Jason Ader is a New York Red Bulls fan.
"The last two years, I've gone to pretty much every game. I took my daughter in 2012, and she loved it. After that it became a family event for us," he says down the phone from his office in New York.
Jason Ader is also a New Yorker: "I'm in New York. My kids go to school here. I went to NYU." He may have first come to MLS fans' attention when he announced a $350 million plan for an MLS expansion team in Las Vegas ("I'm part of a group and continue to be interested in being part of MLS expansion in Las Vegas.") but he has also spoken to RBNY executives, including Andy Roxburgh, in the past:
"I said you sell more Red Bull in Las Vegas than you do here," he recalls, noting there was no indication the organization was planning to expand its soccer empire to the American West, "if you ever considered selling New York, I'd be very interested."
He was told the club is not for sale.
"I respect that. I said I'd be happy to do anything I could do to help with fan engagement - or anything - and if they ever do want to sell, I'd hope they would allow me to be part of any bidding process."
Jason Ader has just engaged with fans, though perhaps not in a way RBNY or MLS executives will thank him for: he made the donation ($500) that pushed the funding of a current supporter-led initiative to rent a billboard on the side of I-280 to completion. In itself, renting a billboard is not antagonistic to Red Bull or MLS, but the supporters intend to use it as a vehicle for their thoughts on RBNY's recent decision to fire head coach Mike Petke, the only head coach who had ever led the team to a major trophy (the 2013 Supporters' Shield) and the club's record holder for all-time competitive appearances as a player.
Those thoughts, in common with many RBNY fans at this time, are not positive with regard to the team's ownership. Why would Jason Ader, a man with a clearly-stated desire to join MLS's ownership club, who is on speaking terms with Red Bull executives, and has "a good relationship with Don [Garber] and Mark [Abbott]" stir the pot of fan outrage against RBNY management?
Because he owes Mike Petke: "Mike was good enough to make a recorded video for my son's birthday," he says, "It was a life-changing video for my kid." Ader's son, spurred by Petke's words of encouragement, remains a dedicated soccer player.
And because Jason Ader is a New Yorker and a New York Red Bulls fan. "It has been a very rough week for supporters in New York City - broadly. We have the best supporters for any city," he says, describing the fans at Red Bull Arena as "the energy, the soul, the blood of the experience."
So when Ader, who has followed the social media reaction to Petke's dismissal and watched it intertwine with the ongoing saga of Frank Lampard's NYC FC
loan contract commitment, learned about the campaign to fund a billboard to carry some expression of some portion of the RBNY fan base's reaction to the firing of Mike Petke, it was not a hard decision to assist: "I wanted to support the supporters."
For Ader, his donation doesn't signify any antipathy toward RBNY's owner or its league: "I hope the billboard isn't antagonistic," he says. His preference is to focus on Petke, to "pay tribute to Mike; pay tribute and homage. It doesn't have to be a sharp stick in the eye for Red Bull."
Because Jason Ader is a businessman, an investor whose activities carry him regularly from New York to Las Vegas, and he has no beef with another group of people just trying to run their own business - one whose facilities and team in Harrison he regularly enjoys. His donation is that of a New Yorker and a New York Red Bulls' fan, supporting the supporters of RBNY. And supporting Mike Petke, who told Ader's son to practice and work hard and maybe get to the level where he might one day play for the most successful head coach the Red Bulls have ever known.
Ader's son is still motivated by the words Petke recorded for him, still practicing, still aspiring to reach the level of the players he has seen wear the red and white at Red Bull Arena. His father also has a dream of being on the pitch in Harrison, though in a different context: "I respect that the team is not for sale, but if that changes, I am hopeful they would let me be part of the bidding process."
For now, he remains simply a fan. Sad to see Mike Petke go, and curious to see how this particular episode in RBNY's history is represented by a sign on the side of I-280.