Red Bulls Sanction Supporters’ Groups

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

By JACK BELL

imagesThe sometimes frail relationship among the New York Red Bulls and the club’s supporters’ groups has been strained anew after the Major League Soccer club announced that it will ban the display of tifos and banners, and the use of smoke bombs for the next two home games.

The news, first reported on Tuesday on the Seeing Red podcast, comes only days before the Red Bulls will complete a three-game home stand in Saturday’s game against the Chicago Fire and Dax McCarty, the Red Bulls’ former captain who was traded during the off-season.

Incidents during and before the last two home games — against long-time rival D.C. United and the Columbus Crew — exposed the delicate dance that MLS clubs engage in with their most passionate, vocal and often cantankerous fans. While the clubs and the league bestow preferential treatment on the groups (which include discounted ticket prices and other perks) in an effort to foster a fan culture, it can be a double-edged sword when fans’ actions wander outside generally acceptable behavior.

While fans in Portland and Seattle are often used as examples of passion without conflict, that has not always been the case around the league. Earlier this year, as reported by EoS, supporters of New York City FC traveled to Orlando, Fla., for the teams’ season opener and were involved in clashes with the police that led to criminal charges being filed.

On April 15 with D.C. United in town, a fan in the South Ward held up a sign that said “F*** United,” which included the logo of United Airlines. As most people are aware, that airline was involved in a much-publicized incident in Chicago when a passenger was violently removed from a flight. An online article on First Touch asserted that the Red Bulls, and MLS by extension, were leery of offending United because the club exclusively flies United out of Newark-Liberty Airport, where United has a major hub. The club, however, has flown Southwest, JetBlue, American and Alaska Airlines to and from away matches. United is not listed among the league’s official partners.

During pregame activities on April 22 that included members of supporters’ groups on the field, one fan displayed a scarf with the words “F*** Ohio.” The Red Bulls actually include members from their three supporters’ groups — Empire Supporters Club, Garden State Ultras and Viking Army — in all pregame activities on the field. The latter group was not involved in the incidents.

Before the game against the Crew, the club said it received complaints from fans in the stadium and added that the use of vulgar language could not, should not and would not be tolerated.

In a statement the Red Bulls said:

“While the New York Red Bulls and Red Bull Arena value the passion and dedication of all three supporters groups, the organization also has a responsibility to foster a matchday experience that is welcoming and respectful to all guests. In both instances the language used was deemed inappropriate based on the Fan Code of Conduct, which all organized groups are aware of and must operate in compliance with.

“Both displays also occurred in areas where supporters are given special privileges to be. The Empire Supporters Club sign was displayed in the capo stand, while the Garden State Ultras member displayed a scarf on the field during the pregame presentation.

“While isolated incidents, the organization felt it was important to take action at this time to end this pattern of behavior in the South Ward. If there are no incidents over the next two matches, both groups will be able to return to normal match-day activities involving the use of smoke and signage.”

Matt Kremkau

In comments on Reddit, some fans charged that the Red Bulls were intent on trying to subdue any expressions of displeasure over McCarty’s departure, which angered some supporters in a manner similar to when the club fired Mike Petke as coach in January 2015. Plans by the Empire Supporters Group, the club’s oldest, to protest the firing of Petke, who was replaced by current coach Jesse Marsch, at the 2015 home opener ultimately fell through. The Red Bulls also said that they are focused on spotlighting National Autism Awareness Month on Saturday and do not want anything to detract from that goal.

In a message via Facebook, GSU said: “The sanctions given out by the FO [front office], do not fully effect the way we support the team in the stands. We still have our voices and our passion.”

Late on Wednesday, ESC issued a statement:

“We were disappointed to learn of the sanctions against our club. We are fully aware of the rules and understand a violation took place. However, we believe the punishment is excessive considering our history of self-policing and compliance with said rules. At the time, Red Bulls security asked for the sign to be removed, and we complied immediately. There was no mention of this incident from the Front Office after the D.C. game or during the Columbus game, and no indication of any repercussions.

“Furthermore, we do not believe this is a pattern as they described. These are two separate incidents involving different supporters groups. We should not be sanctioned for GSU’s actions, just as they should not be sanctioned for ours. While we often work together, we are two separate groups with separate leadership and representation with the Red Bulls’ FO.

“We have enjoyed a friendly relationship with the Front Office in recent years where we felt communication was a strong point. However, the severity of these sanctions, along with the lack of warning or opportunity to address the situation, has created some concern that this relationship may have begun to deteriorate. We are hoping for the opportunity to discuss these concerns and others with the Front Office and renew amicable relations.

“Regardless of any sanctions against us, we will be in our section singing and cheering our boys on the field.”

While the Red Bulls have promoted the Fire’s visit as a chance to see the German former international Bastian Schweinsteiger, the club plans a pregame video tribute to McCarty, who was captain for two years, during team warmups.

In comments after training, Marsch acknowledged the sensitive nature surrounding McCarty’s return in a Fire uniform.

“It will be great to see Dax, and it will be hard to see him on other side of the field,” Marsch said. “I think it will be a big moment for our fans to show appreciation to him for all the years he played here and for how great, what he’s meant to the club. I know it will be a special moment for him.

“Whenever you come back and play at a club you really cherished … I know we’ll see his absolute best. Knowing Dax, he’s a competitor and he’s going to want to make a statement, he’s going to want to play his best and he’s going to want to win. I think that will be a motivating factor of their team. And we have to understand we’re going to be in for a really difficult match. Personally, I’ll be really excited to see him. Hopefully, I’ll be able to give him a big hug. … Be nice to see him.”