Sky Blue FC president Tony Novo promises club improvements, but still has no concrete answers
In July, the public learned about the poor working conditions at Sky Blue FC. Novo says he’ll announce changes “within the next 30 days or so.” Sky Blue FC finished the 2018 NWSL season in last place, and their organization’s reputation off the field is in an even worse state than their playing squad. Club president and general manager Tony Novo has taken the brunt of the criticism. Speaking to reporters following the 2019 NWSL draft, Novo described last season as “very challenging, and something that we know as an organization we’re going to improve upon.” But he also got very defensive about prior reporting on the club. “There’s a lot that was said and portrayed about Sky Blue FC and the conditions that was not true,” Novo said. “Just report the truth, please? We do need to make some improvements and we will make some improvements, but please don’t throw dirt when it’s not needed.” In July, Once A Metro and The Equalizer reported on the poor working conditions at Sky Blue. Former players on the record and current players anonymously told stories about training facilities without restrooms, poor housing and disrespectful host families. Six months later, the club’s reputation is causing serious roster problems, and they do not yet have answers on what changes will be made for the 2019 season. Sky Blue supporters group Cloud 9 has vowed not to renew season tickets until he’s fired. An anonymous Sky Blue player told Stephanie Yang in July: “At the end of the day, I’m going to point all fingers at Tony [Novo] because he’s our GM and he’s supposed to take care of player relations and he doesn’t.” Novo promised improvements in player conditions and an announcement shortly, but didn’t have anything concrete to offer up immediately. “We’ve been working towards that, I promise you guys that within the next 30 days or so we’re going to make some of those announcements of improvements that we’ve made,” Novo said. “To training, to housing, to some of the things that people felt were shortfalls in the past for us.” Sky Blue had a whopping eight picks in the draft, including two in the first round and four of the first 11 picks. While NWSL is becoming less reliant on talent from the college draft every season — just eight players from the 2018 lass played significant minutes in their rookie years — SBFC looks likely to rely on their rookies as key players. While contract offers have been extended to several players from last year’s squad, Sky Blue currently has nine players signed for 2019. If Sky Blue is going to have any chance to sign its top draft picks and fill out a roster of professional-caliber players, it will need to change players’ perception of the club quickly. Novo admitted that he’ll have some selling to do to the club’s top picks, No. 2 overall selection Hailie Mace and No. 6 overall pick Julia Ashley. “There’s challenges with [Mace],” Novo said, “but I think she will be here once we talk to her and get past some of the negativity we’ve had in the past.” Mace was not present at the draft, but Ashley was, and she admitted that she is looking into her options in France, Germany and Sweden. When told about Ashley’s remarks, Novo said he was “very confident we’ll be able to sign her.” While progress on Sky Blue’s planned improvements has been slow — players didn’t sound any happier at the end of the season in September than they did in July — there is good reason to believe that big changes can be made this season. NWSL managing director Amanda Duffy said that the league has been “working with their ownership and have been for some time on the steps that need to be taken for that organization to show progress in the areas that the league believes it should show progress.” She also mentioned that the Permitted Team Assistance Cap — the budget that teams have for things like player housing — “almost doubled” for 2019, though she declined to give a specific figure. Novo says that will allow Sky Blue to make the necessary improvements to team housing. “We’re in New Jersey, it’s very expensive. When the cap was what it was in the past, at a lower level, there were only so many players we could put [in team housing]. That number has increased a lot, so we’re going to increase our housing a lot.” He added, “We’ve always spent the cap on housing. We’re going to continue to spend the cap on housing. Now, we just have more that we’re going to be able to spend and more players that we’re going to be able to put into better accommodations.” But there’s only so much that the club can do to improve its training facilities in a short timeframe. Novo said that the team is looking at a number of options for a new facility, but again, did not make any guarantees. Novo closed his remarks by asking the reporters present to help spread positive news about the team. “Perception is something that we have to change,” he said.” We will make changes, when we make those changes I’ll be glad to share with everybody, and you help us share the new perception.” Players will report for training camp in mid-February, so Novo is running out of time to turn these promises into concrete commitments.