MLS- New York Red Bulls

Stover addresses state of the Red Bulls

Erik Stover 1 (ISIphotos.com)  

                                                                          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.

  • Eric_the_King_7

    Did David Ogilvy really just make a post on SBI, or is someone just toying with me? To know Ogilvy follows SBI and is a possible NYRB supporter – that would be the highlight of my day. Mr. Stover sure isn’t a highlight.

    Mr. Ogilvy – any chance that your NY offices are looking for graphic designers? Even if you are a pseudo-Ogilvy, i think your post was actually spot-on. The approach from Red Bull since its takeover has been nothing more than an isolated attempt to just throw money at a problem. Blindly investing just because there is a market and investing with an intelligent business plan/approach in a fairly knowledgeable market are two completely different things. Unfortunately, it appears that the fans have been stuck with the former.


  • Tony in Quakeland

    paul lorinczi: I think you’re right. Fans tend to think only in the immediate term. Someone the other day remarked about the team not “deserving” a stadium – as if the one year perfromance should have any bearing on a venue that should operate for decades. Stover may be taking the longer view.

    Ives: Any chance that Stover is just not privvy to conversations with barcelona?


  • Neumannator

    Please stop patronizing Metro/Red Bulls supporters with cries of patience. That’s just a flat out insult.


  • The Little Birdie

    At least these comments show that the passion is still there for NYRB fans. It’s amazing what a winning team can do (i.e., in the past, it has hidden all these underlying problems that did not magically arise in the past four months; in the future, it will lead the same disenchanted, critical fans to be joyful and blind to similar systematic issues).

    The Little Birdie’s Two Cents:

    I think that if NYRB truly plan to utilize their parent’s resources to build a quality franchise, and in doing so, spend significant money on quality players and staff, they need to bring in a Theo Epstein-type GM to take over the “soccer operations” post. Period! Most European clubs are now sipping the kool-aid and doing the same thing (and contacting guys like Theo in the process to discuss systems and statistical analysis). Why so many supposed experts, media and bloggers place so much value on hiring someone with “MLS experience” but no business experience — someone like Alexi Lalas, Jeff Agoos, even Bruce Arena to make business decisions is nonsense. I like those guys, but being a former MLS player or coaching in college where your budget is 9.9 scholarships does not give you the right skill set for the job. Sorry. Certainly, having a strong understanding (or the ability to figure them out immediately through being very sharp and pro-sports-minded) of MLS’ rules, particulary it’s unique single-entity structure and player roster/salary limitations is important. An effective GM — one who makes all soccer-related business decisions will be able to hire a Head of Player Personnel (i.e., Agoos if he wants to stay with NYRB), a Head Coach and other soccer personnel who will report up to him so that he can make informed decisions.

    FYI: My favorite comment thus far is “NY deserves to have better than being merely one “sporting property” in a multinationals portfolio.” Ummm… what do you think Anschutz, Hunt, Kraft and the rest are??? Nearly all — if not all — sports franchise owners (clumping in MLS’ so-called owner-“investors”) are successful business owners or leaders who have enough money to play around in sports. You think on their books they consider their sports teams as something more than an “asset” or “property”? They don’t expect, necessarily, to make money. As long as they come close to breaking even, they love the fun, adventure, fame, marketing, social cache, etc. of it. JOKE: Q:How do you become a millionaire? A: First become a billionaire, then buy a sports team.


  • Murphy

    The stadium is a big deal. I’ve never gone to a Red Bulls game even though I live in the area. I will definitely try to go to a game next year at the new stadium.


  • David

    I’ve never understood why people hate Red Bull so much. The company has many sporting business ventures that are quite successful and I don’t doubt they will get this one right too. Their F1 and Nascar teams are competitve and the Salzburg team is in Champions League qualifying. They are footing the entire bill for the new stadium which is huge because no teams do that anymore. I don’t think Red Bull is the problem, it is the people they trusted to put together their on field product. Once they get that combo right it will all come together.


  • Paul

    What a bunch of double-speak. He just realized that “we don’t have a clear system in place on the sporting side” ??? This guy is a construction manager, not a football guy. There is still no evidence at all that he has a clue about hiring people on the “sporting side”. Season tickets are up, but attendance is way down, and if he doesn’t get the hires right this time, no amount of infrastructure improvement is going to save him, or the team.


  • Sean

    I’d like to see Red Bull keep the team, rename them something that won’t change if Red Bull ever decides to sell the team, keep the Red Bull logo as their advertisement and stadium name (though smaller sized logo on the kit) and get more involved, care more about the club.

    The taste left in most fans’ mouths over Red Bulls is going to take a long time to go away. That’s not just Red Bulls fault, in fact, it’s more the fault of all the previous mismanagement. The current roster sucks. A second DP won’t do much to make Red Bull a championship club. And, definitely excited to learn more about the academy.


  • Sean

    And, Paul, when have NY ever dominated the soccer world… I don’t know whether to laugh my ass off or stab myself in the chest.

    Oh, I get it, you’re talking about the Cosmos. I think I’ll do both. Laugh and stab myself in the chest…

    … Dominated the soccer world. LOL. Give me a break. 😉


  • Addage

    If you are a betting person, you bet on failure. Running a sports franchise is not like flipping a coin. It’s not a 50-50 proposition. A franchise that has consistently failed is very likely to be influenced by its past performance. NY is the soccer equivalent of the Titanic.

    If you are a fan, then have a little heart. They are trying to get better. They will search for a talented front office to manage the team. They have improved the infrastructure that supports future success. One good hiring decision could change it all.

    As a fan, I am an optimist. But if money is involved, I bet they fail.


  • achat pc

    Hello everyone,
    I think it’s that time of year again when fans will compete to become the New York Red Bulls 2009 Fan of The Year. This is very good news for game fans that the New York Red Bulls and The Soccer Learning Centre will be hosting the DiNardo Family Cup.


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