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The Word From The South Ward: Red Bull Arena

Tonight, we debut a new feature here at Once A Metro. Every so often, we'll get a different perspective on the Red Bulls and the happenings of the club from die-hard fans. Tonight, Pete from the Garden State Supporters and the Empire Supporters Club offers his view on the Red Bulls' brand new palace, Red Bull Arena:

There are many ways one could describe Red Bull Arena when it comes to the fan experience. "Game Changer", "Paradigm Shifting", and "Bar Raiser" are some of the many ways it can be described. There is no possible way one can compare the experience at Giants Stadium to the experience at Red Bull Arena.

For starters, just getting to the stadium is a new, and to many, a better experience. Up until this year, the only option was driving to the middle of a swamp where the Meadowlands Sports Complex is. Some games you had to get there early because of the limited parking due to the construction of the new Meadowlands Stadium. Driving to the old stadium was difficult at best with the labyrinth of a parking lot, not to mention the inflated parking rates for the honor of doing so. If you couldn't or refused to arrive by car, your only other option was to brave a bus ride from Manhattan. Either option was not exactly ideal, which probably caused the sparse crowds at any home game.

Red Bull Arena is a world of difference. Mass transit access is wonderful. Being from Queens, New York, it is quite easy to hop on a couple trains and be dropped off mere feet from the Arena. Not to mention the ease of people from all over Jersey and the Metro area to get to the stadium. Most do choose this route, but there are also buses into the area. Having Newark Penn Station a walking distance from the Arena is a valuable asset.

One could go the Harrison PATH stop and get to the stadium, but that's only half of the fun. I personally prefer to go to Newark Penn Station, and take advantage of all the restaurants and bars the Ironbound District of Newark. There is MMM Bellos right on Market Street just outside of the station, which is home to the supporter group Garden State Supporters, or you can walk up Market to EL Pastor, where another supporters club, the Empire Supporters Club can be found. At either place, and the countless others in the area, you will find endless options of food and drink. This is something I find just as important to the experience that the Meadowlands could never offer.

After you have some food, drink, and gotten to socialize with fellow fans and the people of the area, it's time to go to the Arena. A short walk on Market leads you to a bridge that leads you straight to the Arena. Notice that I haven't mentioned anything involving driving yet. Harrison and Newark aren't the most ideal to drive through on game day. The Arena was made to be transit friendly. It's not impossible to drive to a game, but it's better not to. If you wait until about an hour before the game, you will see the two supporters clubs unite by the bridge and march to the Arena. Their songs and chants, the pageantry, and the energy they bring helps set the mood for the game.

When you arrive to the stadium, you go in and see something that is so alien to American sports. The stadium is built in a more European-style, and that helps give the Arena "life". You can feel the energy. I remember standing on the large concourse and couldn't get over how open everything is. This helps the atmosphere. Giants Stadium was lifeless, and it wasn't a place that gave off a "festive" atmosphere. I noticed the roof covering the stands, but open to let light onto the field. The roof keeps the elements off the spectators, and the sound in. During the game's I've been to so far, the overall noise level is exponentially higher than anything I've experienced at Giants Stadium (that wasn't a game involving David Beckham or the Mexican National Team).

Sitting in the supporters’ section is fun, and the only way one should experience a soccer game. The GSS and ESC do a fine job getting into the game, and it is infectious, where some people outside the supporters' section get into the songs/chants as well. At the Arena, the supporter clubs are allowed banners, flags on poles, and smoke bombs to help get the atmosphere like that in Europe. It's a welcome, new, and sometimes awkward, experience. At Giants Stadium, the people who ran the stadium were strict with what the fans could do. They were also brutal and harsh with security, where it was not unusual security pulling people out and banning them from the stadium for minor offenses.

That is another stark difference to me. Security, while there, weren't visible. The firm the Arena uses for security have done a great job not being visible. This helps makes for an enjoyable, calm experience. Security at Giants Stadium promoted tension you could feel and ruined a lot of enjoyment at all soccer games held there.

The amenities at Red Bull Arena are still a work in progress. It's still new to a lot of people, especially the employees of the food stands. There are long lines at the food stands/carts and they do not move quickly due to the lack of experience of the employees. The bathrooms also are a work in progress, with people having to get used to their layout. I'm sure this is a temporary thing, and it will be improved on over time. One positive is the Red Bull Corner Pub, which though limited in people who can use it (it costs extra to season ticket holders and only a limited number of them can get access to the Pub). In reality it's nothing more than a theme restaurant that happens to be inside the stadium. For what it's worth it is a nice addition and alternative to the bars and restaurants. A tad over-priced, but considering it's more of a luxury the prices are par for the course.

25,000 in an intimate stadium like Red Bull Arena is much better than the same in a large NFL stadium. The people are closer to the action on the field, they are closer to each other, and most importantly, the fans feel "home." They no longer have to feel like a third class citizen in a stadium only worried about the Giants, Jets, Bon Jovi, or Springsteen. Also the game is played on grass, and not a plastic shag carpet like the Fieldturf found at Giants Stadium. Granted the field still looked unsettled, but any natural surface is better than a synthetic one.

Post-game, you have some options. You can catch a train to Manhattan, catch a train or bus home, or go back to some of the bars in the area for another pint. Again, much better than Giants Stadium, where you get out and find yourself in a parking lot in the middle of a swamp.

Everything about the experience is positive. It's a totally different experience that ever came from Giants Stadium. I took the train home and I never realized how many Red Bull fans there were in New York City. The PATH train I was on was filled with New Yorkers, and those who weren't there for the game were asking questions about the stadium, league, and team. This stadium is probably the single greatest marketing tool the team ever came upon. In the past few months, you couldn't take a PATH train or go anywhere around the stadium without seeing a billboard or ad saying "The Stage is Set". This stadium has lived up to the hype, and is more valuable to the team, and the league, than any superstar player that is brought here. Time will tell if the team itself will be more "steak than sizzle", but win or lose, they will do it pretty in Red Bull Arena.