LOOKING AHEAD De Grandpre talks about promoting Red Bulls, season ticket sales and corporate sponsorships
Managing director Marc de Grandpre says that corporate sponors will come aboard for 2007 and a TV deal should be in place soon.
Rich Schultz/ RBNY
By Michael Lewis
In some quarters in the local soccer community, there is a feeling that the Red Bulls want to wait until the opening of Red Bull Park in 2008 – July is the target date -- to truly promote the MLS club.
Red Bulls managing director Marc de Grandpre claims that is far from the case.
"This is not true," he wrote in a recent e-mail. "Our priorities are turning this team into a winner on the field and establishing the best development system in America -- no matter where we play. These are priorities that need to be addressed and are being addressed -- immediately. They cannot wait until next year or the year after. We started this process in 2006 and (we) will continue in 2007 and the future."
In an e-mail interview with BigAppleSoccer.com, de Grandpre touched on a number of subjects for this season and beyond, including team promotion, season ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and Red Bull philosophy. BigAppleSoccer.com had requested a one-on-one interview with de Grandpre, but was turned down.
On March 9, 2006, Austrian energy drink producer Red Bull purchased the MetroStars from the Anschutz Entertainment Group for more than $100 million (the deal included half of Red Bull Park and the naming rights). In what turned into a tumultuous 12 months, the team's name was changed Red Bulls, the club employed three coaches and the front office and team was rebuilt as well.
"We are proud of what we accomplished in the last 12 months," de Grandpre said. "We took a number of positive steps forward in establishing an organization that is built to last. Having said that, there is much more that needs to be done to turn this team into one that all our fans are proud to support."
De Grandpre refuted reports in the North Jersey Herald News that the Red Bulls lost $14 million in 2006.
"It is inaccurate," he said. "Obviously the next question becomes 'So what did the balance sheet look like at the end of '06?' Red Bull as an organization does not ever disclose any financials."
De Grandpre wouldn't reveal the exact plans for local television broadcasts only stating that "we are confident we will have a television deal to announce very soon." He wouldn't answer the question if he thought the long time it has taken to secure a deal would hurt the club. If a deal is finalized with MSG, there is a possibility announcers would call road matches from mid-town Manhattan, BigAppleSoccer.com reported last week, in contrast what has been done the previous 11 seasons.
In contrast to the MetroStars' philosophy of securing many strong corporate sponsorships, the Red Bulls decided to take another route.
"We deliberately shed off all our sponsors at the end of the year because we, as an organization, do not rely on sponsorship revenue as a principal revenue stream," de Grandpre said. "We will add sponsors as our team progresses; those sponsors will share similar values to those of our team. This process is deliberately slow since we want to make sure we have perfect partners for our team and the brand."
He said that new sponsors could be announced as early as this week.
De Grandpre said that the club's average paid attendance last season increased by double digits over 2005.
As the MetroStars in 2005, the club attracted an average of 15,077 in cavernous Giants Stadium, dropping 507 a game to 14,570 last season, a decrease of 3.3 percent.
He added that season tickets are up 30 percent over last season and there has been a 48-percent increase in individual ticket packages sold. De Grandpre, however, did not give exact numbers.
"Season ticket growth is a great performance indicator of our fan base growth," de Grandpre said. "Just three months into '07, we have already surpassed all of last year's season ticket revenue. We are very pleased with the progress we have made on the ticket sales front from 2005 to present. Our sales staff went through a very difficult year and they managed to deliver monumental results in '06. If their performance in early '07 is any indication of things to come, it’s one less thing I need to worry about."
De Grandpre stressed that growing the season ticket holder base was key.
"The lifeblood of a franchise is its core fan base (that) is committed to season tickets and we need to ensure we solidify our season ticket holder base as we move towards the opening of Red Bull Park," he said. "We do not want to be in the business of manufacturing crowds. We want to set-up a demand for our product that will drive season ticket sales. . . . This all hinges on our ability to win and provide entertaining soccer for our knowledgeable fan base. We have the most passionate and astute soccer fan base in the country; we will do things right by them by finally building a tradition of success on and off the field they can be proud of."
De Grandpre noted how many changes the club has endured the past year:
* The club secured a training facility "that is worthy of a professional team" at Montclair State for this season and probably for 2008.
* The Red Bulls recently finalized design plays for a state of the art training facility, although he didn't given any more details as to where it will be or when it will be announced.
* During the off-season the team moved into new offices "that is finally hospitable for our staff." He added that Red Bull had provided its staff with new technology "to help them become more efficient and flexible."
* The team was rebranded from MetroStars to Red Bulls in a short amount of time about this time last year. "Our staff executed a successful re-brand in less than 30 days -- a process that should be done over 12-18 months," he said. "We re-organized the whole business and streamlined all communication materials for our fans." The Red Bulls also will redesign the team website soon.
"We are nowhere near being satisfied nor will we ever be; this is the key to our long-term success," de Grandpre added. "We are making progress every day and will continue to do so for a long time."
The key to marketing the team is to have a winning one, de Grandpre said.
"You will see more concerted effort this year – but nothing grandiose," added. "We have developed a new ad campaign that will run throughout the summer on radio. This will supplement our grassroots efforts. I’ve said before we do not believe in marketing an inferior product, the soccer enthusiasts in this area are too smart for that. We are focused on turning the team on the field into a winner and once we do so, then you will see a more aggressive marketing campaign."
De Grandpre noted the restructuring of the team on and off the field. He said that the club hired "great leadership" on the sidelines in sporting director and coach Bruce Arena, "arguably the greatest coach in U.S. soccer history," that the club brought in the "best American-born player" in Claudio Reyna and added key personnel to the staff.
“Off the field we have without a doubt, the most talented and dedicated group of individuals who understand and believe in the vision we have set forth for this club," he added. "They have weathered a big storm and those left standing are the cream of the crop and we are proud to have them passionately lead us towards our organizational objectives.
De Grandpre said his communication with Arena was "excellent. We see each other everyday and communicate multiple times a day when the team is on the road."
Under criticism in some media quarters for the Red Bulls slow progress, de Grandpre was asked if he thought it was fair to consider himself a fall guy.
"Failure is not an option," he responded. "The formula is simple. We have an unwavering commitment to winning and we will invest our resources towards recruiting, player development and coaching. We all possess the same mindset- to always strive for more and never be satisfied with past successes and accomplishments. That’s the Red Bull culture.
"If we stick to that formula and maintain that mindset, our fans will reap the rewards of supporting a team they can be proud of. It’s our philosophy to constantly challenge ourselves to do better. We are always pushing the envelope. Invariably we will make mistakes but we learn from them and continue to press forward never being satisfied with status quo."
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