The CEO of a sports team shouldn’t be an important figure.
The CEO of a sports team shouldn’t be a publicly important figure. Their role should be to keep the operation ticking over quietly and not have their every action or interaction clanging an alarm that awakens all.
When a CEO does become a public figure it’s usually a sign that something somewhere has gone awry in the way things should be.
Which brings us neatly to the the Vancouver Whitecaps announcing that their CEO Mark Pannes had been fired from his role last week.
The mere fact that this news hit harder than the run of the mill Front Office shenanigans is indicative of the fact that Pannes had been a breath of fresh air pumped in to a Whitecaps culture that had long been a stale and noxious fug.
He interacted with supporters, he initiated schemes that were both beneficial to the community and to the club and he allowed everybody the breathing room to just be a fan of the team and stop worrying about what the Whitecaps would manage to mess up next.
So, given all that, it’s probably not surprising that the reaction on social media was vehemently opposed to the move. And I’m using the phrase “vehemently opposed” here in the sense of “frothing at the mouth angry”.
The Whitecaps had finally overstepped the mark and retribution and/or remorse were demanded.
When the histories of our age come to be written there surely has to be at least one tome entitled “Twitter Was Not Real Life: A Study of how Trending Topics Failed to Predict the Glorious Rise of Our Esteemed World Leader Barron Trump“.
Because if we have have learned just one thing over recent years, it is surely that the echo chamber of a bubble set in the void of irrelevance that is all our lives on social media doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. It’s just that our incoherent noise is reflected back as some semblance of coherent signal and we feel less alone.
And, much like an episode of The Murdoch Mysteries, Twitter has both good and bad actors, with Whitecaps Twitter being no exception to that rule.
It sometimes feels as though many of us should invest in a Victorian fainting couch so dramatically do we react to any instance in which the Whitecaps fall below our Platonic ideal of how the club should be run.
The anger is always bubbling and is always dialed up to eleven making it nigh on impossible to distinguish the petty squabble from the insurgency (But special mention to the people who thought a Whitecaps tweet celebrating Juneteenth was still fair game to attack the Pannes decision) and there are those who seem to have cancelled more season tickets than a Network TV executive has cancelled intelligent and darkly witty Sci-Fi seasons.
But real change comes in the streets not the tweets or, in the case of the Whitecaps, the seats not the tweets and, while it’s hard to be certain if this is really a Franz Ferdinand moment for the club or not, it doesn’t feel like it. It feels more like a phony war brought on by a mixture of incompetence, boredom and anger in need of an outlet.
But what the Whitecaps should be worried about it is the apathy that could set in from the larger fan base given the lack of soccer for the last few months and perhaps their continued enforced physical absence for over a year.
Will it be a case of that absence making the heart grow fonder or will it be a case of out of sight being out of mind?
Sooner or later the club will need to actively engage with all their fans in an effort to get them back on board.
And do you know who would have been great at that? Who would have really understood what needed to be done and how to do it in a way that made ticket holders feel valued and appreciated?
You can take that as a rhetorical question.
We don’t know the ins and outs of exactly why Pannes was fired, but we can at least file it into one of two categories.
It was either a rational business decision the reasons for which the people who made it are incapable of articulating, or it was an irrational business decision that can’t be articulated.
Viel Glück Axel!