It feels like MLS is playing a game of Whack-a-Mole lately; they take care of one problem, and another one pops up. Yesterday, we learned that MLS had found an ownership group willing to spend more than $100 million on the second Los Angeles franchise, putting an end to much of the confusion surrounding Chivas USA. But Grant Wahl, who broke that news, now has the story that Red Bull may be on the way out as MLS owners.
There have been warning signs. Two months ago, Wahl wrote a short bit about how there were “growing questions about whether Red Bull will continue owning a team.” At the time, he noted that they hadn’t filled the third designated player spot during the summer window. But more evidence of apathy has begun to show. Red Bull opted not to field its own USL Pro side for next season, despite benefits that the LA Galaxy have already made clear. Last week, they sent a subpar squad to El Salvador, and with a draw were eliminated from the CONCACAF Champions League. Many people theorize that Red Bull is more concerned with their German club, which is now on the verge of joining the Bundesliga for the first time.
The Red Bulls are in a much better situation than Chivas USA, though those comparisons will inevitably come up. They have a lengthy history (albeit without much success) and an established fanbase, with 19,000 fans showing up each game to one of the best soccer stadiums in the country. Largely because of that stadium, the Red Bulls will probably be the most expensive MLS team sold yet. Wahl’s story quotes an unnamed source as saying Red Bull would take $300 million for the club. By default, any new owner will be very rich and not afraid to spend money.
But all the same, there are significant challenges up ahead for the Red Bulls. Regardless of their owner, they are a New Jersey-based team while New York City FC looks to claim the Big Apple. Harrison is easier to reach than say, Carson, CA, but it has limited the Red Bulls’ presence in the five boroughs. City brings deep pockets to MLS, and Red Bull’s sudden stinginess will not cut it anymore. If Red Bull or any future owner isn’t careful, the club runs a risk of being overshadowed.
As Red Bull have seemingly shifted their focuses away from MLS, they have done one thing with an eye towards their fans. In recent months, they’ve begun acknowledging the club’s pre-Red Bull history as the MetroStars with weekly “Metro Mondays” posts on social media and a new banner in Red Bull Arena. These are small things, but they point towards a larger issue. The Red Bulls name is off-putting for potential fans and even many current fans. I became a fan only in recent years, but I don’t care for the name in the slightest. Should Red Bull sell the club, the new owners would have to rebrand. They would do well to acknowledge the club’s history; the two-decade head start is one of the club’s biggest advantages over their noisy new neighbors.