Dear Papa Red Bull,
It was suggested recently that you don't "get" US Open Cup. This is surprising.
Surprising because it's just a domestic cup competition - like any of the others around the world, including the Austrian Cup, which Big Brother Red Bull (Salzburg) won this year (congrats!) and in 2012 (well done!). It's a slightly bigger deal (because it's national, not regional) than the Saxony Cup that Red Bull Leipzig won in 2011 and 2013 (nice work!), or the Copa Paulista that Red Bull Brasil didn't win in 2010 (runner-up: not bad guys!) or any year before or since.
Maybe something gets lost in translation. But it's a cup: you know about these things. Yes, it's not the priority of any season at the start, but it's a thing we can win, and don't we want to win things? I'll answer that: yes, we want to win things.
And let's be honest: until last year, when the accidental manager actually did win something, your really rather wonderful stadium was looking like one of the world's more expensive parachute landing areas (love the parachutes, by the way - send 'em our way whenever you feel like it). Last year, as you probably know, we won the league, but we also didn't really win the league, because we didn't win THE cup. Maybe that's the part you don't get?
Don't fret over the details, Papa; leave that to Brother Mike and Good Uncle Andy.
Here's another reason you might want to be interested in US Open Cup: it's good business. First, it's a way into CONCACAF Champions League (easy, Papa: we'll be talking about that later this year; don't worry yourself, it's just another thing we want to win). That means a little extra cash against the salary cap and a little boost to the profile.
How can that help? Well, fans like winning teams. What does Real Madrid's supporter base look like without that stacked trophy room? Getafe.
No, I'm not suggesting RBNY turns into Real Madrid by winning US Open Cup. But if you want more bodies through the gates on match days, it doesn't hurt to give them some winning soccer to watch. No one is flocking to Harrison for $13 cups of beer and a chance to crack a rib getting on the PATH after the game.
Don't believe me? Consider Seattle Sounders. They came flying into MLS looking for something to win quick, and won US Open Cup so many times the rules had to be changed just to give everyone else a chance.
They get plenty of bodies through their gates. There are a few other reasons they're so popular, but those Cups didn't hurt. Chicago Fire had a similar strategy for quite a while: the Fire won four US Open Cups from 1998 to 2006, plus a runner-up spot and two semifinals.
In other words, in those nine seasons, Chicago had seven US Open Cup runs. And some interesting things happened to the club's attendance over those years.
1998 was Chicago Fire's first season in existence, and it averaged 17,887 fans per game in the MLS regular season. That is still the highest average attendance the club has ever had. 1998 was a good year for Chicago: US Open Cup and MLS Cup titles. Most of the fans came back for the '99 season - around 16,000 per game.
But the Fire won nothing in 1999, and average attendance for the 2000 season dropped to 13,387. Those absent fans missed a pretty good year: Chicago was the second best team in the regular season, runner up in MLS Cup, and won US Open Cup again.
Attendance jumped back north of 16,000/game for 2001, which wasn't a great year on the field, and attendance slumped to less than 13,000 for 2002, also not a good year for the team.
A Supporters' Shield and another US Open Cup helped cajole 14K or so through the gate during 2003, and that success boosted crowds back to roughly 17K for 2004 AND 2005. Why did attendance rise for back-to-back trophyless years? Maybe making the USOC final in 2004 helped.
The winless years did see a drop in attendance for 2006, but Chicago won another US Open Cup that year - and attendances climbed again, peaking at over 17K per game by 2008. The team hasn't threatened to win much since, has missed the playoffs three of the last four years, and attendances have declined accordingly.
Except in 2012, when the Fire were suddenly back over 16K fans per game for the first time since the '08 season. What happened? Well, they were in the US Open Cup final again in 2011...
Oh, one more thing: the one time RBNY (then MetroStars) did make a run at USOC, in 2003, attendances bounced from an average of 15,822 that year to 17,194 for 2004, before slumping back to around 15K again in 2005. Even almost winning the cup has an impact.
Papa, the US Open Cup isn't difficult to understand: it's a thing we can win, and winning things is the most effective marketing tool in sports. On the other hand, not winning things and ducking out of competitions before they've even started, speaks to a lack of ambition. If you can't even pretend to care about the success of the team, the fans start to stop caring too. And if its your brand you really care about, do you want apathy to be the defining feature of your branded team?
We're about to play New York Cosmos, The Comeback Edition - a club that never used to care at all about US Open Cup, until its league folded, it ran out of things to try to win, and disappeared entirely. (What does Cosmos look like now if it had stayed in existence and kept making runs at US Open Cup instead of spending two decades as a logo for summer camps?)
So RBNY should care about the Cup.
Of course, this particular game against the Cosmos is going to look like we don't care at all. We're going to have a bunch of reserves out there because half our team is either injured, scared of being injured, in Brazil, or being treated for PTSD sustained by having to backstop our godawful defense (get well soon, Luis!).
The Cosmos have a chance. As individuals, our reserves are pretty good and should be well motivated (despite your lack of care and attention, Papa), but RBNY has been beaten by worse teams on better pitches in this competition in the past.
Still, if we win, we're three games away from the final - and we should do our damnedest to get there.
We started this season in the hunt for four trophies: Supporters' Shield, MLS Cup, CCL and US Open Cup. We've got a tough draw in CCL, so we'll need to work hard to get out of our group. And we can't win CCL this year - all we can do is stay alive for the knockout rounds next season.
I know, it's complicated. You are just a simple purveyor of liquid insomnia. So focus on the simple stuff. We're pretty much out of the Supporters' Shield race already: we need 2.16 points per game just to get to our points total last year - 59, which was an unusually low score for a Shield winner. You know which team is averaging 2.16 ppg in MLS at the moment? None of them, not even Seattle (2.13 ppg through 15 games).
It's time to acknowledge there are two trophies we can win this year: MLS Cup and US Open Cup. Both get us to CCL. Both therefore get us the allocation money boost afforded an entrant to that competition, and the right to have another banner hanging in the Arena. But only one of them can be won in five matches.
So if we pull off a win against the Cosmos, give Andy and Mike a call. Say congratulations. Say you get it. And say you want this trophy.