This week, the bulk of New York City FC's bureaucracy came back from vacation to a cascade of vitriolic fan letters, e-mails, and tweets.
The recurring message has been well-documented on Hudson River Blue-- folks aren't simply steamed about their supposed marquee midfielder's confirmed truancy from MLS; they feel plainly duped about his heavily mis-characterized contractual status and the deluge of promotions and marketing that stood on the shoulders of what was, in any and all respects, an utter falsehood. The company has begun an attempt to mitigate this widespread fan malaise, but the effort is fatally flawed.
Beginning yesterday, many of NYCFC's inagural season ticket holders started receiving damage control phone calls from their respective account executives from the Ticketing & Fan Services office. Just about all of them -- myself included -- have had previous phone and e-mail interactions with these men and women, and I can personally report that my experiences with the staff have been warm. While my assigned ticket rep did not exactly apologize on behalf of the club's recent transatlantic bureaucratic quagmire and subsequent public relations breakdown, a number of fans have reported hearing strong reassurances from their reps about, for instance, Frank Lampard's definite arrival this summer.
Placing the Fan Services staff's cordiality, professionalism, and general good faith aside, there are two glaringly obvious problems with this particular outreach strategy.
(1) The office of Ticketing & Fan Services didn't start this fire, yet they've been asked to put it out.
No amount of empathy from season ticket reps is going to quell fans' anger and frustration over the club's devastating mismanagement of the Lampard fanfare from the top down.
They promoted his personage as hard as they were asked to do in the early days without the knowledge that he wasn't even signed to the team at all. They would have been crazy not to use him to sell season tickets. After all, David Villa doesn't speak English. Jason Kreis has yet to distinguish himself outside of MLS. That left Lampard as the ideal face of the team's marketing and promotional efforts by default, and nobody was complaining about that posture last summer.
Unfortunately, the club's top brass didn't even inform their own employees about Lampard's non-status as a NYCFC player, content to collect their $300 a pop for season ticket subscriptions under demonstrably false pretenses. They hung their own people out to dry in all this, yet they have asked those same people to fall on the sword after it all hit the fan on New Year's Eve.
What's worse, all of the sales and marketing departments were on vacation until January 5th. City Football Group, New York City, and Major League Soccer could have gone a long way in earning back the fans' trust by spearheading the public relations effort in a sincere, comprehensive manner beginning the very next day after the scandal broke, January 1st. Instead, they not only waited until yesterday to begin their outreach, but they even sent a staff that has always acted in good faith to take the brunt of a backlash for which it wasn't even directly responsible.
(2) The Fan Services staff was tasked with reassuring supporters about Lampard's arrival no later than July, but they are in no position to guarantee this, or anything else, for that matter.
Let's be honest: does anyone believe that the ticketing staff learned about the current mess before December 31st, like the rest of us? There's no way; not only were they on vacation, but promoting Lampard was simply their bread and butter from the beginning. Why would they ever question his status if (a) his face was making them money, (b) the club's own press releases characterized Lampard's Manchester City deal as a loan, and (c) the senior administration that signs the staff's checks had been unequivocal in pushing him front and center from the start?
We already have reason to doubt Fan Services' insistence that Super Frankie will be an actual, real-life, no-fakesies New York City Football Club player come summertime: Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has already spoken openly and unprompted about the possibility of Lampard remaining in Manchester even beyond the current season.
Yet again, the senior administration insists on placing their ticketing and marketing reps in an impossible position-- not only have they been forced to absorb all of the venom for organizational failures outside of their purview, but they were further tasked this week with making hopeful but basically empty promises that they simply lack the power to guarantee. We have learned again and again that New York City FC will never benefit when its interests fall into conflict with Manchester City.
Since Pellegrini has essentially confirmed that another personnel conflict will ensue when European clubs begin training for the 2015-16 campaign, what on earth is NYCFC reasonably able to promise about Lampard? Here at Hudson River Blue, the increasing feeling is that Super Frankie will never actually suit up for New York City. If this is even a remote possibility (it's much more than that), the club ought to scale back its promises dramatically, lest they run the outrageous risk of falling on their faces just as badly as they have in the last week.
To hear every ticket rep insist in all good faith that Lampard is definitely, absolutely coming not only exacerbates the club administration's utter lack of credibility, but it places the sales and marketing departments in that very same impossible position all over again.
That is completely unfair to those employees.
No matter how we choose to look at NYCFC's affairs in these early days of 2015, now is definitely the winter of our discontent. Until New York City, CFG, and MLS speak unequivocally, resolutely, and from the very top about a way forward that is both transparent and auspicious, this prickly winter's thaw may never truly break.