Tim Hinchey’s departure from the Rapids closes what was a period of growth and growing pains, success and failure, for the Colorado Rapids under his leadership. Hinchey saw the team through some significant changes, but also leaves behind a Rapids team that seems to be unsure of its place in modern MLS and its direction as a club going forward.
Hinchey oversaw all aspects of the Colorado Rapids since his appointment as Team President in December, 2011. He was responsible for the club’s successes and failures on the field, their financial situation, any new programs and initiatives they undertook, any hiring and firing, the overall fan experience, and everything in between. Here, as I see it, are the major accomplishments, failures, and unfinished questions of the Tim Hinchey era.
Tim Hinchey took over the Rapids in what many refer to as the ‘MLS 2.0’ era - the period following David Beckham’s move to the league and the creation and proliferation of the ‘Designated Player’. Hinchey leaves as the team enters the ‘MLS 3.0’ era, a period of MLS expansion franchises and younger, better, more talented players from around the world coming to MLS as a ‘league of choice’.
Hinchey inherited a Rapids team that had won MLS Cup in 2010 and made it to the second round of the playoffs in 2011. But MLS was changing. In 2012 the team was one of the last in Major League Soccer that had no kit sponsor, and one of the last in MLS without any Designated Players. The team was also now in an era where the newest MLS clubs - Portland, Seattle, New York City, and Orlando - were building soccer-specific stadiums in the heart of their metropolitan centers and/or attracting a new, young, vibrant audience to American soccer. And selling out 25,000 seat stadiums in their first-ever seasons to boot.
One of Hinchey’s first acts as president was hiring FC Dallas Assistant Coach Oscar Pareja to be Rapids manager for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Under Pareja, the Rapids made the MLS playoffs in 2013 while playing an up-tempo style of football that pleased many fans.
Hinchey was also president when Oscar Pareja jumped ship shortly before the beginning of the 2014 season, and he and Technical Director Paul Bravo were the ones to select his successor, Rapids legend Pablo Mastroeni, as the new coach. Although Mastroeni’s first two years at the helm were shaky, the Rapids found success in 2016 as Pablo guided the club to a 15-13-6 (WTL) record, making their way to the Conference Finals before bowing out to the eventual MLS Cup winners, Seattle Sounders. Hinchey is one of the architects of the 2016 Rapids, and he deserves a fair portion of the credit for that great season.
As president, Hinchey was part of the team responsible for bringing on a marquee-name Designated Player in Tim Howard. Hinchey also reeled in a big-name corporation, Transamerica, to be the team’s kit sponsor starting in 2015. Those are both major coups (and might be related to one another.)
Tim also hired a metrics and stats guru, Pádraig Smith, from the headquarters of UEFA to help the Rapids find and acquire a better caliber of player and apply advanced metrics to the players currently on the roster. To start the 2017 season, previous Technical Director Paul Bravo left the club, and has been quietly supplanted by Sporting Director Smith as the player-personnel manager of the club. While Pádraig’s impact is yet to become clear, every person that has interacted with him, including me, have found him to be a fount of knowledge that is fully dedicated to building a successful club. Thanks to Tim, we have Pádraig.
On a related note, the Rapids have successfully signed several players during the Hinchey era. Granted, Hinchey is the President, not the GM/Technical Director, so these aren’t specifically ‘his’ accomplishments per se. But if he’s responsible for everything that takes place with the Rapids from top to bottom, he deserves some credit for some of the players the club has signed under his tenure that have been successful. That list includes draft picks that became starters like Dillon Powers (2013), Marlon Hairston (2014), Jared Watts (2014), Axel Sjoberg (2015), and Dominique Badji (2015); Homegrown signings like Dillon Serna (2012) and Kortne Ford (2017); and transfer acquisitions that did well in burgundy, like Clint Irwin, Vicente Sanchez, Kevin Doyle, Zac MacMath, Sam Cronin, Micheal Azira, Shkelzen Gashi, Jermaine Jones, and the aforementioned Tim Howard.
Hinchey gets credit for moderately successful ticket sales during his time with the club, in spite of the club experiencing a number of down years in terms of on-field success. The Rapids had a losing record in three of Hinchey’s five seasons at the helm, but average attendance in each year was about 15,000 in a stadium that seats 18,005 at capacity. In addition, the Rapids stated that Hinchey increased Season Ticket Membership by 300% in his time; from 4,000 to roughly 12,000 tickets. The Rapids ticket sales team were given an award last year by MLS as a result, and Hinchey was named 2016 MLS Executive of the Year.
Finally, Hinchey’s greatest accomplishment is in creating something that will benefit the long-term health of the club for decades to come - a soccer academy where the best players play for free. In 2013, the Rapids announced that their boys Development Academy teams would be fully funded at the U18, U16, and U14 levels, a huge step in creating a competitive core of youngsters that might eventually make it to the senior roster. Fully funding the academy also allows the team to swipe away top players from other local Colorado clubs to come to the Rapids, since all their travel, coaching fees, equipment and uniforms are provided by the club. In the past few years, the Rapids expanded their fully-funded Academy teams to the U13 and U12 levels as well. Hinchey’s role in greatly expanding the Academy is good for the Rapids, and good for US Soccer, and good for Colorado- and that’s something to be commended.*
The buck stops with the president, so if it went wildly wrong, regardless of who’s idea it was, the responsibility lies with none other than Timothy himself.
For starters, the Rapids had quite the misadventure with the signing of their first-ever kit sponsors, Ciao Telecom, to a deal in advance of the 2014 season. The deal was reportedly for $8.3 million over five years, but Ciao only paid the first $75,000 and skipped out on paying the rest of the dinner check. The Rapids sued Ciao and their partner/parent/shell company, Global Logistics Solutions for almost a half million dollars for contractually-promised payments that never arrived. I haven’t heard hide or hair about this lawsuit since 2015, so I assume it was either settled or is still dragging on, albeit quietly. As the Denver Post reported, there was a fair amount of evidence that this heretofore unheard-of telecom company with multiple ongoing fraud investments was not a good business partner, but Hinchey and the Rapids made the deal anyways. Oops.
Another area of criticism for Hinchey is the Rapids selections for Designated Players. The team’s first ever DP, Panamanian international Gabriel Torres, came during Hinchey’s tenure in 2013. Torres played striker, central attacker, and winger in parts of 3 seasons for Colorado, but tallied only 10 goals and 5 assists in 55 games, and had a penchant for disappearing completely in games and not playing much defense. His contract was not renewed after the 2015 season.
Hinchey’s second DP was Kevin Doyle, who has certainly had his bright spots. But as a striker on a $1.1 million dollar salary, Doyle hasn’t produced goals at the rate his pay level would indicate.
Juan Ramirez was the team’s third-ever DP, and he contributed precious little in his one season here before being exiled to Spain and then Argentina on loan. I contend that he deserves a spot on any MLS list of ‘worst DP signings ever’ that rattles around the internet in future years. Shkelzen Gashi and Tim Howard have started just their second season for the Rapids this year, and preliminary results look good. Overall, Hinchey and the Rapids got a late start to the DP market - teams like Columbus and Chicago signed their first DPs in 2007, the first year of the rule - and when the Rapids finally got around to signing their first DPs, it didn’t quite pan out.
If we’re going to give Hinchey credit for some of the really great signings the team made, we also need to give him some responsibility for players the Rapids signed with high hopes that didn’t quite pan out. Edson Buddle, Hendry Thomas, Martin Rivero, Marcelo Sarvas, Zat Knight, Lucas Pittinari, Luis Solignac, Michael Harrington, James Riley, and Marco Pappa were all signed with expectations of being first team contributors, but each was a disappointment in their own way.
A significant error in the Rapids career of Tim Hinchey came in October 2014, when local Rapids beat reporter for mlssoccer.com Chris Bianchi sent a fairly innocuous tweet about the teams struggles being the responsibility of the Front Office. Hinchey called Bianchi to task in a series of emails, then, according to reports, had the digital media staff at the MLS site fire Bianchi, an otherwise dedicated and thoughtful writer about the Rapids. Hinchey’s final signoff to Bianchi, a part-time meteorologist reporter, was the ominous an threatening ‘Enjoy the weather.’ Bianchi was fired a week later. The entire episode was reported by sports website Deadspin. It revealed Hinchey, in at least this one instance, to be thin-skinned and ill-tempered. This is really a longer topic for another article, but overall, the Colorado Rapids under Tim Hinchey and former Communications director Richard Clarke have had consistently poor relations with the media. The Bianchi episode was the nadir of that reputation.
Another area of concern for the Rapids under Hinchey, though a murky one at best, is the team’s financial position. Forbes has rated the team’s revenue and market valuation for the last several years as among the lowest in MLS; in 2016, the team was estimated at a league-lowest value of $105 million, with overall revenue of only $16 million and an operating loss of $4 million. These numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, since the Rapids value as a part of the overall KSE/Altitude Sports empire is difficult to parse out accurately, and the Forbes numbers have been openly question by many**, ***. That’s why I use the term ‘murky.’
Moreover, Hinchey can’t fully be held responsible for the financial position of the Rapids. It may be that all avenues of revenue are fully tapped, and the team is simply unable to increase them, despite their best efforts, and considering the unwillingness of KSE to spend money on the Rapids to expand their footprint and reach in the Colorado sports world. Or alternatively, it may be that Tim Hinchey just couldn’t find the way to increase the club’s profitability in the time of meteoric growth for MLS.
Finally, the simplest metric by which to judge a sports professional is on winning and losing, and by that account, the Hinchey era was not a success. The Rapids record from 2012 until May 31, 2017 was 60-45-77 (WTL), with two playoff appearances. The team did not win Supporters Shield, MLS Cup, or US Open Cup over Hinchey’s reign. Winning cures all ills, and Hinchey’s Rapids didn’t win as much as they lost, and that might be the most important take-away of all.
Don’t think my clear-eyed, straight-forward accounting of Mr. Hinchey’s successes and failures means I’m ungrateful to him. I’m very appreciative of Tim Hinchey and what he has done for the Colorado Rapids, and I wish him well as he takes up the reigns of the massive USA Swimming organization. Tim did a lot of good things for the Colorado Rapids and us fans, and was instrumental in a lot of good memories for me and my family these past years. Fireworks on the grass on July 4th; hearing the roar of the crowd as Vicente Sanchez nutmegs a defender; seeing Axel Sjoberg get nominated for defender of the year; screaming myself hoarse last October as Colorado beat the LA Galaxy to go to the Conference Finals. Tim, you had a hand in all of that, and on behalf of all of us at Burgundy Wave who derive great joy from these Colorado Rapids, I’d like to say: thank you.
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* Also, on Tim’s watch, the Rapids got rid of that stupid Arsenal cannon which they fired when they scored. It scared the crap out of my kids when they did it, and also, even though I’m an Arsenal fan, there is zero connection between the two teams, and pretending there ever was is just dumb. So, thanks for ditching the cannon Tim.
** One very basic problem - the Rapids franchise is valued by Forbes at $105 million, yet the current MLS expansion fee is $200 million. If the club’s value is almost half-that of the expansion fee, then wouldn’t San Diego, Sacramento, or Cincinnati be a lot smarter buying the Rapids from Stan Kroenke for $150 million and moving them? The club, with its land, stadium complex, academy setup, and players must be worth more than $200 million.
*** Another problem - a major revenue stream for MLS teams is TV rights. But the KSE-owned Rapids are broadcast on the KSE-owned Altitude cable sports network: any money handed over from Altitude to the Rapids is just robbing Peter to pay Paul - both the expense and the profit get chalked up to KSE. So any operating loss due to a lower-than-desired broadcast deal with Altitude paints an inaccurate picture of the KSE/Rapids reality. Also, Stan Kroenke is worth $12 billion. At an operating loss of $4 million, it would take 3,000 years to drain his hefty bank account.