Friday, November 09, 2012

Is It An Apology Or An Excuse?

by Dick Mac
At the MLS website, Commissioner Don Garber attempts to apologize to Red Bull fans for his massive blunder.  So, in case the injury of stupidly falling out of the playoffs isn't enough for us, the Commissioner has decided to rub a little salt in the wound:
To: MLS Fans
I want to apologize to all of our fans who were impacted by our decision last night to postpone the New York Red Bulls v D.C. United playoff game at Red Bull Arena.  Many of you made great sacrifices to attend the game and we let you down.
Based on the weather forecasts earlier in the day, we believed that we could still play the game.  As you know, soccer is played in inclement weather and we have cancelled very few games in the history of the League.   In this case, however, we underestimated the severity of the storm and its effect on our ability to play, and ultimately the enormous impact it had on our fans who traveled to and from Red Bull Arena.
I have heard from many of you about our decision to wait until after the scheduled start time to postpone the game and I know that many of our fans believe that we should have made the decision earlier in the day or even the day before.  In retrospect, I wish we had.  Although I believe that our intent in trying to preserve the ability to play the match was well meaning, in the end we would have better served our clubs and our fans by making the decision earlier. 
I can’t change what happened, but I can acknowledge when we make mistakes, even if we were well intentioned.
All of us at Major League Soccer have worked hard to earn your trust and support.  You can count on us to continue to work tirelessly to retain it as we build the League. 
Thank you,
Don Garber, MLS Comissioner

Why his letter is addressed to "MLS Fans" is insulting enough, but the entire situation is much worse than this letter describes.  Garber's treatment of MLS supporters, in general, and Red Bull supporters, in particular, is remarkable.  This is my response:

Dear Commissioner Garber:

You know what, Mr. Commissioner   This is not enough.

In this letter, you qualify your apology by explaining that you were well-intentioned.  In case you are not fluent in English, or good manners, or basic etiquette: qualifying your apology means it is not an apology, it's an excuse.

You knew the weather forecast, you knew the team objected to hosting and playing the match, you knew that hard-working fools like me would attend.  I purchased four extra tickets to the match (meaning I had 6 tickets), I traveled by public transit to Newark and walked to Harrison, I sat in that frigid cold stadium until NINE O'CLOCK, I purchased a hundred dollars worth of new wool caps in the Bull Shop and I bought hot food.  I went the distance.  I did what fans do.

You didn't let us down, you endangered us, and now cavalierly excuse yourself.

I watched fellow fans volunteer to shovel:  climb down out of the stands and move a ton or more of snow off the grass.

I watched security keep people out of empty dry seats at the north sections of the stadium because their tickets were for seats covered in snow in the south sections of the stadium.  You could have moved everyone inside, or into those dry seats, but you worried about your personal image.  You shoveled a few feet of snow for the NBC cameras and then ran inside to figure out how to cover your ass.

You moved your precious MLS staff out of the elements, leaving the part-time security team in the snow to listen to the fans' anger when you made your spineless announcement to cancel the match because you say you were concerned about our safety - but you had made no effort to move us into the warmth the 90 minutes prior to your announcement.  People were angry:  people yelled at those underpaid men who cover your ass for a part-time job with no benefits.  You owe those security people an explanation and apology as much as you owe us or anyone else.  You should also give each of them a large cash bonus.  You don't deserve them, and they deserve better than you.

Commissioner Garber:  you continue to make bad choices, year after year after year.  League structure, league schedule, television deals, league rules; year after year after year, you fail.  I have been a season ticket holder for ten years.  If I hadn't already re-upped for next year, I may not be coming back.  Next season, any decision to use my tickets will be made by my 8-year-old daughter.  If she wants to go, we'll go; but there will not be a single day I say:  'Hey, Boo, let's go to Red Bull Arena!'  And if she doesn't want to re-up for 2014, we will be gone.

I spend over four hours and $30 in tolls and parking getting to and from Brooklyn and Red Bull Arena each match (on a nice day), on top of the cost of my season tickets.  You've probably never had to find parking at Red Bull Arena so you probably don't even know that the team owns a stadium in an industrial wasteland with no parking!  You have luxury accommodations inside Red Bull Arena so you probably don't know that there is nothing to do in the area if you arrive early enough to park and see kick-off.  Red Bull Arena is a failure, a debacle, and you are lucky to have as many apologists in the league, media, and fan base who pretend it's a wonderful place.

Have you ever seen this site?:

That link is to a league that is a much better deal for me, their officiating is just as good as the joke that is MLS officiating, and although they might not have Titi, they have talented hard-working players who are fun to watch. After this debacle, Mr. Commissioner, the Brooklyn Knights are a viable option for my family's entertainment dollars.  Not because we do not love the Red Bull players; but because you cannot be trusted as a leader, and the league and team cannot be trusted because they reflect your incompetence.

You do not have my trust:  I DO NOT TRUST YOU.  You as Commissioner no longer have my support.  As long as you remain an employee of MLS in any capacity, then the league will not have my support either.  I'm done, Mr. Commissioner.  I'm done with you.  Get out of the way and take your guys (your cronies) with you:  Mark Abbott, JoAnn Neale, Dan Courtemanche, Todd Durbin, Bill Ordower, Sean Prendergast, and especially Nelson Rodriguez, who (after you) is individually the hugest embarrassment to American capitalism in all of sport.  You and your team have failed!  A New York sports writer actually stated that if the NHL wasn't on strike, you would be the worst league in America!  He's correct!

You have failed.

Please go away now.

If you and your lot will go away, I will attend MLS matches. If you stay, it's unlikely I will be around much anymore.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Being A Good Neighbor

by Dick Mac

After dropping-off my wife and daughter to trick or treat in a non-religious (heathen) neighborhood, I drove around to look at the state of Superstorm Sandy's devastation in my general area.  (What the fuck is a superstorm?  I thought a hurricane was a superstorm!  Why isn't it just called Hurricane Sandy?)

I live in Midwood Brooklyn, near the Bensonhurst border.  The area is predominantly Jewish (orthodox), with a smattering of Italians and Latinos, and a lot of Koreans.  Then there is the occasional Catholic Leftist, like me.  OK, maybe there is only one of me.  It's pretty conservative.

I was looking at fallen trees and the corresponding damage, and stopped to talk to a few people who were cleaning up.  I am a people-person, as we used to say in the 1980s.  I like talking to neighbors and people in the community.  I like to know my neighbors.  Problem is that they generally do not want to know me!

One guy was older and was struggling to move big logs into a stack.  I parked and offered to give him a hand.  He had used a chainsaw to cut the trunk into pieces, but they were still a bit big.  He had extra gloves.

He explained that he had intended to take it down last Summer, but never got around to it.  We laughed about the mess and now he wouldn't have to pay to have it removed.  He would have done it himself, he explained.  It keeps him young.  DAMN!  He wasn't THAT much older than me!

A younger guy came out of the neighboring house and worked with us.  He had an Obama pin, an Occupy pin, and a marriage equality pin on his denim jacket, none of which I'd noticed until he got warm and took it off.  I wondered if the older guy had seen them, and hoped he hadn't.  It's not a big Obama neighborhood.

We got the job finished in about ten minutes and the guy offered us beers.  I passed, the other guy accepted.  I walked to my car and got a bottle of water. As the kid put on his jacket the older guy saw the Obama pin.

"God bless ya' kid," he said.  "Wearing that pin in this neighborhood."

Then it came out that the older guy was a lifelong Republican but had voted for Obama in 2008 and was planning to vote for him again in 2012.  I was careful to be reserved and measured in my response, but explained I voted Democrat in the Presidential race.  "You young guys are all Democrats!"

We all laughed.

It was better than being carded at the liquor store!  I mean, the guy wasn't ten years older than me.  No way was he 64!  We chatted about his tree and the weather, and I made my excuses.

A few blocks later, in a more affluent area, I drove past more houses with trees laying across the sidewalk and into the street.  I realized those must be the homes of elderly people who have no way to handle the problem.  There are a lot of retirees in this area, and snowbird season hasn't yet begun.

Then I saw it was true:  an elderly man was getting out of a car in front of his house, a big tree blocking his driveway.  He stood there looking at it in disgust.

I pulled over, got out and talked to him.  I figured I could help him move it far enough to get his car safely into the driveway.  We laughed about the perfect landing and he said he was lucky it hadn't hit his house or car (which he'd left on the street).  The car was very cool:  a dark blue vintage Lincoln - very nice, and the house was modest and well-kept.  There was a Romney sign in the window of his sun room.  

I asked if he wanted some help moving the tree:  did he have a chainsaw, or a big rope we could use to drag it.  He was not as fit as the previous guy.  He crinkled his face and shrugged his shoulders.  He told me about his son who lost everything in Jersey.  He was driving to Jersey tonight, so he didn't think moving the fallen tree would be worth all the trouble.  He offered me a drink.  I begged-off, saying I was driving and had to pick-up my family in a little while.

"If Obama hadn't destroyed America, city workers would have already removed this mess.  Nothing works anymore."  I got a bit nervous because I really didn't want to have this conversation, I just wanted to help.

"I'm happy to help move it," I said.

"Nah!  It's the city's job!  Let them move it."

I asked where his son lived.  I didn't recognize the town.

He asked if I'd seen Christie with Obama on television.  I said I had (even though I had only seen internet pictures).  He shook his head:  "Damned politicians will do anything to get re-elected."

I nodded.

"I used to like Christie," he explained.

I wanted to run away:  "He seems to be doing a good job for Jersey."  I was prepared to lie to escape this conversation.

"He was," the guy explained.  "Now he's chumming around with Obama."

Oddly, I felt like I was supposed to defend Chris Christie, whom I loathe.

"What can you do?"  I asked and shrugged my shoulders.  Damn, why did I ask a question!

"Vote for Romney," he explained to little old, naive me, who is wearing a CBGB hoodie (hood up).

I was frozen in my tracks and just nodded.  I was at a loss for words:  not a state in which I often find myself.  "Sure I can't help move this tree?" I asked again.  "I really don't mind."

He had worked himself-up to a rage.  I am familiar with this state - I do it to myself regularly.

"No!"  He said adamantly!  "Let's see how long it takes the city to move it."

I had no intention of following-up with him about it, and cringed inside when I heard myself ask:  "Have you called 311?"

"I don't believe in 311.  The government shouldn't be providing those kinds of services," he explained.  "We can't afford that shit."

"You can tell them there's a tree to be removed.  It might get it handled faster," I tried to reason.  What am I doing?

"If those idiots don't know there are trees down, my call to 311 isn't going to help them."

"Good point," I demurred.

"Sure you don't want a drink?"

"Nah!  I should get going.  Good luck with your son tonight."

"What?" he asked.  "Oh, yeah.  Right.  Thanks.  And thanks for the offer to help.  There aren't many guys like us left anymore."

I smiled and nodded, put my hand to my head like a salute or a tip of the cap, and waved as I got in my car.

So . . . the guy who hates the government and is voting for Romney is angry that the government hasn't fixed his problem.  The guy who's voting for Obama is clearing his tree out of the street.

This is the exact opposite of what conservatives say is happening.  Conservatives say that liberals are sucking the nation dry with entitlements, and that good Americans are self-sufficient (they built all this themselves).  And I think they really believe this.  They really believe they are completely self-sufficient, that they built their own past, present and future, and that it's liberals who are destroying their perfect world.


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Out-Foxing Fox

Penn State Outfoxes Fox News
by Dick Mac

Penn State's ComRadio released an "exclusive" audio clip last night.  They were lucky enough to get a personal statement from convicted child-rapist Jerry Sandusky, on the eve of his sentencing.

This was not an interview, or any journalistic endeavor.  This was a three-minute, rambling diatribe allowing a criminal a forum to excuse himself.  He was already given this opportunity in the appropriate forum:  the courtroom.  In a legal maneuver, Sandusky refused to make any statement, and refused to take the stand, at his trial.  That is his right.

It is also ComRadio's right to air pretty much any crap they want to air.  One only need look at the example set by News Corporation's Fox News outlet to see that anyone can air any crap they want.  ComRadio has taken this paradigm to the nth degree, and given a convicted rapist a forum to accuse his victims and proclaim his innocence, unchallenged.

This is not journalism.  This is not news.

Given the criticism of Penn State's handling of, and cavalier attitude towards Sandusky's behavior and crimes, ComRadio shows that the University is still unable to accept their failure and shortcomings, and take responsibility for their role in this unfortunate series of crimes and punishment.  They still need to paint Sandusky as a guy who was just helping some underprivileged kids.  This broadcast further taints the University, and shows them as criminals continuing to cover their tracks.

To grant a convicted rapist a forum in which to claim innocence and denigrate his victims, after he refused to make those proclamations under oath, in a courtroom, is beyond the pale.

Does ComRadio plan to give each victim the right to sit at home and produce a three-minute audio tape that makes baseless and lass-than-factual claims about Sandusky, then air it unchallenged on their network?

Of course not.

By granting Sandusky this forum, ComRadio and Penn State have drawn a line in the sand.  They stand on the side of the line that supports Sandusky's claims of innocence, at the expense of his victims.  Penn State continues to spin this as if something is wrong besides this man's crimes and their complicity in covering-up those crimes.  Let's be clear:  the only wrong decisions made and the only crimes committed here were made and committed by Penn State and its employees.

This broadcast was irresponsible, at best.  That irresponsibility should be a news story, not the content of ComRadio's exclusive three-minute audiotape.

I don't think that even Fox News would stoop this low.

ComRadio audio exclusive: Jerry Sandusky statement from jail

Monday, October 08, 2012

A Ticket Costs How Much?

by Dick Mac

In 1976, I paid $7.50 for the best seats at a David Bowie concert in Boston.  It was a shocking price to pay.   No artist, except the Rolling Stones, had dared to charge such a high price for a ticket.

The annual rate of inflation between 1976 and now is 304.9%, which means that the best seat in the house for a David Bowie show today would cost $30.37 -- still totally reasonable.

Lady Gaga just announced sale of tickets to her show in Brooklyn.

The cheapest ticket, in the upper level at the Barclay's Center (3rd level, I believe) is $54.00 + $11.25 in handling fees, $65.25.

With fees, the price range for the house is $66.25 - $229.65 (for lower level seats).  Standing (general admission) is $113.75.

VIP packages are available, but prices are not even published.  If you have to ask, obviously you shouldn't be asking!

I have no problem with pop stars, musicians, singers, writers, painters, movies stars or anybody else earning a fortune.  I wish more creative people earned as much as CEOs and corporate welfare queens.

My question is NOT:  "why are tickets prices so high?"  I understand that the entire paradigm of music publishing and distribution has changed in the past 40 years.  I get it, and I accept that musicians must find a revenue source now that conglomerates own the labels and use all the money for debt maintenance and executive salaries, leaving nothing for the talent.  I know why the ticket prices are so high.

My question is:  "who can afford these tickets?"

This is not a criticism of the artists or promoters or staff, it is a question about how many people actually have $460 for a date night at the Lady Gaga show (plus parking, plus dinner and drinks)?

Perhaps I am just out of touch, but I'm still not used to this.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Genetically Modified

by Dick Mac

The fear and criticism of Monsanto crosses all political, social, economic, religious and regional lines.

The genetic altering of our food supply is disturbing.

We have been altering crops for over a century.  Historically, crop alteration was done with cross-breeding, nurturing hybrids, which is an organic process.  There is no genetic mutation involved.

Monsanto has not embarked on genetic modification of crops for noble reasons, it is done only for profit and market control.  There is nothing wrong with profits, but there is something wrong with market control.  And there is something eerie about genetically mutating the food supply.

No food products are marketed by Monsanto.  Monsanto sells the seeds that the "farmers" use to create crops.  Those crops are then harvested and processed for sale to food manufacturers and animal breeders.

There is debate about the health risks associated with genetically altered food, and I believe there is probably little danger to us individually.  Genetically modified crops are bad for the food supply, because they interfere with the natural course of growth and harvesting.

We've had the experiment, Monsanto has succeeded at perfecting the genetic modification process, and we know that huge profits can be generated.

There have been reports over the years, of farms using genetically modified seeds contaminating neighboring farms when simple pollination takes place, when the wind blows, and when animals pass through one field to another.

There is no way to prevent genetically modified crops from becoming mixed with non-genetically modified crops.

At one point, Monsanto sued a farmer whose farm neighbored a corporate farm using Monsanto modified seeds.  The modification created a genetic marker that could prove if someone was using Monsanto seeds without paying the associated royalties.  Well, the farmer had not used any Monsanto seeds, and was indignant about the case and the accusation because the modified crops blew onto his land and contaminated his crops.  Monsanto quietly slinked away and has never addressed the concerns that their modified crops easily contaminate neighboring farms.

If Monsanto makes a bad choice about which modifications to test in the market, and those modifications have detrimental effects on our ability to grow crops, then the entire food chain could be affected.

Nobody wants to deny Monsanto their right to make money.  People just want Monsanto to act responsibly.

Now that our government no longer regulates industry in any meaningful way, there is nobody paying close attention to Monsanto's actions.

Since our government is unable and unwilling to monitor and regulate genetic modification of crops, there is only way to stop it:  refuse to purchase the products.

Because Monsanto's name appears on no retail food products, and no food manufacturer want to advertise they are using genetically modified ingredients, none of them print the source of their grains on their packaging.

There is now a list of Monsanto's clients.  It is not known if the following companies are using genetically-modified ingredients, but they are purchasing Monsanto seeds or crops to create their products.  If you want to help stop Monsanto, then you must contact those with whom you are doing business: the food manufacturers that sell the food products you purchase.

This is the list:

Aunt Jemima
Aurora Foods
Best foods
Betty Crocker
Chef Boyardee
Coca Cola
Delicious brand cookies
Duncan Hines
Famous Amos
General Mills
Green Giant
Healthy Choice
Hungry Jack
Interstate bakeries
KC Masterpiece
Keebler/Flowers Industries
Kid Cuisine
Kraft/Phillip Morris
Lean Cuisine
Loma Linda
Marie Callenders
Minute Made
Ms. Butterworths
Nature Valley
Nestle Carnation
Ocean Spray
Orville Redenbacher
Pepperidge Farms
Pop Secret
Post cereals
Power Bar Brand
Prego Pasta Sauce
Procter and Gamble
Ragu Sauce
Smart Ones
Tombstone Pizza
Uncle Ben's

It is no surprise that some of those companies are on the list; we have always known that their products are crap.  There are others that surprise me.

If you care about Monsanto's control of the food chain, then take action.  Choose one of the companies on the list that you patronize, stop purchasing their products, and let them know you will no longer purchase their products until they break their connection to Monsanto, specifically, and genetically-modified crops, in general.

Follow-up reads worth your time:

California Files Legal Brief Opposing Monsanto in US Supreme Court
‘Monsanto Protection Act’ to grant biotech industry total immunity over GM crops?
Monsanto Launches Massive Campaign to Stop GMO Labeling
Indian Government Files Biopiracy Lawsuit Against Monsanto
Monsanto is the Devil

Friday, September 28, 2012

We Three - Video

by Dick Mac

Seven years ago, I went to  Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) with Helen, Elizabeth, and Rodney to see Patti Smith.  She was doing a series of concerts to celebrate the thirtieth annivesary of the release of her debut album "Horses."

Yeah!  Now it's been thirty-seven years since it was released.  Seems impossible.

It was a great concert.  They played the entire album from the first note of "Gloria" to the closing note of "Elegie" in order, just like the record.  After the end of "Free Money" she announced:  "now we flip the record over."  And they broke into "Kimberly" for side two.

The band was great.  In fact, she had Flea on bass.  Yeah, that Flea.  But he was wearing clothes, so it was hard to recognize him.

After the ovations for her performance of the entire album, we all settled-in for a sort of "Greatest Hits" set.

It seemed as though the band had a list of songs they were going to perform, but not a particular order in which they would do them.  After each song, Patti would consult briefly with one or more bandmates, then announce the title of the next song.

There were some awkward, though no unpleasant silences between songs, and during one break I experienced that phenomena we all notice on occasion:  I was in an auditorium with hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, and there was a moment of perfect silence.  No whispering, no shuffling of feet, nothing.

I shoulted:  "We Three!"

Patti walked right up to the microphone and in a very stern voice said "No" and walked away.

The place erupted in laughter, she went back to chatting with the band, returned to the microphone and said:  "OK!"  And the band played the opening strains of "We Three" and I was very happy.

I'll bet you didn't know that's how it works!

If you have one of those magical silences in a crowd, anything you shout will come true.

Try it!

Until then, please enjoy this live recording of Patti Smith singing "We Three."

Oh!  And tonight I am going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see Patti perform in conjunction with the Met's Andy Warhol exhibit.

I am so lucky!  I love living in New York!

7 novembre 2011, Marseille, le Silo. Patti Smith, We Three (1978)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Videos: Supporting Your Club

by Dick Mac

Continued from Loving The Move, Hating The Change

On Fridays, I generally post a music video. This Friday I give you a collection of videos showing the supporters groups of Red Bull New York.

The supporters groups would not survive without the support of the team, and it can be argued that the team could not survive without the supporters groups.

These videos are grabbed from  Some of them are professional, some of them are home movies.

They all show the intensity, imagination and creativity of The South Ward at Red Bull Arena.

Tifo, originally the Italian word for the phenomenon of supporting a sport team, is mostly used as a name for any choreography displayed by fans in the stands of an arena or stadium in connection with a sport event, mostly a football match.
See, tifo at wikipedia

Every match has at least one new tifo, paid for and created by the members of the South Ward, all three supporters groups.

An overview of the supporters groups in the South Ward, set to music. See the pretty girls and the rowdy boys, and the rowdy girls and the pretty boys. The action in the stands is like that for 90 minutes. The singing, dancing and chanting never stops; well, except for those moments right after an opponent scores. The silence barely lasts a moment.

Notice near the end of the video where players are seen looking at the crowd and clapping. At the end of almost every match, the players walk to the South Ward and applaud the fans.

In this video, the players thank and talk about the fans who came out to a Tuesday night early round US Open Cup match:

New York, New York tifo:

The South Ward from above, Red Bull Arena:

2011 Croatia Night at Red Bull Arena. A banner representing the Croatia national team jersey is opened on the second level.:

South Ward Tifo - RBNY v LA-Hollywood is gored by red bulls:

Opening Day, 2011, documented in video. All three supporters clubs are shown in their respective clubs before the match:

A six minute video documenting the march over the bridge to the stadium and Viking Army in the South Ward:

Not a video about the supporters. A video about a guy who won a contest to play one-on-one against Thierry Henry. He holds his own!:

The team's page promoting the supporters clubs
Go to YouTube and search tifo. There's some pretty entertaining stuff!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Loving The Move, Hating The Change

by Dick Mac

Continued from How Could I Not Fall In Love With This Team?

I once read a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but recently discovered it is actually from a 20th Century Christian philosopher.  It is a quote about patriotism, but I think it applies to any form of allegiance:  governmental, national, religious, corporate, etc. The Rev. William Sloane Coffin said:
There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good. The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry on a lover's quarrel with their country, a reflection of God's lover's quarrel with all the world.
I think that is a very healthy and accurate analysis of the relationships among citizens, businesses, governments, and philosophies.  I am a fan who carries on a lover's quarrel with his team.

How long did the conversation go on?

How many years?

It certainly started before I became a season-ticket holder:

MetroStars are building a soccer-specific stadium in Harrison, New Jersey. A ground-breaking.

Red Bulls are building a stadium in Harrison, New Jersey.  It will be part of an urban revitalization program that will transform the Harrison riverfront district, which had been an industrial site for some decades, and an abandoned industrial site in more recent decades.  Another ground-breaking.

It was an impressive undertaking, a good thing to be part of:  a revitalization project to improve a blighted area.  There would be housing, and shopping, and restaurants, and pubs, and a cinema, and a mall and Red Bull Arena as the centerpiece.  Improved infrastructure would include better roads and expanded public transportation.

Fans actually began conversations about buying or renting one of the newly constructed apartments, in an effort to be closer to the team.  The drawings were beautiful.  I couldn't wait!

And finally, construction began.

The team website included a link to web cams that monitored the progress of the construction.  It was very exciting.  Fans would travel to the construction site with their cameras to shoot whatever they could see, and then post the pictures on the message boards for all to see.

We all ooooooh'd and aaaaaaah'd.

After years of suffering in the cavernous hell-hole that was Giants Stadium, a facility run by people who hated soccer and wanted nothing to do with us, and settling for whatever bones they would throw our way, our team was to have a home!  Our own home!

Then in the Spring of 2010, Red Bull Arena opened.

Driving to Harrison for opening day was exciting!  We barely noticed the hellish Manhattan traffic to get through the Holland Tunnel.  Traffic so bad we abandoned hope and went to the Lincoln Tunnel.  I drove off I-280 at the brand-new exit sign proclaiming "Soccer Stadium"!  Parking was confusing, directions from law enforcement unclear and seemingly contradictory.  We dutifully followed the guidance.  We were directed to parking spots a full mile from the stadium.  The stadium has no parking.  We took it in stride and joined the throng getting to their seats.  The local police were less than hospitable.

When we finally arrived at the front of the stadium, it looked like this (though not aerial).

The beautiful stadium that some of us had seen during construction and when choosing our season ticket seats, was fronted by 20-odd acres of barren wasteland.  Nothing was built there after all, and nothing stands there today.  Not very pretty on the outside.  Three years later, it still looks like that.

In the ensuing weeks, I figured out the lay of the land, the design of the city, and the methods for getting to desirable parking.

I question the decision to build a 25,000 seat stadium with no parking; but it appears nothing will be done about it.

The new stadium also had no facilities for season-ticket holders before or after the match.  The new pub was restricted to the first hundred or so fans on the season-ticket holder list.  If they got to your number on the list, you had the right to purchase pub membership for a hundred or so dollars per seat.  Our number was too far down the list to get pub access.  This changed our game day experience.  We could no longer arrive early, ahead of the crowds, because the stadium is in an industrial wasteland, and there is no place to go.  So, we arrived shortly before kick-off and moved with the throngs to our seats, hoping to catch the kickoff.  Same thing after the match, we left with the throngs and sat in traffic.  The commute was rushed and hectic and unpleasant.

Eventually, a friend with pub membership decided there was no value in it for him, and he sold us his two passes.  We now arrived early and stayed late.  Sure, I spent another hundred dollars more than I had been, but it was a really pleasant way to visit the stadium.

In the second season, the pub was opened to all season-ticket holders.  This was a huge improvement and really worked for us.

Our clinical, psychological, and emotional detachment from the stadium as anything besides a sports venue began during that second year.  It is a different game day experience than it had been at Giants Stadium; and isn't any better.  Certainly different, but not better.

During the second season, with stagnant and/or sagging attendance numbers, a new operations team was hired, and things changed.  Things changed a lot.  The new approach was to make the team a premium experience, and market to those who wanted luxury seats at premium pries.  Seat prices (and consequently season ticket prices) were raised because, it was explained, higher ticket prices would make the team more attractive to people with money to spend.

In and of itself, this is a perfectly sensible part of any business plan.  It cannot, however, become the business plan, because it fails to take into account approximately 90% of your inventory, your seats.  Yes, enhance the premium experience, but not at the expense of the non-premium experience.  You still need butts in all the other seats and you need schmucks to purchase those tickets!

The new pricing scheme forced some long-time fans out of the seats they'd earned over years of faithful patronage.  We were told that those nice seats we paid for year after year had been a gift from the club, and that things were changing:  the real value of the good seats would be reflected in the new prices.

A gift?  I gave my credit card number and I received tickets, the seats were not a gift.  The hats, the sweatshirts, the wallets, the notebooks, the jackets were gifts.  I really like them.  Even the notebook!  But, my acquisition of the tickets was a business transaction - not a gift.

That the team has decided to increase the cost of the seats does not mean my previous purchases were anything but a business transaction - they were never a gift.

With the price increases, many old-timers moved to corner sections, or the top half of the lower bowl, where seat prices were still within their budgets.

The goodwill the team had built the previous fifteen-plus years was erased by this new operations team in a matter of weeks.  It was a different organization now, offering a different relationship to its consumers.  The product remained the same:  An under-achieving and overpaid, but totally lovable team that has never won a championship.  Perhaps not the best time for a price hike!

Now in our third season at Red Bull Arena, it appears that attendance has decreased again.  As many ticket-holders moved their seats to the cheaper sections, many also reduced the number of seats they hold.  Rumor is that the new pricing scheme and overall philosophy reduced season ticket holders by as much as 30%.  This may or may not be true, but attendance numbers appear to be lower.

We have a beautiful stadium that is difficult to get to and get out of, with no parking, few amenities available  in the area, and a management team that seems coolly detached from the logistical problems the fan faces.  The failure of the Harrison redevelopment project, and the loss of promised improvements to infrastructure, has hurt the team.  The area has not been redeveloped, except that a gazillion dollar stadium has been plopped down in an industrial wasteland.  In reality, what can be done about it?  Perhaps nothing.

Row, Viking, Row!

During the first season we became aware of Viking Army, a new supporters club whose web presence and marketing was much more impressive, more sophisticated than supporters clubs I have known in the past.  They made their home at Catas, a Portuguese restaurant about a quarter-mile from the stadium.  Supporters gather for food and drink before the match, and march together to the stadium before kickoff.  The Army includes some older fans, and the more erudite young fans.  I feel comfortable with this crowd.

We became Vikings and started visiting Catas for lunch/dinner before the match.

Viking Army is more than just a fan club for drunken louts watching soccer (well, we are that, too).  The Viking Army organizes away trips, social events, charitable fundraisers, general fun, and sponsors a youth soccer team.

The Viking Army is a proud club, and its success reflects that pride.  We wear viking helmets and viking scarves.  We are proud to be Vikings.

And we are proud to be supporters of Red Bull New York.

We may drive four hours round-trip to watch a 90-minute match, and spend thirty dollars on tolls and parking; but we are there, and we will continue to be there.

Time Wounds All Heels

Earlier this (the third) season, as management's new changes festered, I began noticing changes.  Security changed.  The people at the gate seemed to know little about running gate security.  Some are nice, some are not.  They do not work for the team, they are a private security company.

Guys acting as security inside the stadium seem to know little about how the place is run.  I saw a season ticket-holder being questioned about his seat (yesterday).  He was asked to show his ticket.  He handed over his membership card, and the security guy said:  No, I need to see your actual ticket.

Season ticket holders don't have tickets, we have membership cards with imprinted seat numbers.

This guy is supposed to be securing the inside of the facility and he doesn't even know how ticketing works!  This is indicative of management's cool detachment from their product.  I believe that most in the front office sincerely do not know it is like this, they really care about the fan experience.  The team has a new approach to the product, and it means that things like this are going to slip under the radar more and more often.

A month or so ago, a friend ordered two tickets for the match, printed them, and drove with his wife to Red Bull Arena.  They were shocked, as all first-timers are, at the poorly managed traffic pattern and the lack of clarity around parking options.  They also didn't know they should arrive an hour earlier than anticipated, just to sort out the confusion.  The wife is handicapped.  Their car has a handicap tag.  The handicap lot was full, which is to be expected at that time, and they were directed to a parking lot they were told was "around the corner" (but were not told it was around the corner and three-quarters of a mile away).

The walk was arduous for them.  Upon arrival at Gate B, they were told that their tickets were no good.  They would not be admitted.

If we had a proactive security staff and a pro-customer philosophy, along with our half-filled stadium, someone would look at this well-dressed couple in their fifties and say:  right this way, please, let's get this sorted out, I'm sure we can fix this.

But, we do not have proactive security, we have reactive security - you are assumed to be wrong before any conversation takes place.  We also do not have a pro-customer philosophy, we have a big-city, big-team, big-sports-franchise philosophy.  But, are really a small-team in a small-city with a small franchise in a small league.  And we have a half-empty stadium.

The couple turned around and made the arduous trek back to their car.

With two-hundred dollar tickets and access to the VIP entrance, there is enough staff to greet you, thank you, stumble over you, wipe your ass, and blow you, all before you even get to the elevator.  And this is as it should be!  Those who pay a premium price should have a premium experience.

Those who do not pay a premium price still need to be treated with a certain amount of decency - especially if you have a half-empty stadium and are trying to get more customers.

These types of incidents have led me to become very angry at times, perhaps angrier than I have any right to be.

I crossed a line with my anger earlier this season, and my relationship changed from being in a lover's quarrel with my team to being in an emotional knock-down, drag-out battle - the type of fight that will end a marriage or any relationship.  I was pissed-off and I let my words show it.

I crossed a line.

I want to have a lover's quarrel with my team, disagreements about which we laugh at the end of the discussion.  But now I was playing dirty.

I had a follow-up interaction with one of the front office folks whom I like and respect.  He shared his disappointment in my tone and my anger, and that's when I knew I had stopped being "in love" and was on the verge of being "in hate."

I had to gather my wits and decide what was important to me:  being part of my team, or being right.

I know that being right is grossly over-rated, and I know that acceptance is the key to happiness.

I want to be part of my team.  How can I not?  I love this team.

The challenge is keeping my expectations in check, remembering that the team is a business not a clubhouse, and remembering that I have as much an obligation to them as they to me.

So, while I have my lover's quarrel with my team, I need to make sure I avoid the name-calling, cheap shots, and emotionalism that change any lover's quarrel into an actual fight for which there may be no reconciliation.

When the lights go out, I still want my team to love me as much as I love them.

Things Are Really Better Than I Make Them Out To Be

You should meet the Viking Army.

If you have never seen it, you should also watch the march into the stadium, or even join the march, if you like.

If you haven't seen Red Bull New York play a match at Red Bull Arena, you really must.

I have an amazing team.

I have an amazing stadium.

Just be certain you leave plenty of time for the commute there and back.

I never once owned a team jersey for any sport, in the forty-odd years before I fell in love with soccer.  I now have a stack of them:  John Wolyniec, Rafa Marquez, Thierry Henry, shirts for Hull City (England), Montagua (Hondorus), and the US National team.  I'm sure there are others I am forgetting.  My daughter also has a stack of autographed jerseys:  Corey Hertzog, Andrew Boyens, John Rooney, Tim Ream, and two different shirts signed by the entire team.  These are special things, they represent special moments and special relationships in our life with the team.

And Red Bull New York is a special team.  The players are special people.  Look at that line-up:  Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, Tim Cahill, Wilmen Conde, all international stars.  Dax McCarty and Kenny Cooper, two of the hardest-working men in rock and roll.  Connor Lade, the latest American addition to the squad who has the guys screaming and the girls swooning.  Our collection of journeymen who are the backbone of our team:  Jan Gunner Solli, Steven Keel, Joel Lindpere, Markus Holgersson, Heath Pearce.  And our newest addition, the Frenchman, Sebastian LeToux.  We have an exciting team.

The supporters are amazing, too.  Yesterday I chatted with fans ranging in age from 2-years-old to 70-plus-years-old.  There are young Americans and older immigrants.  Smart guys and wise guys.  Pretty girls and pretty boys.  Athletes and poets.  Dads and uncles and aunts and moms.  There is the Garden State Supporters club, our group most like European ultras.  There is Empire Supporters Club, the original group to gather together and start an official club when the league was conceived.  I've already mentioned Viking Army - the best supporters group in the world.

If you've never been to a soccer match, you might not know that the supporters groups start chanting and singing at kick-off and do not stop until the final whistle.  There are songs that will make anybody smile, chants that make any parent cringe, and rocking and rolling that is not seen anywhere else other than a soccer team's supporters groups.  They do not sit in their seats.  They stand in their section and they are an impressive force.

And there is friendliness, a camaraderie among the fans, that has always surprised me, and makes every match a great experience.

I will embrace my lover's quarrel with Red Bull New York, and will save my wrath and fury for Philthadelphia, DC Scum, and the rest of our opponents!

See you at the next match!

Videos: Supporting Your Club

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How Could I Not Fall In Love With This Team?

at Giants Stadium
by Dick Mac

Continued from Becoming RBNY

We dutifully made our way to the dreadful Giants Stadium for every home match.

We continued to make friends in our section, and spent time in the pub after every match so my daughter could meet more players and I could take more pictures, and she could collect more autographs.  She was so devoted to the players that she knew all their names, many of them remembered her from week to week, and eventually it seemed that they all knew her by name.

with Jozy Altidore
I began to enjoy chatting with the players a bit as things would quiet down.  They were all charming, and enthusiastic, and grateful for our support.  They were candid about their careers, the team, even their families and personal lives.  We met wives and girlfriends and even some parents of the players.  It was really nice.  We were part of something bigger than a sports team.  This was a community of people who were so culturally isolated from the outside world that a unique, if odd, intimacy developed among fans, players, office and support staff, and the pub workers.

with John Wolyniec
The team had succeeded in creating a product that none of us would ever stop consuming.

Things looked up as former Colombian striker Juan Pablo Angel, who had played at River Plate and Aston Villa, took the league by storm, and drove the team to a new level.  The artificial turf was rough on his knees, but he was a leader and he marched through all adversity.

in the tunnel for the 2008 MLS Cup
In 2008, the team went to Los Angeles for the MLS Cup final against Columbus.  I flew out there for the match, but did not take my daughter.  I had secured rather nice seats on the field - literally on the field, six feet from the action.  Unbeknownst to me, the facilities and services for those of us in these seats were through the tunnel where the players would enter the pitch.  My date and I made our way to the bar and on the way back to our seats, the Red Bull players were lining up for the march out.  They were right there with us, stretching and chatting.  I made small talk with some of them, and three separate conversations were identical.  The player would smile and wave or shake my hand and ask:  "Where's your daughter?"  I'd explain that she was too young for me to manage on such a long trip.  "Oh," they would say, turn and walk away.  They had no interest in talking to me, they wanted to see her!

We lost the MLS Cup final, and I have always suspected that we would have won if she had been in that tunnel to wish them well.

The following season was filthy with talk of the new stadium.  Rumors and facts and facts and rumors and pictures and projections and rumors and more rumors.  It was exciting.

Then it happened!  In 2010, Red Bull Arena opened.

with Seth Stammler
The team used the opportunity to do some charitable work, including a silent auction of team-specific items to benefit The Sporting Chance Foundation, a charity started by player Seth Stammler.  We supported his charity as best we could.  We aren't wealthy, but we attended fundraisers and purchased items and entered raffles and we participated in the silent auction.  An earlier charitable event had been a tour of the nearly-completed stadium, escorted by a player, to see all the behind-the-scenes stuff and luxury boxes that regular folks never see.  Seth was there when we arrived, and Danleigh Borman was our tour guide.  We had a wonderful time.

The new stadium was beautiful.  It was comfortable.  The players were excited about it.

And good stuff kept happening!  Halfway through the 2010 season, Thierry Henry arrived at Red Bull Arena and signed a contract.

with Juan Pablo Angel
My all-time favorite athlete was going to be on my team!

Then he bought a home in SoHo.  He took the subway to work.  He bragged about being a New Yorker.  he was in the media and showing-up all over town.

And more kept happening!  Henry convinced former teammate Rafa Marquez to join him from Barcelona and we had two amazing international stars joining Juan Pablo Angel on the Red Bulls!  These two additions to the team raised the quality of everyone's play.

I had totally forgotten about the silent auction, and I received a call from a woman in the front office reminding me that I had won a private meet and greet with the team after a match.  Since the season was drawing to a close, she needed to book a date as soon as possible.  I explained that it was actually an event for my daughter, but wasn't sure it would be OK if two of us were there.  She didn't know me, but when I told her who my daughter was, she knew her!  Everyone knew her!  There would be no problem for the two of us to attend.
Red Bull Arena construction

We picked a Saturday in September.

We planned our visit.  My daughter is required to donate ten percent of her holdings to charity, and she chose Sporting Chance Foundation would be the recipient of her largess.

After the match we went to the pub, and were met by a woman who gave us passes and a brand new children's size jersey.  We were escorted to the press room and we waited with two women.  I handed over my camera to one of them and we waited.  We posed for pictures at the podium and in front of the team logo.

Eventually, the door opened and a group of three or four players arrived.  They all knew her and there were heartfelt greetings all around.  We posed for a picture, and I instantly realized that I did not need to be in any of the pictures, that this was her event.  She gave Seth her check and I thought we would all weep.  We chatted and they all signed her new Red Bulls jersey.

As time went by, the door would open and another player would arrive.  They were all thrilled to see it was a little girl waiting for them, and not a fat old guy like me.  Well, I was waiting for them, too, but they were there to see her.  Some sat and chatted for awhile, especially the guys with kids.  They told her she was beautiful, and they were happy to see it was her waiting for them.  As always, they were charming.

with Rafa (The most
handsome man in the world?)
Rafa Marquez arrived with his foot wrapped in an ice bag.  His English is a little better than my Spanish, but the universal language of fan adoration needs no words.  He did not want to sit, explaining that it felt better to stand.  He was downright flirtatious with her and we all blushed.

Juan Pablo Angel arrived and said he remembered her beautiful eyes from an event earlier in the season.  He picked her up and gave her a hug.  He is always pleasant and chatty.  Each time I have been in a social event with him, he has been a regular guy talking about regular things.

This went on for some time, and there was only one player left:  Titi.

with Thierry Henry
We learned that he would be delayed, so we went out to the field where a reserve match was happening and we took pictures.  We eventually made our way back to the press room, and it happened.  Thierry Henry walked through the door and was standing right there in front of me.  He instantly greeted her and exclaimed how nice it was to meet her.  I stood there in my #14 Henry jersey, unable to make a sentence.  I stammered and stumbled through some greetings as the two of them chatted.  He took pictures with both of us.  I was so flustered I forgot to have him sign my jersey.

The night is etched in our collective memories and we each remember different details.  It's an event we will talk about the rest of our lives.

The season ended and we renewed our seats immediately.

The 2011 season included more wins and more heartbreak, the departure of Juan Pablo Angel, more meet and greets, and the MLS All-Star match.  We saw Titi, David Beckham, and the rest of the MLS-best play a match against Manchester United.  It was impressive.  It was amazing.

The team hired a new president of operations -- a former executive from the NBA.  The promise of improvements was in the air.

Change was in the air.

Loving The Move, Hating The Change