'DISAPPOINTED AT THE TURNOUT' De Grandpre on Bulls' attendance woes
Marc de Grandpre: "Would you rather see a 40-foot billboard of the Red Bulls in Times Square for a week or would you rather have JPA (Juan Pablo Angel) on the field for a couple of years?"
Rich Schultz/ RBNY
By Michael Lewis
Attendance is down considerably from past seasons, but Red Bulls managing director Marc de Grandpre said Monday he was disappointed, but not concerned about the dramatic dip.
The Red Bulls are averaging a paltry 9,867 per game, for a total of 39,469 fans. They are second to last in attendance in the 13-team league, ahead of only the Kansas City Wizards (8,335), who perennially struggle at the gate.
What makes it more perplexing is that the Red Bulls (4-1-2) have the third best record in MLS.
"We're disappointed at the turnout," de Grandpre said. "Historically, if you look at the data, the first few months are never a great months in terms of attendance so we planned accordingly. We're going to be pushing for the second half of the season to see some significant increases in attendance."
De Grandpre did sound like ihe wasn't losing any sleep over the lack of fans.
"I'm not concerned," he said. "It's four games into the season. There were some timing issues with some games on Sundays."
Two games have been played on Sunday -- the April 15 home opener in the rain and on Mother's Day (that game was dictated by the league to show one MLS game on Telefura that Sunday, de Grandpre said). Two games have been played in the rain with the threat of precipitation for a third match.
"So, I think we've got to wait until we get to the halfway point and really assess how things are going," de Grandpre. "But if you look at our season ticket sales, we are surpassing numbers that this team had in 2001 and 2000. These are significant numbers. We are really satisfied with that push. It's been our focus in developing our core fan base of season ticket holders."
However, de Grandpre did not give any specific numbers on season-ticket sales.
During his tenure as MetroStars president and general manager, Nick Sakiewicz said the club usually had 3,200-3,300 season ticket-holders a season.
"It was also hard to increase season tickets in an 80,000-seat stadium," said Sakiewicz, who is president of Anschutz Entertainment Group New York/New Jersey.
From 2000-2005, the Metros focused on group sales, which included YMCA and youth soccer clubs and teams. The Metros attracted about 85,000-95,000 a season using that strategy, Sakiewicz said.
Despite the slow start, the Red Bulls aren't planning any big promotions in the near future.
"I've stuck to my guns since day one and we've stayed focused on this," de Grandpre said. "Would you rather see a 40-foot billboard of the Red Bulls in Times Square for a week or would you rather have JPA (Juan Pablo Angel) on the field for a couple of years? We would rather have JP on the field. We think that's a no-brainer and that's what we're going to keep focusing on."
In other words, de Grandpre said the team will stick to the marketing budget and continue to focus on its objective of putting the team first before promotions.
"We're running a business here and we forecast a budget with our parent company," he said. "We want to make sure we stick to our focus, to our objective, and that's to invest in the team. We made a strategic decision to spend the money on the team and not on marketing. And we're very happy with that decision to date with the results on the field."
De Grandpre said he and his staff were "a little surprised" by the low crowd numbers. However, if numbers do not rise during the summer while the team continues to record wins, the front office's focus most likely will change.
"We're not going to steer off course just yet," he said. "But if we win consistently this year and we make a run for it in the playoffs, and we still can't get fans there, we're going to have to readjust our strategy in '08 and beyond. Obviously, winning is our key focus right now and we'll stick to it for this season."