PTFC Front Office relations update: September

09/28/2022 9:11 AM | 107ist Admin (Administrator)

On Monday, September 19, the 107IST board, along with members of the Riveters and Timbers Army steering committees, met with Merritt Paulson. (Chris Wilson, VP of Member Services and Ticket Strategy, and Karina LeBlanc also attended as observers.)

For many, this was the first meeting they'd ever had with Paulson. The board itself had not met with him since early 2020. For those who had met him before, some felt that those interactions were not always collaborative. For this meeting, however, everyone came to the table committed to actively and openly listen to each other.

The goal of the meeting was to be able to ask Paulson the questions our supporters have had and to share the frustration they have expressed over the past year. We wanted to hear from him directly what the clubs are doing differently today, how the internal culture is changing, and how he plans to repair the relationship with supporters.

We were able to ask direct questions and have a candid conversation about some tough topics — and most left the meeting feeling that the conversation was productive. While we cannot divulge what was shared with us for confidentiality and legal reasons, we can share what we discussed. Specifically, we asked the following:

  • Will you accept the findings and recommendations of the USSF, NWSL and NWSLPA investigations?
    • The DLA Piper investigation, in what was reported, seems to be incomplete. Are there plans to circle back with the players and talk with them?
  • If we were to roll back seven years, what would you do differently? What do you feel like you have taken away from the past 12 months? As the PTFC CEO, what education are you receiving and what are you engaging in, specifically, to ensure that this series of missteps does not continue? 
  • You have seen and heard the frustration that the supporters have about the investigations and the subsequent reporting coming out about the clubs. We recently conducted a survey. In it, nearly 81% of those responding as current members want us to increase pressure or push harder against the FO if no meaningful change happens. Many volunteers who contribute to the game day atmosphere and long-time supporters of both clubs feel disheartened with what they perceive as a lack of action and accountability. Many supporters who have been with the clubs since 2010 — or longer — are canceling their season tickets and/or are not attending matches. Many believe someone in leadership should be let go. 

    • What do those actions say to you?
    • How do you think about repairing the relationship with supporters now and into the future?
    • What are your thoughts on repairing views on the FO if folks don't see meaningful external improvements in FO behavior in light of what came out in The Athletic article about workplace behavior and folks' own interactions with you on social media?

Paulson was clear that the FO is not able to discuss the investigations until the results are made public. We have asked the FO repeatedly to be fully open and transparent about events and the investigations, and there was recognition that beginning to repair the relationship with the community will be easier to do in the coming weeks. Paulson acknowledged the damage done and apologized to the room, which is a step forward. We are encouraged that once the results of the investigations are public, the FO will articulate much of the information shared with us in private over the past year. The board and the steering committees feel confident that the FO has been listening to our suggestions and feedback over the past year and has been implementing positive changes within the organization. 

We want to be clear about what this meeting and this message is not — and that is, “That’s it. We’re done, so let’s get back to soccer!” We are aware of the complexities and emotions supporters and our community have been experiencing over the last 12 months — from showing up to protest for the NWSL players to have better protections and support, to deciding whether to renew season tickets. Over the last year, many supporters have made the tough decision to step away from the club, and others have reconsidered their decisions as each new chapter came to light. We, as the board and the steering committees, fully understand that. This is emotionally taxing for everyone.

The board will continue to engage with the FO in monthly meetings, and we will always push for progress and express the voices of the supporters. We all volunteer and are supporters because we love and value these clubs, the players, and this community — rain or shine. 

It is important to note: The U.S. Soccer Federation recently announced that their investigation is coming to a close and that they plan on publishing the full report in early October. The NWSL and NWSL Players Association investigation is ongoing and will be published once complete. We are looking forward to the results of these investigations, the E60 documentary and the outcome(s) for the FO. We may have more to say as those results are published.

Comments

  • 09/28/2022 3:27 PM | Nicholas Garner
    When can we expect answers to the questions?

    I got the impression from earlier communications that opinions among 107IST members were more split. 81% is a lot more favorable toward pushing the FO than is suggested by those previous communications and, frankly, what the 107IST has publicly said and done so far. What might explain the seeming disconnect?

    I have some sense of the hard work done behind the scenes, know and respect members of the board and other volunteers, and appreciate discretion and tact, but it has been incredibly disheartening to not feel like enough is being done to lead, communicate, and educate the community about these issues. Furthermore, it has seemed at times like the 107IST, the steering committee, or simply individual volunteers have actively thwarted efforts by SCAN and others to press for more accountability. I can't help but feel we'd have made more progress if there were more transparency, diplomacy, and encouragement toward supporters than the impression of appeasing the FO. Perhaps this isn't fair and I don't know shit but I'd say I'm more clued in than many so I can only imagine how those with more casual engagement as supporters make of all this.

    This is going to sound insulting but it has felt like the 107IST has been the good cop to the FO bad cop rather than the good cop to the supporters' bad cop. It has felt more complicit, political, and pragmatic toward FO appeasement than in doing the right thing and taking a strong leadership stance. Being assertive comes with risk and I'm aware of some of the stakes, especially as far as game day ops are concerned, keeping seats GA and affordable, pushing for grass and safe standing, etc. But what is all of that even for if our sacrifice our culture, our ethics, our credibility?

    To be sure, there are 107IST members or supporters who have no little to no problem with the FO, see critics as unreasonable agitators, etc. But it is still the responsibility of the 107IST leadership to be true to the ethos and mission on which the organization was founded, how we've tried to project ourselves and behave. The contrast between how this has been handled with the Iron Front is, if not glaring, at least clear. At the risk of further generalizing and alienating, it is akin to the Democratic party talking a big talk about pushing for social justice issues, only to abandon action and make sacrifices until the time comes to rally the base for the next election cycle. We can't continue to appease oppressive and exploitative people, sacrifice the most marginalized, and expect to succeed long-term, at least not with our integrity intact.

    I think the 107IST leadership is far less cynical and pragmatic, so it pains me frame the situation that way. It isn't a like for like comparison but hopefully it conveys a sense of frustration and betrayal. We've been losing ardent supporters, missing opportunities to gain more supporters from marginalized communities, and don't seem to have much to show for it in terms of FO accountability.

    I don't envy the position that leadership is in. Even without the FO scandals this has been a rough few years. I appreciate that everyone is a volunteer and that most are probably not educated or experienced in many facets of how this shit works. It is unpaid, on-the-job training, for well-meaning, passionate, people. I get the frustration and resentment but it can still come across as making excuses.

    I've given up season tickets for Timbers (after having been on the waitlist) and Thorns (after having been an inaugural member). It is hard to imagine renewing. I haven't been to most matches this past season. Providence Park used to be my church. Now I don't even know the schedule. I planned to renew my 107IST membership and maybe even maintain my Stuff of the Month membership next season, but lately I don't know. That's not meant to be a threat. I'm just saying my heart's not in it as much anymore, and that's entirely about what the FO and 107IST are doing and not doing, and zero to do with the players and what's happening on the pitch. I don't want to let the assholes win and ruin this beautiful thing for myself and others.

    So much is riding on these reports. Even with what we already know, the FO has continually said and done the wrong things, only made token gestures and done what they should have done already - often half-assed - and even doubled down and been antagonistic toward legitimate criticism. Some specific indications that the individuals involved actually understand, are really trying to improve, and are genuinely sorry would go a long way. I don't feel like we've seen that. I worry that legal considerations prevent them from acknowledging responsibility but given the behavior of individual members of the FO, I don't think that's what's preventing them from public expressions of remorse. They seriously don't seem to get it, don't want to get it, and aggressively push back against attempts to get the slightest amount of sincere effort from them.

    I hope for good news soon but it always seems like there's one more scandal around the corner.
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  • 09/28/2022 4:45 PM | Alan Moore
    This is the most disheartening sentence I’ve ever seen from the 107IST: “The board and the steering committees feel confident that the FO has been listening to our suggestions and feedback over the past year and has been implementing positive changes within the organization.”

    You link to the set of supposed reforms the Club has implemented. They seem mostly very surface and far from transformative. I can speak to one reform from personal experience. I and others filed a complaint through the new “ Anonymous Reporting System for Supporters”.

    The Club makes claims relevant to that “system”: “We are committed to an environment where everyone is treated with respect and dignity. We condemn, and will investigate, all forms of discrimination and harassment and have created this form so anyone may report an incident or concern to our organization anonymously through this online form.”

    I can say unequivocally that their pledge to “investigate all forms of discrimination” is just bullshit for the gullible based on my experience. Months ago we filed a complaint about harassment in the stadium including evidence of threats of violence. The result? Absolutely nothing. Just an email saying they’d received the complaint. No interviews, no follow up, no investigation.

    So from my perspective this update reads like something written by people subject to the Stockholm Syndrome. You’ll excuse me for not being as enthused as the leaders of the 107IST are. Whatever the 107IST got in exchange for this compliant posture wasn’t worth it.
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  • 09/29/2022 8:14 AM | Shelli Whitmarsh
    How are we, as mere 107ist members, who are not “in the room” supposed to learn anything from your very vague “updates?” You have, literally, been releasing the same statement, over and over, that you are having so-called heartfelt, productive conversations with the FO. Color me skeptical but I have little faith in any of this process when you give us NO USEFUL INFORMATION.
    I gave up my season tickets and now, I guess, I will give up 107ist membership too. That’s just sad.
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  • 09/29/2022 2:34 PM | Bridget O'Boyle
    So great to see the questions with no answers. That seems to be status quo. Some people are "in the room where it happens" and the rest just need to keep waiting. The mere fact that MP et all can't parade and celebrate the positive changes that are happening is telling. My faith is completely gone in the FO/execs. I appreciate the effort of all of the 107ist volunteers, especially those taking on this task. However it's become clear that this SG is more worried about pissing off the FO so they can stay at the table, than pissing off the FO enough to force change or walk away. Frustrating.
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