Opinion: The Reasons Behind the Decline in New York Red Bulls’ Attendance

In 2014, Marc de Grandpre became the new General Manager for the New York Red Bulls and he made it one of his goals to increase the attendance at Red Bull Arena and make sellout crowds a normality.  Fast forward to today, that goal has definitely not been achieved and it isn’t even close. 

Instead, attendance has actually become one of the club’s biggest issues and it has been forced to tarp certain sections of the upper bowl, similar to Red Bull Salzburg.  There are a few reasons as to why this has happened and some may argue otherwise, but the biggest reason is no doubt the constant selling and trading of key players, especially club captains.

In January 2017, the Red Bulls made the decision to trade then-captain Dax McCarty to the Chicago Fire in exchange for General Allocation Money just before the start of the 2017 MLS season. This was one of many controversial moves made by the club and set a trend for what was to come.  The following preseason, the Red Bulls made the move to trade another club captain in Sacha Kljestan in January 2018 to Orlando City in exchange for Targeted Allocation Money, as well as Carlos Rivas and Tommy Redding, both of whom are no longer with the club.  These two moves drew the line for some fans, and it showed in attendance.

In 2017, the Red Bulls average attendance was 21,175 and in 2018, it dropped to 18,644. What’s even more interesting is that the performances in these two seasons were pretty solid and in 2017 the Red Bulls made it to the final of the U.S. Open Cup, where they were knocked out by Sporting Kansas City, and made it to the Conference Semifinals in the MLS Cup Playoffs. 2018 was also very positive, with the Red Bulls winning the Supporters’ Shield.  It was clear that the fans cared a great deal about the players and it wasn’t all about the performances for them.  Although, this wasn’t the only reason why attendance declined, as you will see.

While the trades were a big reason for attendance dropping, another reason is due to the Jesse Marsch situation toward the end of 2018. The Red Bulls were in the fight for the Supporters’ Shield and were having a fantastic season, then news came that Marsch was leaving the club to become the assistant coach at RB Leipzig, leaving assistant Chris Armas in charge of the team.

This left many fans furious and disappointed that this move happened when the team was in such a good run of form and looking good to win the MLS Cup.  And in that season, while the team did win the Supporters’ Shield, they were knocked out in the Eastern Conference Finals, losing 3-1 on aggregate to Atlanta United. Similar to the trades of the club’s captains in the previous preseasons, this became the final straw for fans as they believed the club didn’t show ambition and didn’t want to win.

It also left them angered at Red Bull for prioritizing RB Leipzig over New York Red Bulls. This showed in the attendance average and it caused the numbers to drop once again from 18,644 in 2018 to 17,281 in 2019. To add to the matter, it seems like the number may get worse, with the only game to take place so far in the 2020 season at Red Bull Arena having an attendance of just 15,703 in a win over Cincinnati on the opening day.

While location and commute being another issue in attendance, these are the main reasons that it has become so poor at Red Bull Arena and it will be even harder for Marc de Grandpre to find a solution to this issue. With attendance continuing to drop, it will be very interesting to see what the club will do to bring back many of their fans and at this point. They will have to focus on just getting the numbers back to where they were before looking to get sellouts.  

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