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The Way Queens Is the Home To the Bodega (or How MLS and Red Bull are failing New York)

They stare at me most every morning.

Sitting on the Manhattan-bound express F-Train, coffee in hand as I try to drag myself into the land of the conscious, I read the MSG Network print ads posted across the car from me.

An action photo of a hockey player is superimposed with copy such as the following: “MSG Network is the home of the Rangers the way Katz’s is the home of corned beef.”

It’s a great ad. It’s fun. It’s a little irreverent. It’s chock full of local flavor.

There are a few variations of this ad for every New York-based team that is broadcast regularly on the MSG and MSG+ networks. There’s one for the Knicks. There’s one for the Islanders.

I have yet to see one for the New York Red Bulls.

For the uninitiated New Yorkers reading this, Red Bull New York has its local broadcasting contract with MSG Networks. Having said that, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if you didn’t know that. Beyond the occasional commercial on MSG, there’s not much out there to tell you where to catch their games on television.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you didn’t know New York City had a local association football club. The local MLS team is practically ignored by the print media of this city. It’s rare that I find weekly coverage of this team in any print copies of the New York Post or the Daily News (although the online editions will sometimes garner the occasional news hit). Getting inches in the New York Times seems a lost cause. There is some presence online through various blogs and podcasts. However, a team that is supposedly representing the New York area’s soccer community on a professional level seems conspicuously non-present in the city it’s supposed to belong to.

Full disclosure: they actually play in Harrison, New Jersey. Naturally, the New York City elite could never embrace them as their own team. Their hallowed ground is in a neighboring state. They don’t even play in New York proper.

Full disclosure: the New York Giants and New York Jets actually play in New Jersey as well.

Somebody is failing the New York Red Bulls.

As MLS seems to be moving along an upward trajectory in terms of attendance, domestic profile, and international respect, one senses the Red Bulls have stalled. They have a new, stunning stadium that would be the envy of any American soccer club. They rarely sell it out. They have veteran Thierry Henry on their starting lineup, fresh off a successful loan stint at Arsenal. Season tickets are down this year from last year.

Somebody is failing the Red Bulls.

For local news agents to start caring about this club west of the Hudson, New York needs to start caring about them first.

Why is New York – full of soccer-loving folk such as myself – not embracing this team as their own local side?

Is Major League Soccer failing the Red Bulls? Commissioner Don Garber waxes eloquent time and again about a second New York team (the Cosmos perhaps?) somewhere in the five boroughs. He wants to create a Hudson Derby. Hasn’t the soccer-universe shown us over the ages that rivalries can never be manufactured. They have to be grown organically. Portland and Seattle are a proper rivalry. They’ve hated each other for years. Even New York and D.C. have a far more home-grown rivalry. That’s a proper derby.

Garber explains that he has a team working overtime to find space in the New York area for a stadium and owners that can effectively usher in this new team. All this while D.C. United, a charter team for the league, languishes in a sub-par stadium that should have been replaced ages ago. MLS wants to get the fervor of a new-team atmosphere in New York while disregarding the team that’s already here.

Some say that bringing in an expansion team into the New York area would benefit the Red Bulls. It would create a competitive atmosphere where Red Bull would have to work harder to pull in fans who might defect to the metropolitan team. The flaw in that argument is that the Red Bulls already exist in a competitive atmosphere. However, Red Bull is not just competing against another soccer club. It’s competing against everything else there is to do in the New York area.

And, that includes every other sport team you could follow passionately in the New York area. It’s not just one soccer team versus another soccer team. It’s a soccer team versus two basketball teams, three hockey teams, two baseball teams, and two football teams.

Red Bull is the obvious culprit. Is the corporate entity – an Austrian-based energy drink company that sponsors the team – simply to detached geographically from the local market to care what the area thinks (or doesn’t think) of the club? The team’s flagrant disregard of the long-standing US Open Cup tournament last year (coach Backe didn’t event travel to a number of those games) smacked of a club that only seemed focused on brand awareness (Emirate Cup, anyone?) and not winning a meaningful domestic trophy. Perhaps advancing deep into the competition wouldn’t have won immediate ovations from the New York curious, but it would have certainly established a culture of winning for the organization.

Red Bull cannot remain complacent until the New York Cosmos come back. They need to get a presence in New York City now!

I want copy that reads: “Come and see THIERRY FUC*ING HENRY in your own backyard. It’s only off the PATH Train.” I want stickers to put on lamp posts that show a Red Bull gorging the SH*T out of the Cosmos logo. Red Bull New York has its hard-core supporters who will suffer through with this team. They need the casual fan to care. To make it to a game or two. To at least crawl to a bar and watch the damn thing on television.

On MSG or MSG+.

I want to look up bleary-eyed during one of my morning commutes and see an ad that reads: “MSG Network is the home of the New York Red Bulls the way Queens is the home to the bodega.”

And then…then…bring on the Cosmos.

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