The Vancouver Whitecaps parted ways with CEO Mark Pannes on Tuesday, only six months into his four year contract. Other writers have already covered the blow by blow in detail so I won’t just rehash what they have already said. But the move naturally raised a lot of questions. Questions such as “what?” and “huh?”
Anticipating these questions, Whitecaps part owner and co-director Jeff Mallet faced the media to address the latest in the long line of ludicrous decisions the Whitecaps have made in their time in MLS. The things he said made absolutely no sense. Let us review.
“This is a decision to be the most effective club. And when you look at it, Axel’s leadership ability went far beyond what we expected when he came into the club”
Axel Schuster was brought in to do a very specific job, sporting director. So far he has brought in some interesting players who are young and who the analytics like. But we haven’t really gotten to see what sort of effect his work has had on the sporting side yet. The team has only played two games under him and they are 1-0-1. The most definitive thing I can say about him is he seems to know what he’s doing. But we haven’t seen if the team is actually going to progress under his watch yet. Obviously Mallet knows what he is like more intimately than I do but six months seems like a very short period of time to decided someone is ready to be in charge of all aspects of a multimillion dollar organization. Especially when, if you read between the lines, part of the reason Schuster came to Vancouver was to prove he was capable of being his own man after working under Christian Heidel. What he’s done so far seems mostly to be very sensible but it is insane to hand him total control so early into his tenure. He very well might be able to handle it but at this stage I don’t know how you could know that he can or indeed if you would want any person, regardless of how competent they may be, to have that much responsibility.
“The last 100 days has just turned our entire world upside down. And with that, it was really clear that we wanted to go to one voice, one culture, one process. This was the opposite of a dollar decision.”
The first part of this statement seems to indicate that Pannes was let go as a cost cutting measure due to the COVID-19 pandemic eliminating a large portion of Vancouver’s revenue. If that were the case letting Pannes go would still be kind of a weird way to cut costs but I could at least kind of sympathize with the logic of it. There’s a global pandemic, no money is coming in, you’ve got to make some tough decisions, I get it. But then Mallet bizarrely pivots back into the territory of being totally bonkers by saying it wasn’t a decision based on money. Firing a highly paid executive only six months into a four year contract and presumably having to pay out a big severance certainly is the opposite of a dollar decision. It’s not something you would do without good reason. So did something happen? Was there a huge and irreconcilable disagreement?
“We’ve really been on the same song sheet internally. There hasn’t been friction.”
Apparently not! At least there was not an agreement they’re willing to admit to. But if they were all singing from the same song sheet then what was all that about “one culture, one process.” How can there simultaneously be no major disagreements within the organization but also a need to unite behind one clear vision? Also, is it really a good thing for there to only be one voice in the organization? Obviously everyone should have the same general goal and there should be a clear chain of command; but isn’t it good that there be some dissent on how to accomplish goals? Even if you’re a super genius you are still going to have blind spots and it’s good to have people to push back on your thoughts and decisions.
“This isn’t just ticky-tack.”
“[not playing games in front of fans leads to] some fundamental changes. And that’s when you look and see what you have in place, and to us there was no question: consolidate the role, get that in place.”
Well sorry, but to me there is a question. That question is “what the hell are doing and why are you doing it?” There might be a good reason but you’re not telling me what it is. From outside you just look like a crazy person.
“This is not a popularity contest”
You can only trip over your own feet so many times before people are fed up. Attendance at games has been dwindling for years and it is rare to encounter any positive sentiment towards the club amongst fans. For my own part I have noticed during the MLS’s shutdown our articles have gotten significantly less engagement. I’ve also noticed I’m the only player on my men’s league team (by definition a group of guys who live in B.C and like soccer) who in any way cares about the team. Everybody else ranges from apathetic to contemptuous. People are not beating down the doors demanding Whitecaps soccer. I obviously am obligated to keep paying attention but if I wasn’t writing for Eighty Six Forever I feel as though my attention might be starting to wonder. Like it or not you are quickly running out of good will. You only get so many situations like this before everyone just tunes out.
Fans are not the only people who need to be wooed. Why would any executive ever want to come to Vancouver under this ownership group and management team? You could never feel secure or focus on your job.
But still my mind grasps for a reason. Surely there must be something logical to what’s happening? Did Axel Schuster do a palace coup to seize power?
Well Pannes describes Schuster as his “dear friend” in his letter to fans and Schuster has seemed to express sadness at Pannes leaving and surprise at the consolidation in public. So what the hell is happening? Based on what information is out in public there seems to be no logical reason to make this move. Did Pannes do something bad? Wouldn’t they just say so if he did? He certainly seemed like a pretty cool guy. He expressed an opposition to racism (always a good thing), spearheaded some good initiatives like the aquarium and food bank fundraisers, and at the very least gave fans the sense that they were being heard. I didn’t know him personally or what he was like behind the scenes but based on the information that I have at my disposal I only really have positive things to say about him.
Was he secretly incompetant? Well to quote the Whitecaps press release:
“We are thankful to Mark Pannes for all his positive contributions to the club the last few months and his active role in a number of these successful community programs. He has been a passionate leader and we wish him all the best in the future.”
If we take the Whitecaps at their word then Pannes was a great guy, they loved what he did there were no major disagreements and no need to cut costs. They just woke up one morning and decided to “streamline.” But why streamline if there’s no need to cut costs and you think your guy is doing a good job? This just doesn’t add up.
As a follower of the Vancouver Whitecaps, I have no idea what is going on. If they acted with good reason then they must know some information that I don’t. If I do have all the information then this just seems truly insane. Not just insane but almost deliberately and aggressively shitty considering Pannes was on bereavement leave after the death of his father at the time of his firing.