The Krafts Are the Worst Owners in the League
And that league is MLS. Bob and Jonathan Kraft might have the best reputations of any owners in American professional sports. So why don’t they seem to care about the New England Revolution?
Under the Krafts, the Revs feel stuck. Outside of PR pressure and the occasional exasperated fan Twitter or blog rant, what exactly would motivate them to seriously consider paying heaps of money to move the team to a new downtown stadium? They already own the stadium they’re in, and all the revenue streams associated with it. Plus, hosting the team in Foxboro allows at least 17 more opportunities per year to drive thousands of people to their stadium-side shopping center, Patriot Place.
Since it doesn’t appear that they want to pay for their own new stadium, the Revs’ prospects seem limited. The Krafts built their golden reputation in large part by funding Gillette Stadium’s construction mostly on their own, which makes it difficult to imagine them enduring the PR wreck of asking the public to build them a soccer stadium. Besides, the idea of giving billionaires tax breaks for stadiums has never been popular in Massachusetts. Bob has become a prominent backer of the Boston 2024 Olympic movement, and floated the idea of converting a new Olympic Stadium into something Revs-appropriate after the games. Aside from being a total pipe dream (and perhaps even a stall tactic), the Olympic gambit also seems like a side door into getting help paying for the stadium. And even if Boston does somehow wind up with the Olympics, it would mean a new Revolution stadium is still 10 years away.
As Wahl alluded, there are rumblings across the league that if the Krafts aren’t serious about the Revolution’s future, maybe another wealthy soccer-loving Bostonian should get a shot. And considering that three groups in Boston already have serious ownership stakes in major European clubs (John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group with Liverpool FC, hedge fund magnate Jim Pallotta with AS Roma, and Chestnut Hill Ventures chairman and CEO John Berylson with Millwall FC), it seems possible that there would be some willing buyers if the option opened up. Kyle Martino puts it best: “The Krafts have been very important for MLS, but it is getting to the point where if they’re not willing to see the bigger picture, it’s like, give someone a crack at reviving this team.”
There are often rumors that the Revs are looking to build a stadium somewhere north of Boston, where scads of yuppies and immigrants—the perfect soccer demographic!—live densely packed side by side. But that idea shares a lot of parallels with another long-promised project in the area, the Green Line extension to Somerville. It’s been on the planning board for so long that we’ll only believe it when the trains finally start running.
As far back as 2007, Mayor Joseph Curtatone acknowledged that there were discussions about building a stadium in the Inner Belt area of Somerville. That talk has since moved to Assembly Square, where an Orange Line stop is due to open this year. But as it stands now, it remains just that: talk.
Revere has also often been bandied about as a potential site, and its mayor, Dan Rizzo, even floated the idea in 2012 of building a stadium at the Wonderland Greyhound Park site, as part of the potential Suffolk Downs casino windfall. While the Suffolk Downs project has been through serious transformations since then, the stadium idea has gone nowhere, and when I contacted the mayor’s office, I was told there was no new news to report.
Of course, if the Revs could just close one of these damn deals for a soccer-specific stadium around the city, then these rumblings about selling the club would die. And no one knows that more than Revolution president Brian Bilello. When I spoke to Bilello, I asked him what everyone wants to know: Was there any new progress to report on the stadium?
“We’ve made progress on a number of sites,” Bilello said, failing to give specifics. “Some of those we’re no longer looking at, but a number of them we still are engaged on and trying to work some issues through. What I can say is we’re extremely committed to getting the project done. We think it’s critical to not only the Revolution but for the sport of soccer in this region to take this next-level jump. We all believe in it, but we also believe it needs to be in this urban region of Boston.”
When I asked specifically about Somerville and Revere, Bilello pivoted, saying there are many sites that haven’t been named publicly in the mix, and that, if they were to announce something, the Revolution would wait until the city announced the project first. Perhaps sensing my frustration, he leveled with me: “It’s absolutely understandable the frustration that our fans have. We’re frustrated as well. Really, for most fans, they’ll continue to be frustrated and continue to have doubts until they see a project with a shovel in the ground. And frankly I think that’s very fair for them. And I wouldn’t be committing to it on behalf of the organization, and the Krafts wouldn’t be committing to it, if it wasn’t something we wanted to do, and we’re committed to doing it. And again, I know there are fans that won’t believe it until they see it, but there’s no value to us saying we want to do it if we’re not really trying to do it.”
This line of rhetoric—the understanding and relating to the frustrations of the fans—appears to be a company line. In an interview in January with Kyle McCarthy for the New England Soccer Journal, Jonathan Kraft echoed the sentiment. “I totally get the frustration of fans,” he said. “We’re frustrated, too. But we’re going to solve it.”
Empathy is nice, but it’s a shabby replacement for a decent stadium. When I requested interviews with the Krafts through Revolution PR, I was never given a reason why Bob would not answer questions. Jonathan, at least, offered an explanation: He said he was too busy preparing for a Patriots playoff game.