Joint Summit Recap
A brief summary of what was discussed at the first SoB / Union Joint Summit. The Summit was kicked off with an introduction of the Sobs of Ben board members. Fan Services VP Mike Quarino provided initial questions for John Hackworth and Nick Sakiewicz.
The Sons of Ben Board members present talked about their roles: Kenny Hanson (Operations), Kelly Delany (Travel Coordinator - and much more), Tim Sosar (Tifo), Tina Eunson (Membership), Dan Sullivan (Communications & Partnerships), Lorenzo Rivera (Game Day Operations and Tailgates) and Ami Oristaglio (Tailgates).
Addressed were transfer movement and the team's approach to defense and depth. Sakiewicz discussed how pleased he and the team were to acquire Oka Nikolov, who will not only serve as a mentor to the younger U goalkeepers but will also have a chance to compete. He described Nikolov as a consummate pro and teammate. He went on to indicate that the team will not only continue to be active during the current window, but already have plans for the winter, as well. They were asked if any more team members are a threat to be dealt away, and Sakiewicz stated firmly that nobody on the current roster is on the block.
Hackworth addressed the Defense question by reiterating that Goals For is a prime tie-breaker for the playoffs. They do work to achieve a positive Goal Differential, but in the process if having an attacking mindset, he acknowledges that there will be times that defense is compromised.
They went on to say that the plan for this year is to develop the youngest roster to their full potential, but with an eye on making the playoffs. Hackworth believes that if they can achieve that positive GD while continuing to attack, they can achieve that. Sakiewicz stated that they failed to maintain that identity last season, and that was why he fired Peter Nowak.
They were asked by an audience member how the team is helping the young players as they develop as professionals, and they discussed having a full-time sports psychologist as well as a mentoring program.
They also discussed the rigors of playing in the US, and emphasized the vast disparity in terms of the amount if travel MLS players have over the course of season as compared to their Euro counterparts and how it cuts into training time. Sakiewicz said it is a huge barrier to overcome for players coming in from overseas who are not used to such a dynamic.
Additionally, Sakiewicz talked about future enhancements to PPL Park, such as adding on to The River End, while maintaining the attitude that it is "Soccer First".
Other questions from the audience covered other areas. They admitted that access and efficiency of public transportation, especially post-game needs to be improved. He strongly urged people to contact SEPTA to force their hand. He did the same in regard to the media coverage the team gets. He pressed the audience to contact their preferred media outlets to offer more Union coverage. His reasoning is that the more the public demands, they greater a chance that demand will be met.
An audience member asked about the true status of the team's relationship with the city of Chester. Sakiewicz said that we should not believe everything we read in the news. While there may be a leader who has publicly painted the team in a negative light, he feels the relationship with the 45,000 people living their is both far stronger and (in the team's perspective) more important. The taxes are paid, and the team's investment in the city and it's youth continues.
Also, he talked about their outreach efforts to being in new fans and keep them. Team CRO Dave Rowan discussed the emphasis on area colleges and even talked with a local student about he could be more involved with that effort on his campus.
Also asked was how to make entry into games easier for the SoB's Sakiewicz eagerly agreed to the idea of creating alternate versions of ticket cards that will speed up entry to the park and various sections.
There were also questions for the SoB Board. Tifo gatherings are being planned that will not only focus on special projects but for later in the year, so as to take advantage of the talents within the organization. We talked about growing SoB membership by encouraging the introduction of new fans to the game (and of course, the park) and stadium-wide chants. Not only is feedback on Tailgates encouraged, but there will be voting on the beer selection and more themes tailgates in the future.
On that note, Sakiewicz asked how happy the SoB's are with the new tailgate area and took feedback on how to improve it (more benches and tables). The plan is to make this the permanent home of the SoB tailgate.
Throughout the evening both Hackworth and Sakiewicz emphasized how important the SoB's are to the team and how much the atmosphere created at games motivates them. Sakiewicz, in fact, proudly announced he had received his SoB membership package and was wearing his flag during the event.
The event produced a great dialogue and suggestions that the team will look to implement. The team is very eager to do more of these, so even if you could not attend this particular session, there will be opportunities in the future.