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.