The New York Red Bulls have been slowly raising the volume on their ambition to see Red Bull Arena work a little harder for the club. The plan for the stadium to host more than just soccer matches is no secret, it just hasn't been conspicuously successful to date. Although non-soccer events have visited RBA over the years, no particular legacy has been created. Red Bull Arena was built to be a soccer-specific stadium, and has stubbornly remained so since its opening in 2010.
In 2011, a Dispatch concert caused a brief flurry of excitement. Reporting on the event for NJ.com, Tris McCall declared, "it's official: Red Bull Arena isn't just for sports."
The statement was premature. Red Bull Arena has been almost exclusively for sports, soccer in particular, ever since.
But RBNY has been actively trying to change that for at least
18 months or so, more than two years. In August 2014, Marc de Grandpre sketched out a plan to Empire of Soccer:
Part of our mandate is to expand the use of Red Bull Arena, from concerts to other sporting events and recreational activities. All options on the table. We have narrowed it down to a few right now, but next year we should have a plan in place to have more activity going in and around Red Bull Arena.
In March 2015, de Grandpre told NJBiz.com, "the building is open for business." Reporter Joshua Burd described a club "on a mission to promote its venue as a hub for Garden State companies to network, entertain and do business."
Mixed into the discussion of RBNY's efforts to expand its marketing partnerships and visibility to companies that might be interested in using the Arena was a simple and clear strategic goal:
de Grandpre is now shooting for about 60 events — any more would make it difficult to maintain the field — with concerts and non-soccer offerings such as rugby and cricket.
Cricket hasn't happened yet, but rugby arrived in March, 2016. Taking a page out of the NFL's playbook, England's Aviva Premiership sent a couple of teams to a faraway city to energize a foreign fan base. Saracens beat London Irish in front of an announced crowd just shy of 15,000.
Clearly, it takes a while for events to be agreed, arranged and staged. Rugby was obviously on de Grandpre's radar in March, 2015 (perhaps even back n August 2014). The Saracens-London Irish match was announced at the end of October, 2015, and was played in March, 2016.
And, clearly, concerts have proven a tougher proposition for RBNY. In August of this year, the club made another attempt to broadcast its ambitions for Red Bull Arena. This time, the outlet was CBS New York's blog. An article by Peter Schwartz praised the stadium's atmosphere and infrastructure, before deftly pivoting to the bigger picture RBNY was still tirelessly promoting:
If you’re not a soccer fan, there’s a good chance you haven’t been to Red Bull Arena, but it’s worth giving it a chance because the stadium is terrific and the atmosphere is incredible. But while the stadium has been, for the most part, all about soccer since the gates opened in 2010, that is about to change.
Heard that before, Mr. Schwartz.
The piece contained real news: RBNY had discussed "potential synergies" with the New Jersey Devils, including the possibility of an outdoor hockey game in Harrison (at least, one hopes that was news and not another way of describing the bid to host NHL's Winter Classic that had been mentioned to EoS in 2014); also, the club had hired "an entertainment and concert industry consultant" to push its ambitions forward.
And the piece also included a familiar line from Marc de Grandpre:
We’re really opening up the doors and making sure that we drive the awareness that we’re open for business
RBA: open for business. We get it.
Now, in October, RBNY is putting out its message once again. This time around, the news broke in Billboard - a music-industry outlet for a music-industry story: "New Jersey's Red Bull Arena to host concerts", we were told.
No specific concerts were announced; instead, the piece read mostly as an ad for RBA's concert-hosting capabilities, as de Grandpre was quoted detailing the stadium's capacity, transport links and potential fit in the crowded market of local venues. And, of course, de Grandpre offered a variation on his favorite theme:
I think as an organization we are ready. We have the infrastructure and the skill-set and we are ready to handle the extra challenge and opportunity and workload.
One might even say Red Bull Arena is open for business.
There was, however, an advance on the news previously reported by Peter Schwartz for CBS: the consultant RBNY had hired has a name - Bettie Levy, CEO of BCL Entertainment. And the Red Bulls followed the Billboard story with a press release, that offered much the same information as Billboard piece, but also presented Levy's contact information for any promoters interested in booking the Arena.
The release says it is RBNY's plan to host "concerts and live entertainment beginning in 2017". It was around this time last year we were advised Red Bull Arena would be hosting a rugby match. But the latest release isn't a specific announcement of an event, just a reiteration of a plan that has been out there since 2015.
So it isn't clear whether the latest description of a plan Marc de Grandpre has been talking about since early 2015 is just another effort to get the word out, or is preparing the club's soccer fans for the imminent arrival of 60 non-soccer events per year at the stadium.
What is clear is the organization's commitment to getting more out of RBA is not fading. A plan was in the works more than two years ago, a goal was described about 18 months ago, and RBNY has been methodically pursuing it ever since. It doesn't have much to show for its work beyond a handful of press clippings repeating much the same message, but repetition is a positive attribute in marketing. And it is obvious the club has been slowly developing its capabilities (hiring an industry-expert consultant) and refining its messaging tactics (getting word out through Billboard).
Perhaps the next "RBA is open for business" article will be in the context of a live concert at the stadium. Though it probably won't be U2 or Jon Bon Jovi - sorry, Jesse Marsch.