Here is the next installment of Q&A with Red Bulls Managing Director Erik Stover (first installment HERE second installment HERE). After the Q&A, Mr. Stover shares his thoughts on a variety of subjects, from expansion to marketing. Again, we encourage you to submit questions for Mr. Stover to reply to in future additions, either in the comments section or by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org (questions only please, as this is a no-reply e-mail address).
March 26, 2009
Red Bulls Fans:
Well, the season has started and it was certainly a great atmosphere in Seattle. Similar to the impact that Toronto FC has had on the North American sports landscape, I think the Sounders will help change the overall impression of MLS. They’ve had a great start and they are showing everyone in North America that soccer is here to stay.
Unfortunately, we had a very poor start and there’s not much positive to say about our performance on the field. However, it is a long year and one bad game will not dampen our optimism for the season. We were missing several starters due to injuries, suspensions and visa issues and I truly believe that we are one of the top tier clubs in this League.
My last post generated a few questions, so let’s start there.
From PenaltySpot: What is the real purpose of having the “Red Bull Girls” or whatever they are called. Now don’t get me wrong, eye candy is nice. But 99% of the time they are falling all over the players in the pub, and they’re not much visible elsewhere. I would rather have the money spent in other forms of marketing…are we selling sex or soccer?
The Red Bull Brand Reps are an important part of our Street Team. They help manage events throughout New York and New Jersey. Their role is simply to be friendly and sociable while promoting Red Bull New York. During games they work customer service locations and interact with fans on the concourse.
For example, the Street Team recently appeared on the Today Show and they have been a major part of our “Bulls on Parade” and “Yellow Card, Red Card” grassroots promotional campaigns. They will also be participating in our “Play More Soccer” events throughout the Metro area.
I also think it is an unfair characterization to suggest that we are “selling sex.” We have both men and women on the Street Team and they are dressed tastefully in RBNY gear. I will, however, check in with our staff to make sure that everyone is acting professionally while in the Pub.
From PenaltySpot: Will there be a “pub” in Red Bull Arena for the season ticket holders to mingle with the players after the game? If so will be it more regularly attended by the players? Has the club looked into a family friendly alternative to the pub so, when my 5-year-old wants an autograph from a player, she doesn’t get beer spilled on her?
Red Bull Arena will also have the Bulls Corner Pub. We have not decided on how we will manage access to the Pub. Our goal is to keep it open to all season ticket holders, but the maximum capacity of the Pub will be limited to 400 people and we expect to have at least 10,000 season ticket holders next year. Obviously, the demand for access will exceed the available space. We hope to have a fair solution shortly.
Regarding a family friendly opportunity to get autographs, we will have the Meet the Team event again this year. We do this every year and it is always a great opportunity for people to meet whatever players they want and to get autographs.
We are also planning open practices to help with our community outreach efforts. These open practices will be another way for people to interact with the players and coaches.
From kubrick74 and kofix5 (both want Jeff Parke back): Jeff Parke wants to come back to MLS and doesn’t want to be in Seattle. Please, Please, Please get him back. Would be a damn shame to see him in a DC kit.
We really like Jeff Parke and he was one of our most consistent players the last few years. Unfortunately, the expansion draft forces every team to expose players that they want to keep. If Jeff had a longer term contract, we probably would have protected him. We knew, however, that he was very serious about trying to make it in Europe and we didn’t want to lose Jeff and another player from our roster to Seattle in the expansion draft.
LET’S TALK ABOUT EXPANSION
MLS announced that Vancouver and Portland will become the 17th and 18th Clubs in MLS.
Going into this round of expansion I would have put money on the two expansion clubs being Vancouver and Miami. I was a little surprised to see Miami fade away but the reasons behind that decision have been well documented. Commissioner Garber said in a conference call with media on Tuesday, March 24 that next month they will begin to examine the possibility of adding as many as two more teams by 2012, bringing the number to 20.
So, what goes into a successful expansion bid? Full disclosure here, I did not see any of the bids for expansion so I’m not sharing any “insider” information. This is simply what I believe should be closely considered as MLS continues to grow.
In my opinion the two most important elements to consider are; 1) ownership strength and 2) community support for the sport. Vancouver and Portland are perfect examples of cities that deliver both.
Vancouver is a cosmopolitan city that truly embraces the world’s most popular sport. They have a dynamic ownership group that is strongly connected to the City with the resources to start up and maintain a professional franchise. Additionally, the star power (see Steve Nash) will raise awareness of the Club and the League throughout Canada and the United States.
Vancouver’s formula for success is very similar to Seattle’s and most people around the League expect to see similar results. This should set up natural rivalries in the Pacific Northwest and a national rivalry with Toronto FC. And, I believe that sports are at their best when the rivalries are real and intense.
The expansion continues in the Pacific Northwest with Portland, another city that exudes community pride. With Merritt Paulson at the head of the Portland franchise, MLS gets an owner with a diverse background and a wealth of experience in sports marketing. The Timbers should easily grab the hearts and minds of the people.
Additionally, the City of Portland has shown the necessary support to renovate the Timbers’ current home, PGE Park, to ensure that it meets MLS standards. PGE Park is a historic venue that also serves as home to their minor league baseball team. It will take a lot of work to improve the standards there, but political and community support is always the first hurdle.
Of course, expanding with two teams from the West in the same year creates some challenges. Not the least of which are conference assignments, realignment and scheduling balance. These are all issues that MLS and the Board of Governors will need to work out over the next 12-18 months. There will be short-term and long-term solutions discussed, but we should all see the growth in this league as a positive.
What’s up with marketing? We have gotten some criticism recently for our “Bulls on Parade” guerilla marketing campaign and Red Bull’s commitment to the team in general.
First, let me address the “Bulls on Parade” marketing campaign. It was never intended to be something that everyone liked or appreciated. It was supposed to be unique and unusual and weird. And, it was not intended to lead directly to ticket sales. It was simply intended to generate discussion, which is exactly what it did. We have gotten a lot of e-mails and blog comments from people that were extremely positive and the real time reaction from those on the streets was impactful. In fact, we have actually sold season tickets based on the interaction that our Street Team had with people out in the community.
We have also gotten feedback from people that hate it…some really hate it. That’s fine and again we never expected that everyone would appreciate it. But please don’t assume that this is the one and only idea that we have to market this team. Without giving away our secrets here’s a quick summary of upcoming advertising, marketing and outreach programs:
- Traditional ad buys with the Daily News, WADO, ESPN Radio, local newspapers, bus shelters, soccer specific web banners, etc.
- Player appearances at the ESPN Zone, Mulligans, TV morning shows, etc.
- Community outreach programs in Harrison, Newark and surrounding communities, which will include open practices for the first team
- Play More Soccer street campaign
- Video Projections throughout New York and New Jersey
- Private events for key opinion leaders throughout the Metro area
- Leveraging stadium construction milestones and hard hat tours to create news reports in the local media
- Camps and clinics that reach over 35,000 kids annually
- Social networking on Facebook and Red Bull Reader
I hope this shows that we have a detailed plan and that criticizing one element is a bit short-sighted. However, we do appreciate your passionate feedback in trying to improve our club and outreach.
Regarding those that challenge Red Bull’s commitment to this club, I would suggest that the stadium development alone squashes that argument. For a stadium, the amount that will be spent by Red Bull is far and away the highest investment by an owner in MLS history. This is all Red Bull money and we have not held our hands out for public subsidy from State or Local government. If there is another team in professional sports that has taken on 100% of the cost of stadium construction, I don’t know who it is.
To illustrate this point, just look around this market to see the traditional approach by other team owners. The New York Metropolitan Area is in the middle of a stadium and arena construction boom. Nearly $5 billion has been spent on construction and that figure does not include the cost of infrastructure. Taxpayer money makes up significant percentage of funding for these projects. We have not asked for a penny. We should be applauded for this approach, not criticized for a lack of commitment.
Also, don’t forget the future development of our training facility or our annual investment in our youth academies, which does not charge players fees or expenses for participating. The purpose of these two projects is to improve the team and elevate the quality of play in this country. Our investment in the academy and youth development systems far exceeds every other club in MLS. You should also be aware that Red Bull has started academies in Ghana and Brazil with the intent of developing players for the first teams in Salzburg and New York.
I’m passionate about what we are doing and I believe that we are headed down the right path. With that in mind, I will take the time to explain things and answer questions whenever they come up. So, please send in your questions and comments by entering in the comment section below or by sending to email@example.com and I will do my best to respond in a timely manner.
Thank you for your support of the Red Bulls!