(HARRISON, NJ) The New York Red Bulls entered the 2015 season with an anger and resentment from the fan base arguably larger than any the troubled franchise had experienced. The backlash of the firing of Mike Petke created a rift that seemed irreparable and the first team looked doomed to suffer another cycle of management change full of broken promises and frustration.
NYRBII Attendance Undercuts Success
What followed was something different entirely. Among the many changes implemented at the start of last season, was a significant investment made towards the future of the club. While the formation of New York Red Bulls II carried significantly less fanfare than say, the acquisition of Sacha Kljestan, the results are already clear. With the USL side acting as a more robust version of the reserve league, players who might otherwise wallow on the bench have found a place to ply their trade.
The most significant success stories over the last two years are Sean Davis, Tyler Adams, Alex Muyl, and Derrick Etienne Jr. Ask most Red Bull fans about these players, and they have a clear idea of who they are and how they play the game. Better still, the USL team completed a record year for the league, capturing league best marks in wins, goals for, road wins, and points in a season. NY finished the season with a +40 goal differential, a full 15 goals better than the next best in the league.
Despite the strides taken on and off the field for RBII, there is a hurdle they cannot seem to surpass. Seemingly giving the fans what the want and achieving great on field success does not translate into the box office. NYRBII rarely draw enough fans at home to fill several rows in any one section. This past weekend’s win in penalties over rival Rochester Rhinos was witnessed by 1,229 fans, a small drop in the 25k bucket that is Red Bull Arena. The sight harkens back to some of the worst times in the senior team’s history playing at Giants Stadium. What makes the numbers especially disheartening was that the senior team was off for the weekend and no other sport in the area was competing at the time.
Given the talent of the team, it is a shame to see how largely they are ignored in USL. LA Galaxy II suffer from a similar attendance issue, and may point to the real problem with getting people to come to these games. Teams with associated MLS teams are largely not drawing fans. Success has played little part in their attendance numbers. LA nearly won the USL final last season, this year they continued to have problems drawing people to their games. The exact numbers are unknown, as LA does not publish attendance numbers.
This weekend, NYRBII will play in the conference final against the number 2 seed Louisville FC. The game will be a double header with a lead-in from the senior team against Columbus Crew. Columbus is not much of a draw. The chance for the senior team to lock down a first place seed might be enough to inspire strong turnout. The fans attending the afternoon game have tickets to the Louisville game. The RBII’s last double header just a handful of the senior team’s 22k attendance remained. FC Cincinnati was the opponent on the day. Their home crowds are often larger than the Red Bulls senior team.
Is there a solution? None are very obvious. In the digital age, the schedule is easily obtainable online. Team visibility is already quite strong as the “names” of RBII can attest. Free and cheap tickets are regularly available to season ticket holders of the senior team. There are no excuses for the fan base. The team they clamored for is real now, are the fans?