Kraft has explored space in Roxbury, Somerville, Revere, Dorchester, and South Boston. Kraft even was a part of Boston’s failed bid for the 2024 Olympics, hoping to keep the Olympic Stadium for the Revs.

I say we need to do this as if it’s an easy thing. Zoning laws, transportation worries, and fears of drunk college kids stumbling out of the stadium into residential streets are all legitimate concerns. A key is figuring out what the franchise can give back to that community. Otherwise, how can those on the fence be convinced to vote in favor of a stadium?

What’s Next For The Revolution?

It’s time to think out of the box. Brad Friedel comes into his first job as a head coach after tutelage under Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham head coach), having most recently played with Spurs. He has a fantastic football mind who can bring this team to glory. That is, if the Krafts are willing to open up their pockets.

They need to find a way to build a new stadium. At the very least they need to make Gillette more accessible via public transportation. Designated Player slots can’t be ignored, and recognizable players need to come in. Develop more homegrown players like Diego Fagundez. Build a community similar to the one that has been built for the Patriots. Bring some excitement to the club. And for the love of all that is holy PLEASE change the team crest. This isn’t a cute attempt at bringing soccer to New England anymore. It’s time to be taken seriously. The Revs fan base is indeed a rabid one, when they’re able to make it to games. It’s time to grow that base and take the team to new heights.

Let’s start the Revolution. Who’s with me?

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