The New York Red Bulls qualified for the MLS playoffs this year, but are struggling with low attendance and the revival of the popular and previously defunct New York Cosmos. Jim Edwards, a Red Bull fan and a senior editor for Business Insider, talked with Bill about the troubles on the horizon for New York’s first MLS team.
Q: Your recent story on the New York Red Bulls is provocatively titled “MLS Chief Don Garber Makes Progress on Play that Will Kill the New York Red Bulls.” Not ‘might’ kill them—‘will’ kill them. What is that plan?
A: So for a long time, Don Garber, the commissioner of MLS, has wanted two big professional soccer teams in New York City. He’s very close to a $300 million agreement to build a new stadium for a new football franchise in Queens. The problem here is that the Red Bulls average attendance this season is about 17,000 fans. The stadium holds 25,000. And if another team comes to New York, you’ve got to think that the casual fans who find the Queens stadium nearer them will go there, and not go to New Jersey to watch the Red Bulls.
Q: The Red Bulls are among the MLS teams that added international stars to their rosters. They employ Thierry Henry, and he’s scored some spectacular goals, but has that helped at the gate?
A: Well, it hasn’t helped at the gate. Attendance has fallen about 10 percent at Red Bull arena this year. I don’t really understand why that is, because it has been a fantastically exciting season at Red Bull Arena. There’s been about a dozen games in which more than four goals have been scored. Soccer, of course, is a sport where one-nil is considered a result. And Thierry Henry is playing the best football of his post-Arsenal career. He has turned in some absolutely spectacular performances. And Red Bull fans, we love Thierry Henry. When he takes a corner, the entire stadium is on its feet and the noise is unbelievable, but for some reason, it’s not filling the stadium.
Q: The Red Bulls have scored plenty of goals. Their 55 goals led the Eastern Conference, but only Toronto and Montreal have allowed more goes. What does this suggest for postseason?
A: It suggests they’ve got to sort their defenders out, really. Clearly they’ve got the midfield and the strike force sorted out, but the back half of the field is really leaky. One of the problems is the Red Bulls have gone through a number of different goal keepers this season. I’ve actually lost count, I think we’re on our fifth one. The goalie is the guy who’s organizing the defense, particularly in the set pieces.