RB Leipzig Near Bundesliga Ascension – And What It Means For RBNY

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by BILL REESE

OP-ED: This Sunday may be the most momentous day in the 11-year history of Red Bull’s global soccer empire.

The company’s German outpost—RB Leipzig—are one win away from promotion to the German Bundesliga. They can accomplish this by beating Karlsruher at home—the “other” Red Bull Arena in Leipzig—or if 3rd place side Nürnberg drop any points at home to FC St. Pauli.

But what does this mean for the New York Red Bulls, the American cousin in Red Bull’s soccer empire?

That’s a good question.

For years, message-board pundits have posted foreboding warnings about what would happen if—and now, when—Leipzig ascended to the Bundesliga. The most repeated warning was that Red Bull would invest everything they’ve got into Leipzig and take money away from New York.

That may be true…that may already be true…and that may not exactly be a terrible thing. Let us not forget in 2015, RBNY divested itself from the big-name, big-money DP’s, brought in some experienced players on middle-class salaries (by MLS standards), and promoted some academy prospects to the first team. A lot of folks—myself included—proclaimed that the sky was falling.

Then they went out and won the Supporters Shield and came within a couple goals of the MLS Cup final.

So yeah, RB may not be spending the money in New York that they once did. And they’ve made a reasonable case that perhaps they don’t need to anymore. The 2016 season has got off to a bad start, but when the team plays well, they can beat anyone in the league, as evidenced by last Friday’s evisceration of FC Dallas. When 12 of 20 teams make the playoffs—especially in an anemic Eastern Conference—it’s about who gets hot at the right time, not necessarily who’s got the deepest pockets.

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True, some New York players have trained with their German or Austrian counterparts in the MLS off-season, but so far, none have made the jump from America to Europe. Additionally, the list of players who’ve made the jump from Salzburg or Leipzig to New York can be counted on one hand…and that’s even if we include Brian Nielsen, who may as well have have been in a full-body cast for the entirety of his time in Major League Soccer.

Contrast this to New York City FC, who in 2015 had two Manchester City academy players on loan in addition to Frank Lampard, whose sojourn from New York to Manchester and back again prompted many criticisms of the expansion side and where their priorities lay.

Red Bull—correctly—sees New Jersey and New York as the source of a lot of young talent. But rather than mine it for themselves, they cultivate it, use it to stock their MLS side, and—if deemed worthy enough—they export it to other European teams. It’s a big business approach, not a soccer approach. What it says about a European view of American soccer is in the eye of the beholder, but RBNY isn’t a feeder team, and Leipzig’s place in the Bundesliga won’t change that.

Finally, there is the question of whether or not a team in the Bundesliga—competitive or not—would shake up Red Bull’s priorities to the point that Dietrich Mateschitz would sell the MLS franchise and focus solely on Europe. It seems like six months can’t go by without someone suggesting that Red Bull would sell RBNY. I may or may not have sold a couple T-shirts expressing this very sentiment.

But everyone ignores the fact that Red Bull is not simply the owner of the team (technically, they’re not). Red Bull is invested in MLS as a whole. You’ve heard Commissioner Don Garber call his owners “investor/operators” so many times that you’ve glazed over the business-speak, but it’s true. Red Bull are invested in the league as a whole and—by proxy—American soccer as a whole. The sport still has a high ceiling in this country and they know this. That’s why they bought in during a dark period in the league’s history. That’s why they’ve pumped so much money into a stadium, an academy, players, and—very occasionally—some marketing.

They’re in this thing for the long haul whether we like it or not because that’s what savvy investors do.

RB Leipzig captain Dominik Kaiser

RB Leipzig captain Dominik Kaiser

A Leipzig win and promotion on Sunday will trump all Red Bull’s soccer efforts in the last decade. It’s bigger than two MLS Supporters Shields, bigger than a boatload of Austrian Bundesliga titles for Salzburg, bigger than Salzburg taking a couple scalps in the UEFA Champions League, bigger than building a stadium with (mostly) private dollars in New Jersey—oh, and Leipzig are gonna do just that in a couple years for themselves. The Bundesliga is one of the biggest, most competitive (for everyone under Bayern Munich), and most talented leagues in the world.

Don Garber can talk all he wants about being a “league of choice” by 2022, but the Bundesliga is already that — and then some.

So should the New York Red Bulls feel a little jealous, like the American cousin of the German bride, watching Leipzig walk down the aisle to the Bundesliga? You’re damn right they should. Red Bull began their Leipzig experiment in 2009 while in the German 5th division, with aspirations of reaching the Bundesliga within eight years. If they win Sunday, they’ll have done so in seven.

It’s one thing to set lofty goals. Plenty of RBNY executives and coaches have done so. But none have yet delivered. Leipzig’s success won’t make New York the red-headed stepchild of Red Bull’s soccer empire — just the child with the hardest luck and the most unrealized potential.

  • Nat Mac

    Why do red headed stepchildren have such a bad rap?

  • The only garber

    Get off the juice son :)
    If beckham didn’t have restrictions on his franchise, he would be in New York buying the red bull soda team.
    Red bull New York is here in mls for marketing and more marketing.
    Red bull is dumb for not buying a team in Mexico since all the owners suck down there and don’t pay up.
    Cmon we all know ny rb will be nycfcs little brother and things will only get worse in the east for them as Miami, Atlanta, Minnesota, st.louis come in and Detroit.
    If garber is smart, rebrand this team and keep red bull as a jersey sponsor with a new owner. Win win situation y’all

    • slowleftarm

      If they were really here for “marketing”, they’d probably spend a little more on actually marketing the team. I’d welcome it actually. And so would plenty of other RBNY supporters.

      • The only garber

        There walking billboards son :)
        There’s a reason why nba, nfl, mlb don’t do this.
        I repeat, if red bull was smart which they are not, Mexico is a gold mine for investors.
        Red bull Mexico would play libertadores, champions, USA exhibition games, league cup, league, and they got very faithful fans.

        • vic

          NBA is adding sponsorships to the jerseys next yr buddy,,,smh

  • William

    where’s the Metrostars jersey ahahahahahahhahahaa what a team just great.

    • I have one with nathus on back. No ****. Running shirt.

  • Greg

    An eight year plan, achieved in seven, is awesome. Too bad they have no clue on what to do in Harrison, NJ after 10 years! Poor slow is still waiting for the super club promised in ’06. I don’t think the fans will mind if the Red Bull owners pay more attention to their European teams. RBNJ fans already know what it’s like to be the afterthought in the tri-state area.

    • 5 Boroughs SC

      Afterthought to whom, NYCFC? It’s not like they are setting the league on fire.

      • Oil $ good, energy drink $ is good

        NYCFC is a farm team to ManCity. An Arab owned team located in a poor industrial city in England.

  • energyme

    The author is probably right on most accounts and I have no idea what a promotion would do to the company’s view of RBNY.

    However, companies come and go, especially in fads like energy drinks. They are by far tied to the fortune of this business and if things change, expensive sports teams in expensive stadiums are the first to get sold.

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  • I hope they sell and call them the new Jersey Turnpikes or Pikes for short

    • Mark J. Hardt, Jr.

      Hahahahahahahahahahah!
      You the funniest.
      Daddy
      Please send mommy the pas due child support so the police don’t toss you in jail again