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Keep Your Arms and Legs inside the Ride at all Times

By Stephanie Steiner

In August I reminded owners and front office decision-makers that our General Manager was eligible for recall vote as soon as the last whistle blew on regular season play. I looked right at Garth Lagerwey and said, “This is not a time for people to tell you they have your back. They need to have your back.” In a year with some Front Office decisions that really made people angry, Alliance Members were ready to make him pay for it. Only four months later, late at night on December tenth, I got to congratulate him and shake his father’s hand (and wipe a few of my own joyful tears). In March 2016, my in-boxes were full of hate mail over the mobile-only ticketing decision the Alliance Council didn’t influence, and in November we watched our boys advance to the Final. We learned quickly that no matter what the conversation is about “rebuilding” or “loyalty,” our fan base has little patience for it. The loyalty is deep with only a few: we have work to do there. In late spring and early summer there was incoming communication with threatening tones, and in November we finally got to drop the word “interim” from Head Coach Brian Schmetzer: at the Annual Business Meeting he shared the love Schmetz-style with all of you.

What a roller coaster of a season.No matter what we have accomplished or what is ahead of us, we are #NotDoneYet.  Thank you, Ozzie for such wise and poignant words.

Starting at the beginning: Matchpasses went away. You were angry, you were vocal. Some of you liked the mobile ticketing solution, but mostly: you don’t like being told what to do. By mid-season we knew we’d have a solution for 2017, but it would likely come with an incremental fee. Why? The app usage provides data that SSFC can sell to generate revenue. Alliance Members not using the app and using a plastic card as a ticket generate an expense for the Club instead of revenue.  One generates money, one costs money.

Also to be resurrected in 2017: a solution for matchday programs – at the time of the negotiation (a sideline conversation last summer), we didn’t know the solution. The previous programs were expensive to produce, the advertising did not cover the cost, and they generated mountains of litter in the stadium which was an additional expense to the Club: all of that litter has to be picked up. But collectors want programs, so the people who like to save their matchday experiences would have something in 2017.

MLS announced a new bag policy, and Sounders were not fully able to negotiate their way out of it. We had to deal with new bag rules restricting the dimensions of our bags with the requirements of clear bags to come in 2017. What fun, what joy, what a pain in the arse. StaffPro had one set of rules for Seahawks, one set for Sounders, several hundred people, bad communication, and I should just stop right here before I say any more. If you know me at all, you know exactly what I’m thinking. But you would have clear plastic bags provided to you before the first home match of the 2017 season – of that, we made sure.

We had our own missteps: Constitution.  The biggest priority of the year, and we had to yank back the ratification vote.  Article 8 (Supporter Groups) was simplified and rewritten to have consistent verbiage with what exists within the rest of the Constitution. There was a lot of conversation about it in meetings: some didn’t like the simplified language, some wanted it to be tougher to protect against Supporter Group dominate Council. But no one realized that deciding not to recognize a Supporter Group would eliminate the safety measures provided by MLS for away match travel. Because that was never discussed in a meeting with the Council, the Executive Committee determined the ratification process should be stopped. We communicated this to the full Council, and shut down the vote.  One little sentence = big impact. This is a good example of why I have (and still do) support not having any limits to Supporter Group members on Alliance Council.  The person who caught that issue is a Supporter Group member and former Alliance Council member (Glenn White).  Had that specific conversation happened in a Council meeting, the verbiage would have been amended immediately and easily.  It was embarrassing, but I lived through it. A big lesson was learned, and apologies were sent to Supporter Group leaders immediately.  The new verbiage is the old verbiage – consistency isn’t as important as doing what’s right.  You can review the 2017 update work from Martin Buckley and a representative from each Supporter Group here.

There were other issues that we need to address with the process of the release: I hated the email that announced the constitution ratification. If a person viewed the email on a mobile device, it was nearly impossible to tell that a constitution vote was included in the mail – it just looked like a marketing piece.  The words attached to the voting page were stuck on “nominate for council,” the same words that are always on the page (this is an issue with the voting mechanism that Ticketmaster manages).  We are working to get this rectified in 2017: there are many opportunities to vote and only one (Alliance Council) is a nomination.  Martin Buckley has already written up our proposed web changes: we’d like 2017’s voting opportunities to be clear to our Alliance Members. Of course, 2018 will be the next time we go through General Manager Vote of Confidence – so we certainly need these things cleared up by then.  We’re starting early. We start everything early.

We dealt with some extremely inappropriate communications as our Win-Loss record worsened. Some was just nasty, some was threatening, and some was uber creepy. (Note to creeps: if you’ve tweeted a player a gazillion times, emailed the front office, and thrown paper airplane letters to him at matches: Don’t email me for my help to meet him – I’m not going to help you.  No, he hasn’t missed your communication: he’s ignoring you.  Yes, I am always “this mean.”  <– Seriously.) One person emailed me that they wished the demise of our former coach.  My reply was a four-letter word followed by the word “you.” He questioned my professionalism, so I corrected my reply to include proper capitalization and punctuation and added our logo – I wanted it to look “professional” while I told him to take a good look in the mirror and think about what he’d just wished upon our Head Coach. I alerted the FO to what was going on and learned their customer service reps were experiencing similar situations: complaints are about 20x higher after a loss versus a win.  Suddenly my sexuality was in question by our season ticket members because our team was losing..?  How is this even close to appropriate? (BTW: if I actually engaged in what I was accused of, I’d have a lot more money). We had a long discussion at a Council meeting about the whole situation: not all people are sane. It was a downer of a conversation. The next meeting, I promised Council some follow up from the Front Office on how to deal “when things go unexpectedly,” but that was just a cover story for a surprise visit from Cristian Roldan that I sneaked in there to reward everyone for all of their work. Yes, it’s true: I might be trying to arrange a marriage between he and my niece in a totally justified, non-creepy kind of way.  At least it seems that way in my head.

In other exciting news: women are people too! Well at least in 2016 they were. We were able to work with the Club to address the years of complaints about the necklines on the women’s jerseys. Doug Orweiler and Taylor Graham were able to change the 2017 jersey in progress to create a jersey reflective of the real one worn on the field. There were three (known) complaints in social media (all from men, interestingly) and thousands of positive comments.

One of your favorite events, the annual Scarf Vote returned in a big way: the 2017 scarf that you chose received more votes than all the votes cast in total during the same contest in 2015 for this 2016’s scarf.  Though we couldn’t tell you yet, the scarf chosen would go magnificently well with the 2017 Heritage jersey – that was a fun secret to keep.

We got to bring you a Chalk Talk with Garth Lagerwey.  We want to do much more of that in the future, perhaps through different forms of media.  Garth is an engaging speaker, he answers questions really well (the ones he’s allowed to answer), and listening to him helps people understand where we’re headed.  While we’re on a related topic, I’m often asked why meetings with owners and the GM are kept confidential. We agree to confidentiality so that owners and the General Manager can share information that they aren’t allowed to share publically. If you consider that one of our main roles is to evaluate the performance of the General Manager (a recall vote would be initiated by the Alliance Council), it’s important that we have insight beyond what we can read about what has already happened. We need to have access to what the General Manager is working on.

Some of our final activities of the year were to recognize Drew Carey – a statement from Council that established him as the “George Washington” of the Alliance; essentially it formally declared that he shall always be mentioned in any historical recap of the Club or the Alliance.  With Drew Carey’s recognition preserved, we named a new Honorary Chair of the Alliance, Coach Brian Schmetzer.

Late in 2015, we passed the attendance bylaw which established minimum attendance guidelines for our Council members. 2016 was the first year of this bylaw being in effect. The biggest impact is a smaller Council: conversations were held in the off-season with incumbent members running for re-election.  They were asked to consider if they were going to commit to the Council and actively participate. One member received his 25th vote and immediately resigned rather than participate at a low level.  Council will be even smaller in 2017, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Historically, the Council has been large when people had something to lose: they self-nominated for a single issue.  That doesn’t mean large numbers were productive, and it doesn’t mean smaller numbers won’t be productive.  Productivity or lack thereof is a distinct attribute of the individuals involved, not the quantity of individuals.  Below is the attendance chart of the 2016 Council.

At the time of this writing, 2017 is already underway. We’ve started participating in things differently and have implemented a system of Strategy Sessions with the Club: one meeting with a Front Office department head nearly each month to review what’s coming in advance of their deadlines.  The first ones will be Food and Beverage, Marketing, Corporate Partnerships, and Community. Later, we’ll dive into Ticket Renewal, Retail and Jerseys, and I’m certain there will be new topics that come up – we know we’ll need to plan for GM Vote.  We also have a list of initiatives that we’re working on independently of these Strategy Sessions.  We’ll add more and check them off as they’re completed.

Thank you all for the support.  Thank you for being Eternal Blue and Forever Green. Thank you for keeping your commitment when things were ugly and it wasn’t very fun. There will be another time (hopefully a very long time from now) when it isn’t that fun.  It’s up to us to build the loyalty and strength among our young fans now, so that they get through it then.  I was recently asked by a reporter if I’m here to ‘make the experience great.’  My answer was something like: Well sort of. I’m actually here to make this Club last forever. I’m here for the people who aren’t born yet.  Us die-hards? That’s why we’re here: we’re always leaning forward but seeing who we can bring with us. We want an amazing experience, sure – but “making it great” is actually about making great people who are going to make everything better than we can think of.  That’s why I’m here. 2016 was hard. There will be other hard years. Let’s build a future Club better than we can think of.

That’s it from me for now. If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve probably had enough of my “me-ness.” If only Martin had written this it would be so much more professional, include the word “splendid,” and you could read it in your head in a British accent 🙂

Go Sounders!