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The Red Bull Arena dilemma

Will the New York City FC faithful travel to New Jersey to watch their team play a “home” game?

This house is not a home.
Photograph by Katie Cahalin, courtesy NYCFC.com

Last year, when New York City FC finished the season in fourth place and was scheduled to host Atlanta United in the First Round of the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs, the club gave free tickets to season ticket holders: Opt-in for the game, and you’ll get an equal number of seats close by. NYCFC delivered the good news in an email sent two days after the final game of the season. It was a nice gesture by a club that had a terrible postseason history up to that point, and that genuinely seemed to want to fill the stands at Yankee Stadium.

What a difference a year makes. Last Tuesday, New York City FC season ticket holders received an early-morning email containing information about the first postseason game. Because the email was sent a full five days before the end of the season, the date and time of the match were yet to be determined, and wouldn't be settled until Decision Day matches were completed yesterday. We now know that NYCFC will host Inter Miami at Red Bull Arena on Monday, October 17, at 7 pm ET.

More disconcerting, longstanding members logged on to their ticket managers to learn that they were assigned seats that didn't correspond to where they sat at Yankee Stadium or Citi Field. Founding members who sat in the front row were sent to the middle of a section. Season ticket holders who usually sit squarely facing the field (no small feat at Yankee Stadium) were exiled to the corners of Red Bull Arena. It felt like everybody had been downgraded.

Sean ticket holders exchange their tickets and move to another part of the arena, but to do that they first have to opt-in and agree to buy the seats. Frankly, the process feels a little high-handed. NYCFC is asking their season ticket holders to pay for inferior seats, then hope to exchange them for the New Jersey equivalent of where they usually sit. It all leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

This brings us to the dilemma of Red Bull Arena. Will the NYCFC faithful show up to a Monday night game in New Jersey?

Red Bull nation will certainly show up on Saturday, October 15, at noon ET, to watch their team host FC Cincinnati. New Jersey also have home-field advantage in the First Round, only they actually have a home.

NYCFC are playing on Monday, which is when the No 3 seeds take the field. That Monday night scheduling time will likely bring down attendance. Red Bull Arena might be a state-of-the-art facility well-served by public transportation, but many NYCFC fans simply don’t want to jump through the hoops of traveling to Harrison. New York City have played three “home” games at Red Bull Arena this year, and it’s no coincidence that the average attendance is roughly half the size of the crowds at Yankee Stadium.

Poll

Are you going to Red Bull Arena to watch NYCFC play Inter Miami in the MLS Cup Playoffs?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    Yes: There was never any doubt
    (26 votes)
  • 16%
    Yes: With reservations
    (22 votes)
  • 6%
    Not sure: Still working it out
    (8 votes)
  • 9%
    Not sure: Pretty unhappy about this stadium stuff
    (12 votes)
  • 30%
    No: Very unhappy about this stadium stuff
    (40 votes)
  • 16%
    No: Just can’t make it work
    (22 votes)
130 votes total Vote Now

It’s also no coincidence that NYCFC have an abysmal record at Red Bull Arena as the “home” team. As we explained in Home-Field Disadvantage: Red Bull Arena is no good for NYCFC, we learned during the pandemic “that home-field advantage essentially disappears when the stadium is empty. It turns out that the benefit of playing at home isn’t the familiarity of the grounds, or knowing the staff, or waking up in your own bed, it’s playing in front of thousands of screaming people who create an atmosphere that fuels one team and diminishes the other.”

To put it another way, “soccer doesn’t have a home-field advantage as much as a home-crowd advantage.”

NYCFC 2022 record and attendance by venue

Venue W D L PPG GF GA GD Avg Attendance
Venue W D L PPG GF GA GD Avg Attendance
Yankee Soccer Stadium 7 2 1 2.3 26 8 17 19,652
Citi Field 2 2 0 2 7 5 2 16,432
Red Bull Arena 1 0 2 1 4 6 -2 9,938
Away 6 3 8 1.24 20 22 -2 -
Total 16 7 11 1.62 57 41 15 -

How much of a home-crowd advantage NYCFC will have is yet to be determined. The front office have done an excellent job of making it unpleasant for season ticket holders to attend the game. The poor seating assignments feel like a cynical move that further erodes trust in an organization that sometimes acts like they take their fans for granted. Even worse, the ignominy of playing a Monday night game isn't the luck of the draw, it’s the direct result of NYCFC’s inability to build a stadium in their eight years as a professional club, which forces them to work around the schedules of other sports teams in the area.

Still, it's not all bad. NYCFC played their penultimate regular season game at Red Bull Arena, and it was a good day for soccer. The team put in another crisp late-season performance, winning for the first time this year as the “home” team in Harrison. An announced crowd of 13,169 trekked to New Jersey on a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon, and while the actual number of fans in the stands was certainly much smaller, the arena had a vibe. Those of us who went are glad we made the trip.

But NYCFC will need more than 13,000 5000-ish fans to show up if they’re to turn Red Bull Arena into the citadel that is Yankee Stadium, give the team the home-crowd advantage they’ll need if they're to make a deep run in this year’s playoffs.

It’s up to the fans to show up, but it’s up to the club to make playing at Red Bull Arena less of an ordeal.