Photo by ISIphotos.com
The New York Red Bulls are just playing out the string in MLS, enduring one of the worst seasons in league history, but the recent departure of former head coach Juan Carlos Osorio, and the expected shake-up of the club's front office structure has the club in the headlines again.
For those of you who missed it, here is my ESPN.com piece on the state of the Red Bulls and just how they ended up in such a mess.
The task of cleaning up the mess will fall to managing director Erik Stover, who will ultimately decide who will run the team's soccer operations, and who will be the head coach, once the current season ends.
Stover took time out from handling damage control to answer some questions from SBI. Here is the Q&A exchange, which took place via e-mail on Friday:
SBI– What do you think have been the key reasons behind the 2009 season becoming such a bad one for the club?
STOVER- Looking at the entire season, there have been a lot of things that have contributed to our poor results. Some have been small and some have been big. The biggest thing that we learned from this season is that we don’t have a clear system in place on the sporting side and that changes are required.
SBI– Would you call the period of time since the Red Bulls purchased the MLS cub in 2006 a successful one, on and off the field? If so, why would you call it a successful period?
STOVER- I would call the franchise successful since Red Bull purchased the franchise. Though, this season has certainly been a challenge with our on-field performances. For people that have followed the team for a long time, Red Bull has done a lot to change the culture. The Metrostars used to practice in a parking lot and sometimes they would get on a bus not knowing what field they would train on. Red Bull has invested in a number of things to improve the franchise for the long term.
First, we invested in Montclair State as an interim solution for a consistent training facility. It's certainly a dramatic improvement over what the Metrostars used to have. We are also still committed to building a permanent training facility in East Hanover, New Jersey.
Second, Red Bull has invested in players and designated players. Juan Pablo Angel is arguably the best Designated Player in MLS.
Third, Red Bull has invested in Red Bull Arena, a soccer-specific stadium that will open next season. All of the funding for the stadium is being covered by Red Bull. There are no public funds being used. I also firmly believe that if Red Bull did not own this club, the stadium site would still be an empty dirt lot of unrealized promises.
Fourth, Red Bull has invested in its Academy here in New York as well as four others around the world. We believe we are building the top academy here in the United States. Also, we’ve started to see the results as our U-20 team just won the USL Super 20 league crown earlier this month. And a number of our Academy players have been called into the US National program camps.
Fifth, on the business side, the season ticket base has more than doubled since Red Bull took over in 2006. Though its not where we’d like it, we have seen it grow. Again, Red Bull has committed the resources to make the organization successful. We have had to overcome a number of years of mediocre performance and it takes time to turn it around. It’s not an overnight project.
SBI– What do you see as the positive aspects of Red Bull as MLS owners?
STOVER- The positive aspects of Red Bull are they are committed to doing things in the right way and is committed to winning. As mentioned above, we have committed significant resources, not only here in the United States, but around the world for soccer. If you look at what Red Bull is trying to do with the sport around the world, you can't argue that it's something less than ambitious and not true to the sport.
In my time with the organization, Red Bull has always aimed to be a leader in MLS to enhance league through players, facilities, academy, as well as on the business side. Our goal is to be a pre-eminent professional franchise.
SBI– What, if any, mistakes do you think Red Bull has made since buying into MLS?
STOVER- This season is clearly not what we expect from our club but we have a plan to correct things moving forward. An objective observer would say that an MLS Cup appearance and the completion of Red Bull Arena are significant accomplishments.
SBI– What do you see as being the biggest challenges Red Bull has faced in being an MLS ownership group?
STOVER- Stadium construction has proven to be more difficult than anticipated. Environmental issues, lawsuits and government bureaucracy have all played havoc with our construction schedule. Once we get into Red Bull Arena our business model and our identity will change significantly for the better.
SBI– What do you think of the notion that having an ownership group located outside of the United States is bad for an MLS team, particularly when there is as much of a disconnect between the parent company and the club as there appears to be between Red Bull and the New York Red Bulls?
STOVER- This simply isn’t true. We are in constant contact with the parent company. If you look at all of the Red Bull sporting properties you will see an intense desire to succeed.
SBI– Do you see Red Bull Arena being the type of catalyst that can help rejuvenate the club and restore some of the fan base the club has lost over the years?
STOVER- The idea that we have lost our fan base over the years is not true. Our season ticket holder base has more than doubled since we took ownership of the club.
The opening of Red Bull Arena next year will give us the opportunity to re-launch soccer in the New York Metropolitan Area and to connect with a whole new group of fans. This will be an authentic soccer experience and we expect it to exceed people’s expectations.
We are also aware that it’s the product on the pitch that counts and we’re committed to building a winning franchise.
SBI– By all accounts Red Bull Arena will be, by far, the best stadium in MLS. What will be the keys to turning the team on the field into one of the best in MLS?
STOVER- Going into this year, we thought the MLS Cup appearance, and the stadium moving along very quickly, that we were riding a wave of momentum. And you can look at the stands on game day and see that some of our season ticket holders are showing their frustration by staying at home.
But, I think we have an opportunity to turn things around. If you think about it, our supporters have been with us a long time, and there have been a lot of ups and downs with this organization, and I think as we can turn the page on the season, the optimism will come back in.
The keys will be to put a competitive team on the pitch. Winning solves a lot of problems. Also, we need to provide the best fan experience possible. I am confident that we will do that next season.
SBI– Does it surprise you that there are still persistent rumors about Red Bull selling the team and why do you think such rumors persist?
STOVER- These rumors are completely without merit. I don’t know where they come from. It just doesn’t make any sense. If you look at the business of team ownership and stadium construction, it is really a ridiculous notion.
SBI– What is your message to Red Bulls fans who have grown disenchanted with the club after this dismal season, and find it hard to continue supporting the team after so many years of mediocrity?
STOVER- I would tell the fans that we understand their frustration and disappointment. We’re disappointed, too, and we feel like we lost an opportunity after the MLS Cup last year. We had momentum going into this season and we let that slip away. With that said, we remain optimistic that big things are coming. We expect to sign a second designated player and we hope to have exciting news out of our academy in the very near future. We will also be playing our first full season on a legitimate soccer pitch next year and Red Bull Arena will give us a true home field advantage for the first time in our history.
What do you think of Stover's responses? Believe his enthusiastic vision of the future of the Red Bulls is a realistic one? Think Red Bull Arena will help spark a dramatic turnaround in the club's fortunes? Are you in the camp who thinks Red Bull just isn't a good owner?
Share your thoughts below.