A few months ago, unexpectedly, I got a call from a guy who opened up by asking how my day was going, like we were friends reconnecting and he really cared to know. Then, with comically farcical intonation, he pitched some kind of package for an upcoming New York Red Bulls soccer match reading loosely off a notepad. His bosses had decided to attempt to fill seats by employing a corporate marketing gimmick strategy, featuring a cheap souvenir. Silly ploy to lure attendance, but he persisted, first offering the tickets for free, then asking a lot of questions as to why people don’t come to the stadium to see the Red Bulls play.
The New York Metropolitan area is stupendously stocked with the most diverse and passionate soccer people in the USA. Over the years we have had the privilege to enjoy fantastic matches when Roma, Argentina, Manchester United, Benfica, Real Madrid, Boca Juniors, Colombia, Jamaica, Juventus, Mexico, Aston Villa, Barcelona, Milan, Ecuador, Liverpool, Fiorentina and others passed through town. On these occasions the cavernous Giants stadium was transformed into a mosaic of colors, the crowd was electric, the atmosphere enriched by songs and passion even when the display on the field did not meet expectations. This excitement, unfortunately, has not carried over to the local team in New York.
After the 1994 World Cup that took place in the US, there was consolidated support for a local soccer team where all of the supporters’ passions could be redirected. People flocked to Giants stadium and supported the NY Metro Stars in search of something to identify with, to embrace and create a bond with. For some it was their American home for traditions and passions left behind in the old country, for others the rebirth of an experience that had been missing since the New York Cosmos folded in the early 1980s. Regrettably, that fragile bond of the 1990s faded gradually. The reasons, straightforward to the public, remained a mystery to the management of the club over the years.
Both the Metro Stars and the Red Bulls rarely displayed excitement on the field. But perhaps more importantly, the stadium atmosphere and the overall experience have been the main reasons people abandoned their support and interest. New York’s supporters have endured years of excruciatingly dreary performances and dreadful stadium atmosphere. For the players, as much as for the fans, it has been a sorry path. How can the club ask talented players to come to the Red Bulls for a chance to play on artificial turf marked by American football lines in an empty stadium? From a fan point of view, the experience at Giants Stadium felt like a corporate shakedown marked by overzealous control of personal behavior. The horde security never understood what the excitement was all about when Barcelona came to town, let alone care about what the Red Bulls represent. People ushered in and ushered out, enjoyment was incidental. With common sense in short supply, dissent was met with overwhelming force.
This would be unimaginable in stadia around the world. But alas, the problem is over, hopefully. The Red Bulls with play the 2010 season in a newly constructed, soccer only, GRASS surface, 25,000-capacity stadium in nearby Harrison, New Jersey. The new venue is infinitely more welcoming, attractive and intimate. This change alone is regenerating the hope and excitement of 15 years ago, when people embraced the Metro Stars. Assuming that the oversized imbeciles from the Meadowlands are not invited, the elements are in place to build an exciting atmosphere during the matches and that would be a tremendous step forward. This matters most, more than winning or losing. Players feed off the supporters’ energy, as results will show, and the public will bond with the club.
On the field, success depends on performance, naturally. Red Bulls just finished the season with the worst record in the MLS. The appointment of Dietmar Beiersdorfer, a former Austria and Hamburg SV player as sporting director of all Red Bulls sport properties, including the New York Red Bulls, may finally usher in the needed changes. The first order of business, Beiersdorfer declared, is to create an operational frame and an identity for the club, regardless of who comes and who goes. This is wise. Identity has been lacking for ages. Considering its resources, the club MUST engage more knowledgeable people to manage the talent, people who know the game intimately and who will be able to build a club identity. Running the club as a corporation will ensure failure. The club needs a new manager, a new coach and a revamped roster to go with the new stadium.
The potential for a successful soccer club in the New York metropolitan area remains strong and for the first time in more than ten years, it appears reachable. It is time to support the 2010 New York Red Bulls.