I wanted to be a Red Bulls fan.
I moved to New York in July 2007, a year after I discovered soccer while in Melbourne, Australia during the World Cup. Hooked on the USMNT, I wanted to find another way to enjoy the game and the Red Bulls seemed the best option.
Growing up ignoring soccer in Boston, I didn’t latch on with the Revolution as a kid. When I embedded my life in enemy territory, my rooting interests were wide open and I decided to become a Red Bulls fan. Or, at least try.
The problem then became that being a fan required a determination that I didn't have. I could never seem to find the games on TV. I couldn't convince any of my friends to go to a game with me. Team blogs didn't exist. There were few - if any - ads in the city promoting the team and I had no idea who any of the players were.
I went a whole World Cup cycle haphazardly hoping the sorting hat made me a Red Bulls fan, but never attended a game. When I finally stepped into Red Bull Arena in 2010, it was a pilgrimage to see Landon Donovan. Since then I’ve been to Red Bull Arena a handful of times; I’ve gone early, mid, late and postseason. I came close to buying a jersey because I thought that would pull me in. I read the great Once a Metro through the last few seasons. Despite all of that, I never became a fan.
Dumping on the Red Bulls for failing to connect with the City is easy to do, but I don't think it's entirely their fault. The club has existed since the dawn of MLS when the soccer world was different; the goal was to cater to the suburban soccer moms and families.
In the early years of the Red Bulls/MetroStars, there was no full buffet of EPL games on NBC, no Men in Blazers, EA Sports’ FIFA wasn’t the missionary converting Americans to soccer that it now is and the USMNT hadn’t ground a nation’s workforce to a halt for its World Cup games. NYC FC rode into the city on the wake of all these cultural forces. The appetite for a soccer team is much different now than in 2007.
The Red Bulls/MetroStars forged their identity based on geography, initial demographics and the soccer culture in America. Given the suburban target audience, being in New Jersey made sense. But the club never solved the problem of the cognitive disconnect between New Yorkers and New Jersey teams. Any team outside the five boroughs limits its fanbase. Even if the stadium is close by, there's a mental hurdle to jump when it comes to leaving the state. (It works for the Giants and the Jets because the NFL writes its own rules.) There’s a reason two of the four outside-the-boroughs cities have decamped to Brooklyn.
When New York City FC was announced I realized my issue. The Red Bulls aren’t for transplants like me. They don’t represent urban-dwelling 20s and 30s soccer fans that didn’t grow up with them in the same way that the Devils, Islanders and New Jersey Nets don't. How many non-native New Yorkers or New Jerseyians do you know that support those teams?
NYC FC’s arrival is an opportunity for the city’s soccer fans to align themselves with a blank sheet. There’s no history to learn, no bandwagon to hop on, no chants to memorize (plus there’s song sheets!), no years of club-fan dynamics to understand. Part of the promise of supporting NYC FC is forging all those peripheral aspects of the club NYC FC fans are quite literally writing the club’s history.
I still have some walls up regarding NYC FC. It’s painful to support the Yankees in any way (I’ve rationalized supporting NYC FC is because they tear up the grass for the Yankees), I still don’t consider myself a New Yorker so the "We own this city" mantra doesn’t resonate and I wish the club were independently owned.
However, I know that NYC FC came to me at the right place — within the boroughs’ walls — at the right time with the right opportunity.
So to the Red Bulls supporters, I salute your passion and dedication, but I’ve given up trying to join you.
When I moved to New York, I wanted to be a Red Bulls fan. Here's why it didn't work.
I wanted to be a Red Bulls fan.