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As struggle to fill Red Bull Arena continues, de Grandpre defends RBNY’s attendance


HARRISON, N.J. — When Marc de Grandpre took charge as New York Red Bulls general manager in 2014, he laid out a grand vision for the club to eventually make sellout crowds at Red Bull Arena a regular occurrence.

Five years later, things have not quite worked out that way.

The Red Bulls are currently in the fifth season of de Grandpre’s second stint as the man in charge of their business operations, and that mark is notable because it coincides with a deadline he had set for an ambitious goal. Shortly after returning to the club, de Grandpre came up with a five-year plan to have “consistent sellouts” at Red Bull Arena.

He felt at the time that the Red Bulls were “on track” to accomplish that, but fast forward to today and it is clear they have fallen well short of that goal. Not only has the club begun to tarp off sections at Red Bull Arena this season that regularly go unused, but average attendance also dropped from 21,175 in 2017 to 18,583 last year. It is the first time since de Grandpre’s return that the numbers have regressed, and also a clear indication that his previous target of consistent sellouts is a ways away.

“I think whenever you set goals for an organization, you’ve got to set them just out of reach so they can strive to get there,” de Grandpre told SBI last month. “We didn’t hit it. It is what it is. It’s a reality, but we are where we want to be now and where we think we should be and we recalibrate and move forward. That simple.”

Where exactly the Red Bulls are, at least as far as announced attendance goes, is in the middle of the pack in MLS. The club finished in 14th place in 2018, finishing behind the likes of crosstown rival New York City FC (23,211) but ahead of fellow MLS regulars like D.C. United (17,635) and FC Dallas (15,512).

In terms of the overall New York market, de Grandpre insists the Red Bulls have averaged more fans than the local NHL and NBA teams over the past five years. In fact, de Grandpre states that only the MLB’s Yankees and the NFL duo of the Giants and Jets outdraw the Red Bulls, something he is proud of.

“We’ve been in this game 25 years. The league is very young. It’s nascent in North America,” said de Grandpre. “To be averaging what we’re averaging now after 25 years is really positive, and we’re doing what we can to get the most fans to the building every game and ultimately I know that if we can keep performing on the field and doing what we do here with the marketing team, the numbers are going to keep going in the right direction.

“…I can’t stress enough that other leagues have been around for 100 years, 75 years. Twenty-five years, averaging the numbers we average across the league and here for attendance is nothing to be embarrassed about.”

As much as de Grandpre may believe the team’s numbers have been strong in recent years, the first two MLS games of the 2019 season were not well-attended. The matches pulled in announced crowds of 15,621 and 15,108, though the actual turnouts were noticeably lower than those figures, with large swaths of empty seats clearly visible across almost all sections at Red Bull Arena, save for two-thirds of the supporters’ section.

The Red Bulls are, of course, hardly the only team in MLS (or professional sports, for that matter) to count and go with tickets distributed — which includes those given to sponsors, business partners, employees, etc. — instead of people actually present. Still, seeing so many unused seats is a common occurrence and something the Red Bulls are working on, which is why they have started to tarp off sections in the upper bowl this season.

“If we were to build the stadium today … we’d have built the stadium with a flexible capacity system,” said de Grandpre. “Now as we refresh … we have to rethink the environment. Fans’ demands have evolved. We have to look at more open space concept areas where we can create communal areas where fans can congregate and watch the game together, which we don’t have many of in the building right now.

“We’re going to work with a design firm to look at those areas and also work with our fans and get feedback from our fans throughout the season as to what they want to see in the building, what they would want to see changed, and then we’ll refresh the building.”

The plan de Grandpre has laid out and that the club is working on is going to take “multiple years”. The Red Bulls could have opted to make the changes during a shorter window, but chose not to because they did not want to start a season by being on the road for 3-6 months.

“We’re going to do it in chunks over a period of time, just to provide a better experience for our fans,” said de Grandpre. “Ultimately, this is to provide a better experience for our fans.”

Improving the experience might now be the focus, but it is quite a change of pace from the lofty goal de Grandpre had stated back when he rejoined the team in 2014. There was reason to believe back then that consistent sellouts could become the norm, but things have not panned out that way and may even be starting to trend in the other direction.

Nonetheless, de Grandpre feels good about where things stand and where things are headed.

“You can lead the horse to water but if they don’t come to the game they don’t come to the game,” said de Grandpre. “That is something that we’ve worked on with our fans services team and we’ve improved a lot. Our show rate was really good. We’re excited about where we’re going. I’m proud of our team and where we’ve been and what we’ve done compared to other leagues in the market place.”

“If you look over the last four years, we’ve averaged 20,000 and we’ve been building our base attendance and our season-ticket base every year,” de Grandpre added. “That I’m comfortable with. Obviously, do we always want to be further ahead? Absolutely, but we are where we are and it’s based on where we thought we would be.”


  1. The problem for me is sometimes the lack of talent. It has been over 20 years and no MLS Cup. Although I consider myself a fan of the NY Red Bulls, the stadium is not easy to get to from the outer boroughs besides Manhattan. When I have been there for night games, I have to make sure I leave right away due to Path trains sometimes taking over an hour in the weekends. From where I live it is basically a 1 1/2-2 hour commute in either direction or more. Forget about weekday games, could never go hence not even sure why playoff games are on weekday. The ticket prices weren’t too much of an issue but heard they have gone up which is never good. The other problem I have is at the stadium, concession stands just took way too long to dish out food and prices were costly. The stadium itself is beautiful but it is located in what seems to be in middle of nowhere. They should have built the stadium in Queens where there is a hotbed of soccer, neither NYCFC or NYRB have taken advantage of that. And the biggest reason I think people started to not go to games is because we look like we are a farm team for RB Leipzig or Salzburg. If we have good young talent it gets move to the bigger clubs including coaches. And we don’t seem to get that investment back in return of DPs.

  2. good article

    attendance is bizarre at this stadium. highly successful (albeit no cup) team with lots local talent.

    The last paragraph is revealing as it seems to say they have tried lots of thing and can’t get consistent attendance with a great product.

    I don’t love the name but almost never hear anyone complain or turn up there nose about it anymore.

    Maybe people had bad traffic PATH experiences which eventually turned them off. Easy to follow at home or other leagues overseas.

  3. I finally stopped going to NYRB games when they fired Petke and I’ll stay gone. For me, I have always had reservations about following a team named after a sugar drink. Petke’s presence was the first time I felt a real connection to the club. It felt like it was a community that I was part of. When he was fired, it was a sign that this was always going to be more about promoting an energy drink than taking care of the fans. The location is an issue, too, but for a club I could believe in, I would be there.

    I have brothers who still support but I just won’t support the New York Dr. Peppers anymore. Too much of a sour taste was left in my mouth.

  4. It is NOT going to get any better. They chose the wrong place to build that beautiful stadium. Harrison is in the middle of nowhere. There is “no there there”. It is hard to get to. The prices are too high for a stadium half full. Why they made 25,000 seats is a mystery. If they had 20,000 seats, it wouldn’t look so bad when only 15,000 show up. The upper bowl? Really? Why did they need that? It’s a ghost town up there.

  5. This shows that they really aren’t panicking about attendance. No wonder they don’t bother with day-of-game deals or set-price $1 hot dogs and beer that isn’t $13. Because of the high prices, and frankly low quality of food, I’ve stopped going to the stadium pre-game.

    As a STH it is alsodisheartening to spend so much and have the atmosphere, while always good, not as great as it could be. A good friend in our row passed on his 4 tickets this year because it got to be too much and he could never resell tickets to games he couldn’t make.

  6. For the amount of empty seats I see on TV, the availability of tickets, not to mention the price, doesn’t add up.

    If you look early in the week before the game on Ticketmaster (don’t get me started on fees) you will find very few seats between the end lines. Of those, you can expect to pay $40 for upper level and $60 (usually closer to $90) for lower bowl tickets. With the small stadium, the upper bowl views are great, but it’s hard to convince a friend who isn’t a soccer fan that they should shell out $40 for a ticket.

    For games like the CCL leg against Santos, there literally weren’t tickets available.

    The experience at the game isn’t the issue, but some cheaper tickets would certainly help.


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