Brian Bilello - New England Revolution - Close up
Courtesy of New England Revolution

From supporter to New England Revolution president: What drives Brian Bilello

The supporters’ section and the club president’s seat generally offer markedly different viewpoints on any given soccer match, literally and figuratively. And that reality can sometimes complicate matters for both parties.

No matter what’s happening on the pitch or in the stands, the New England Revolution’s most devoted fans can rest assured their club’s leadership has seen things from their perspective.

Revs president Brian Bilello has worked for the club or its parent company, Kraft Sports & Entertainment, since 2003. But his roots run back further still as a soccer fan who saw games at Foxborough even before MLS launched. He went on to become a Revs season-ticket holder and denizen of The Fort, the home of the Revolution’s loudest and most devoted faithful in the north end of Gillette Stadium.

“When you look around sports in general, not just MLS, you have sports business people that wind up working their whole career in sports,” Bilello explained to MLSsoccer.com this week. “I was a soccer fan who went into more general business, and fortunately, I guess I wandered my way into the sports business side of things. So it’s probably an unusual path that I took.”

A lifelong fan and player of the beautiful game, Bilello, who grew up on Staten Island, was studying at MIT when the 1994 World Cup came to Foxboro Stadium, Gillette’s predecessor. He and some friends snagged jobs as ushers at the venue and despite the gig’s “ridiculous, weird, military-guard uniforms” highlighted by purple berets – “we were just supposed to stand there and make it look like there's a lot of security,” he recalled with a chuckle – he caught the soccer bug hard. 

You can catch a glimpse of Bilello, beret and all, in the center of the below photo, enjoying Argentina’s celebrations of a goal vs. Greece in a 4-0 win on June 21, 1994.

Below, from left, Argentina's Diego Maradonna, Gabriel Batistuta and Diego Simeone celebrate a goal. Above center is Bilello on security detail. | Courtesy of Brian BIlello

When MLS launched two years later, he felt a strong urge to get involved.

“If you go talk to a lot of fans back then, I think anyone who was like a soccer player or loves the game, when this league was starting, we all felt some sense of excitement, but also responsibility for the league,” Bilello recalled. “It was like, if I don't support this and I don't go to games and I don't buy tickets and I don't attend matches, who will?”

He caught as many games as he could as he wrapped up his degree, including the rain-soaked inaugural MLS Cup in 1996, then really took the plunge two years later.

“I somehow convinced my fiance at the time – now my wife – who was not a soccer player or necessarily a soccer fan, that we should buy Revolution season tickets,” he said with a laugh.

For the next several years Bilello and his future wife, Vanessa, sat in The Fort at nearly every home game. Even when the tech boom took him to San Francisco for career reasons, he trekked down to Spartan Stadium to catch the Revs’ annual visits to the San Jose Clash/Earthquakes. Then came an epic trip to support the US men’s national team at the 2002 World Cup in Korea.

 

Bilello followed the US men's national team to the 2002 FIFA World Cup in South Korea, where they reached the quarterfinals | Courtesy of Brian Bilello

He now keeps a wall of Revs scarves displayed in his office, and one in particular, from 1998, helps keep him grounded.

“It's an old, ratty scarf with autographs on it, and I just want to keep it on my wall because it reminds me of being that fan and being in the stands and supporting the club and what it was like,” he said. 

“I'm blessed to have that viewpoint. It can’t always drive every decision you make; there's certain things you can and can't do. But I feel like I always have that perspective and I always try to lean on that.”

There have been ups and downs. Several years ago, Bilello had to navigate a conflict with some supporters over the prevalence of cursing in their songs and chants. On a more positive note, he’s proud that New England season-ticket packages include one away match experience, in which the club pays for travel and a seat at the away ground, usually one of their I-95 rivals. He speaks fondly of New England’s memorable playoff match in 2014 where some 1,200 fans were bussed to Red Bull Arena and witnessed a road win that helped propel them into the MLS Cup final.

“Soccer’s always going to be different than other sports, because of that communal aspect of being a fan, being with others, cheering, singing, all those fun things that other sports don't have,” he noted. “We can't make that culture, because it's not the club's culture, really, it's the fans’ culture, it's a supporters’ culture. So we talk about that: How do we amplify that culture, and what can we do to help our fans build that culture?

“The role of the club is to look at the fans and look at the supporters, and figure out what we can do to make their lives easier and make it easier for them to support the club in the way that they want to.”

He’s also centrally involved in the Revs’ hunt for a new, soccer-specific stadium of their own in Boston’s urban core, a long-running quest he calls “a huge passion point for me” given his history.

 

Brian Bilello, far right, at the opening ceremony of the Revolution's training ground | Courtesy of New England Revolution

“We just look at the project as being transformative for not just the Revs, but for soccer in our region,” he said. “For MLS, where we've seen so much progress, it's really converting that casual fan into more of an avid soccer fan, and the way you do that is with a great stadium, with a great atmosphere.

“That focus has been on Boston for quite some time, to try to get that facility in a place where we know we can recruit the most number of fans and create the best atmosphere. And by doing that, you're going to convert a lot more sports fans that kind of like soccer and are willing to watch soccer, but haven't yet been able to experience it at the level of the live event that we want to deliver.”

New England, by their own admission, fell behind the MLS curve a few years ago and have responded by investing heavily in a new training facility and several big-ticket signings. Bilello now hopes to help lead them past the tipping point and into the heart of both the MLS and Boston-area sports landscapes.

“When you’re my age and you’ve loved soccer your whole life, you see how far we've come and you know there's still so much more to go,” he said. “We take a great pride in where we've taken the sport collectively in this country, and I see some of those fans in the stands that I know were there in ‘96, and I see people I know in our supporters groups — all those people have played such a huge part in where we are with the sport in this country right now.”

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