Last week the sports world was all abuzz with soccer talk. Trouble is, it was not the talk about the current first place team in MLS, the only team currently playing a full schedule in the area, the Red Bulls. It was about Manchester City and Chelsea, the Champions League Final, even the pesky still to play an NASL match Cosmos tried to find some ink with a late Friday announcement of a kit deal with Nike. The Red Bulls on the brand side? Silence, other than the calls of some in the media and some politicians to have the club drop “New York” from their name and fully embrace their New Jersey home, like the Devils have.
Now on the pitch, the club has enjoyed a string start, holding down first place with a mix of solid scoring and balanced defense. It is one of their best starts in years, and brings a welcomed stability to the club that they can build on. Off the field?
The club has a solid fan base of loyal supporters who turn out every game. There also remains a group of casual soccer fans and youth groups who will make the trek to Red Bull Arena a few times a season, as well as a mix of multicultural fans who enjoy the game and will look to get a fix of live soccer time and again. However to embrace the larger audience, more widely tell the stories of their players and staff, and get more fans actively involved in the Red Bull soccer brand as they are the Red Bull lifestyle in other areas of sport and entertainment, the click is now ticking.
While some may say that the Yankees/MCFC partnership will crush the chance for the Red Bulls to embrace a larger community, especially one across the Hudson which has never taken to the gleaming stadium in Harrison, New Jersey that remains to be seen. Red Bull is not a brand that backs down easily from a challenge, even one as potentially large as another franchise in their back yard. The excitement generated by the announcement, as well as a full slate of friendlies in the area this summer, should be a big opportunity for the resident MLS club to hit the marketplace strong at the grassroots level and capture an audience interested in the game more than they have. It is a chance to blanket market not just parts of New Jersey but the entire region like never before. Players should be out more in force, clinics should abound, media opportunities should be more prevalent, celebrities can be imported and built, fan stories told more, not just through traditional media which can be fickle, but through controlled and digital media. NBC Sports net, MSG Networks and radio, yes radio, needs to be blanketed consistently to build market share, but as a one off experiment. The red Bulls remain the only professional or major college team in the area with no live audio of their game on broadcast or a digital platform. That is a big miss for the casual fan out and about on spring and summer weekends. We may know Thierry Henry, but who else resonates with the casual fan in the region? Time to tell the stories and embrace the rising tide of soccer.
Now there are many that say that is not the Red Bull marketing way. It is an immersive, interactive brand with lots of sizzle that works with their highly successful platforms. However this is a different type of animal, this soccer Red Bull. It is one that has to be brought to casual fans with lots of choices, not one that can be drawn in large numbers just with the allure of the brand. People know the name, know the product, but don’t know the makeup of the club…and that’s what team sports is in this country. It is much more the personality than the club.
For now, the Red Bulls have the benefit of a winning team, some engaging stars, a gleaming state of the art facility, a growing fan base of their sport, a league that is aggressive and forward thinking in its approach, and a great deal of excitement created by a new presence in the area somewhere off in the distance, a presence which in just a week swept up great excitement and lots and lots of buzz. They also have the benefit of time, and the opportunity to have fans come now and embrace all things soccer.
It’s a great chance to grow the brand, the team and the marketplace, and really grease the skids for what could be a wonderful rivalry for all somewhere down the road. Will they take advantage? We shall see. The opportunity is there, yet again for the club. The time to take advantage is now, not just fr the team but for the visibility of the league as well.