Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bulls on Parade- A Look at the South Ward "March to the Match"

Article by Pedro Gomes

On May 5th, 2012 something special happened on 33rd Street in New York City. Hundreds of New York Red Bull supporters from the team’s “South Ward” fan section gathered to show lower Manhattan their love and passion for their MLS team. They sang and marched their way to Legends to watch the Red Bulls take on the Los Angeles Galaxy causing a scene and drawing attention to their show of support. The event was organized by The Football Factory at Legends Bar and in conjunction with the South Ward. The march marked the first, and hopefully, many more of its kind.

A March to a Match is not a new concept in MLS. There have been and currently are similar displays of passion and support across MLS cities like Seattle, Dallas, Salt Lake, and Vancouver. But what the members of the South Ward did in New York the other day is worth noting and encouraging. First of all, because getting traffic stopped on a Saturday evening in Manhattan is nothing short of a miracle. But it’s also worth noting because of the publicity they received from ESPN cameras and MLS headquarters and the statement they made in one of MLS’ most important but saturated sports market. Attracting eyeballs and eardrums to the New York Red Bulls and MLS in New York is something both organizations struggle with on a consistent basis.
It is no secret that the New York Red Bulls have struggled to gain importance in New York’s crowded sports market and this march is a step in the right direction. Despite having a world class Arena for fans to flock to, the Red Bulls front office has struggled to fill its seats with fans game in and game out. Hundreds of theories and ideas have flown around Twitter and I am sure Red Bull front office meetings on how to reverse this trend, but few of them have seemed to pan out.

A common explanation for poor marketing in New York is the sheer cost of advertising and the relatively small budget Red Bulls front office has set aside for marketing. But this simple and cheap public display of New York Red Bull support can do exceptionally more to promote the league and the team in New York, than splattering the faces of Thierry Henry or Rafa Marquez across the face of any Red Bull can or billboard. Publicly organized and relatively inexpensive public displays of support like this one are a great strategy to gain attention and raise support across New York. This march shows that you don’t need millions of dollars to make some noise in this crowded market, just a few hundred fans and a few good songs. 

The host of the event: Legends.

Quite simply there is no better way to show New Yorkers that the Red Bulls are a legitimate sports franchise in New York then by singing it loud and clear through the streets of the city. If the Red Bulls want to continue to grow their presence in New York, they need to continue grassroot displays of support like this. There is nothing more New Yorkers enjoy more than a party and an event. This March to the Match does a great job of combining both of these experiences into one activity. If more people are exposed to the energy and unique atmosphere that MLS and the South Ward can offer to the sports fan I don’t see any reason that the march can’t grow in numbers every time. And if the presence of MLS support continues to grow on the city streets, there should be no reason why those fans won’t be willing to march their way from the streets of New York to Red Bull Arena and bring that same excitement and electricity to the game and to the viewers at home.

A special thank you goes out to the Football Factory and South Ward members for showing New Yorkers who the Red Bulls are and what supporting the team looks and feels like. And in closing I say, “Keep Marching MLS fans.” March to whatever song, drum, or capo you choose, because in the end we are all moved by the same love and passion for the game.

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