EDITORIAL: Red Bull brass put on the blindfolds, lit their cigarettes and awaited the worst as season ticket holders played the role of firing squad at Friday’s Town Hall meeting.
General Manager Marc de Grandpre, Sporting Director Ali Curtis and Head Coach Jesse Marsch fielded questions and fought through interruptions and salty language in their first interaction with Red Bull fans since the firing of beloved head coach Mike Petke.
With emotions set to 11, the meeting started out as contentious as one would expect. Fans shouted down Curtis, warning him not to even say Petke’s name. De Grandpre bobbed and weaved his way through questions about season ticket deposit refunds. Marsch fought with great passion against the anti-Red Bull message, and won over some fans in the process.
And oh ya … Luis Robles was there too.
While the evening began a raucous mess, cooler heads slowly began to prevail as anger turned to sarcasm and conversation by night’s end.
Has this solved anything? Probably not. However, the Town Hall did allow both sides to say their piece, laying the foundation of expectation for the coming season.
So what went right? What went wrong? And how bad did it get?
Let’s break it down like this:
- Jesse Marsch: When the dust settles and the matches begin, Red Bull fans will not be looking towards the front office for answers. They will be looking at the touchline. Replacing a beloved coach in Petke with an unknown in Jesse Marsch was always going to be a tough sell for management. However, the former Impact boss acquitted himself well throughout the evening, answering questions directly, setting lofty goals and promising the kind of change Red Bull fans can believe in. “You don’t have to like me and you may never like me. That is the role of the coach,” he said. “That isn’t important to me. What’s important to me is the team … If we lose, you will hate me. If we win, maybe you will put up with me. But give this team a chance to take the field and compete.” In other markets, that proclamation may rub people the wrong way. However, straight talk goes a long way in New York City.
- Focus On Youth: USL Pro and the Academy program were mentioned several times. The team sees a bright future in their current crop of youngsters, including Connor Lade and Matt Miazga. Youth will be central to the team; a departure from years past.
- US Open Cup: Marsch promises a more serious tone to their tournament participation, with first team players seeking the trophy instead of eschewing it.
- Performance Center: Muddled in the emotion is a new look at the Red Bulls development structure. Curtis spoke about the Red Bulls training facility not just in terms of usage and potential; he continuously labeled it a Performance Center, connecting dots to his talk about bringing science and technology to the club.
- Luis Robles: The Red Bulls goalkeeper said he showed up “voluntarily” because he “wanted to be a voice for the players, speaks for the players.” To that end, he performed magnificently, giving credence to a growing outcry for him to succeed Thierry Henry as the team captain.
- No One Was Ejected. And by all accounts, a handful could very well have been.
- Going Into Overtime: After taking a beating in front of the crowd, several of the Red Bull brass stayed up to an hour afterwards to address fans. None was more open and available than Curtis, who took the most abuse on the night, staying well after the event to speak to fans.
- Corporate Speak: De Grandpre and Curtis are both highly educated, intelligent people used to an environment where even the worst news is handled with care. This Town Hall was not a board room, and these fans were not looking for duplicitous answers. By giving roundabout answers to questions they couldn’t answer, both De Grandpre and Curtis came off the villains throughout the night. Juxtapose their performance with Marsch, who answered all questions — at times, quite brutally — and won over many in the audience. That is what the fans were looking for.
- No True Answer To Petke Firing: If anyone expected the front office to come out and list the many reasons why Petke was fired, you clearly don’t understand the politics of sport. Curtis, de Grandpre and even Marsch were questioned about his firing and each skirted the issue. To some extent, one would have hoped for more honesty and detail (from Curtis in particular) when it came to the decision. However, the team chose to keep that close to the vest and several felt hard done by the responses. That’s not to say clues did not abound. The focus on science, technology and analytics is the very antithesis of the Petke era. Still, the Red Bull brass did not take that next step in confirming such conjecture.
- No Refunds. De Grandpre noted that season ticket deposits were non-refundable. That was the Red Bulls policy. That is the policy for all the major area teams. While it is surely a “good” that the Red Bulls GM was honest about the policy, the result was definitely a “bad” point for fans in attendance that seemed to want nothing more than their money back.
- Interruptions: Hey, a Town Hall will always be an ugly event. However, several fans gave the Red Bull front office little to no chance to respond through the opening hour of the 90 minute event. This caused a division within the room itself and prevented the club brass from finishing their thoughts — no matter how meandering some of those thoughts may have been — and the fans from getting full responses.
- Language: Another black eye to the event was the salty language on display throughout the night. Again, par for the course at a Town Hall — that much is accepted. Admittedly, some of it was quite funny in its delivery and thought. However, most of the language served little to advance the conversation. There is a clear difference in witty remarks over a beverage company who can’t handle concession lines at their own arena to calls for “No more bull$&*!” and requests for the panel to “Shut the $^@% up.” One fan even threatened violence against another fan — and the MC, Daily News reporter Frank Isola. The loudest and most passionate of fans don’t always represent the room, and while everyone was united in their rancor, few wanted the discourse to take this route.