By FRANCO PANIZO
The arrival of New York City FC will be beneficial to all, including the New York Red Bulls.
That was an underlying message from MLS commissioner Don Garber during a Tuesday conference call in which he discussed NYCFC joining the league as its 20th team in 2015. The addition of NYCFC is the culmination of several years of hard work by the league, but for many fans and pundits it is also a move that comes at the detriment of the New Jersey-based Red Bulls.
The Red Bulls have struggled to make a serious dent in the sports landscape in the New York market, with inconsistent attendance at games and an empty trophy cabinet at the heart of their problems. Those issues have instilled a belief in some that neighborly competition for attention in a market saturated with pro sports teams will be damning to the Red Bulls’ fanbase and organization.
Garber, however, does not see it that way.
“The view that we have is that there are more than enough people here to be fans of both teams,” said Garber. “There’s 19 million people in this region. We have lots of fans for the Red Bulls, but we don’t have 19 million fans. There’s more than enough people who can be either excited about being fans of both clubs or be converted from perhaps following another team from around the world to be a fan of one or both of those teams.”
There has been no shortage of evidence of MLS pushing hard for a second team in the New York metro area in recent years, but Garber said Tuesday that the league has been working on this project for quite some time. In fact, Garber stated that MLS has had the idea of fielding two New York teams since the league opened in 1996 and that the Red Bulls were cognizant of this even before they even bought into the league in 2006.
“It was always a goal, if you look at the original plan, to have two teams in New York,” said Garber. “We’ve worked on and off on this project for the last 18 years. It was part of the original configuration, it was certainly something that the Red Bulls were very aware of when they purchased the MetroStars from AEG.
“We will work very closely with (Red Bulls general manager Jerome de Bontin) and the rest of his club to have this rivalry be something that has enormous value to what we’re all trying to achieve in this market, which is more interest, more popularity, more fans and more excitement.”
De Bontin was one of the bigger antagonists to MLS’s plans of expanding into the New York market when he joined the Red Bulls last fall, but his tone has changed somewhat in recent months. Still, in a statement released by the Red Bulls on Tuesday afternoon, de Bontin was careful in not expressing too much optimism for the addition of NYCFC, no matter how beneficial Garber believes it will be.
“We are supportive of MLS expansion, as it illustrates the growing interest of soccer in North America,” said de Bontin in the statement. “We also want to congratulate MLS and the league’s new ownership group, which is injecting additional resources to help develop our sport across the country. Today’s announcement is one of many steps in the exciting and challenging process of building a competitive MLS club.”
“Our club’s energy is focused on winning a championship for the league’s most loyal and passionate fans, many of whom have steadfastly backed this organization and MLS since its inception and come from all over the tri-state area,” continued de Bontin. “We are committed to continue to build an organization that is the flagship club for Major League Soccer around the world and a club that soccer fans across the region can be proud to support.”