There was a time not too long ago when the Red Bulls played to the notion that star power and the value of their parent company’s marketing would drive buzz and attendance and build the following of the team. They had a new stadium, several global stars, success on the pitch and were the only soccer show in town. Roll out the balls, serve up some Red Bull and the stadium will fill.
That didn’t really work as well as could be. In the last few years, partially with a change in club management on and off the field, partially because of the increasing shift of the marketplace with not just one aggressive club (NYCFC) but two (the always pushing NASL Cosmos) the Red Bulls have been on a team on the change. Marketing has increased at the grassroots level, viewing parties have been expanded in the area on both sides of the river and a more aggressive tact on communications and team-specific digital campaigns have all been rolled out. On the field, a lessening of international flash and a strengthening of cohesive team play has led to the development more of home grown talent, which has also added to a growth of brand in the local soccer community.
Then there is the aggressive and successful courting of new partners, the latest of which is a partnership with Hanover, NJ-based Bayer. The Bayer Healthcare Unit will serve as a presenting partner for many grassroots initiatives, including a special event on Sept. 11, when the club hosts the Chicago Fire at Red Bull Arena, while helping showcase first responders and military veterans during the match. The partnership also will be tied to the Red Bulls’ growing youth development program, which reaches about 40,000 kids annually in some 130 ZIP codes around the New York and New Jersey metropolitan area.
It becomes a win not just for the community but for a local company with a big pharma agenda, now using the power of MLS to also grow its brand for the first time. The announcement follows the clubs’ largest marketing partnership ever, announced just four months ago with Yanmar, a Japanese heavy equipment maker, providing the first-ever branding on the Red Bulls’ training jerseys not related to Red Bull itself, a huge departure from the previous philosophy of nothing but the energy drink involved in apparel.
Whether the expanded and aggressive moves to grow brand was driven by the insertion into the market of other clubs or just because it was a smart internal decision is irrelevant, and is probably a combination of the two. What is pretty clear is that Red Bull as a soccer and sports business brand in the largest marketplace in the United States is evolving for the better, with more outreach and more strategic alliances than ever before. Winning on the field and the continued growth of elite young players will also help to round out the package, but moving forward off the pitch sends a clear message to the business community that the MLS team is open and willing to work more creatively and more proactively than ever before and that effort will help fill the seats and build brand probably more than just big names, even in crowded and jaded New York.
On the field and off for RBNY, the best appears yet to come.