It was a weekend of sports – hunting soccer fields in Harlem, Red Bulls v Houston at Giants Stadium, and Braves v Mets at Shea. Alone, but not lonely, started my tour at Giants Stadium with thoughts of some grand comparison between MLS and MLB. It wasn’t to be, at least not for me. I watched most of the RBNY game as the only person on one side of the mezzanine level. Great view, no one kicking my seat. It was better than HD; I could get used to this. My press credential allowed me access to the entire stadium, making me free to sit where they weren’t even selling tickets. By rule, I don’t like press boxes. While I like to stop by to get all the press stat sheets and line-ups, watching from the box, especially at Giants Stadium where you feel as if you’re a mile above the field, is worse than watching on TV: it’s like you’re in the TV looking out. It sterilizes the experience, and since I’m there in great part to check out the crowd and the culture as much as the game, the press box acts as even more of a quarantine.
It’s really hard to judge the size of the crowd when they are placed inside such a huge stadium. I’d call the crowd decent, filling the majority of the lower level. The Official number came in at 12,481. You had your hard-core sections for both teams, the Bulls taking the obligatory end-zone position while a small, maybe 10-strong, contingent of Houston Fans nesting above one corner flag, happily dousing Altidore with some sort of liquid after his goal. The usual soccer diversity made-up the crowd: families with small children, teams in uniforms, groups of males, the more rare but present groups of females, and a good number of solitary individuals. Fairly split between Hispanics and Caucasians, with a noticeable lack of other ethnicities.
I’m not sure what to make of that ‘singles’ group, but they definitely stuck out more to me than any other sporting event I’ve attended. It could be that the smaller size of the crowd made these individuals pop out as they often sat several seats, if not sections, removed from the next patron. Maybe I just noticed them more because I was one of them. Soccer die-hards that don’t have friends to come to the game with? Family members alone in their soccer love? The half dozen I questioned fit into one of these groups. It was one of the big questions in my head that night: who comes to Red Bulls games?
After the game, the question flipped. Who will come to Red Bull games? As the season progresses, once Angel arrives (not counting when Beckham arrives), if the team continues its strong performance – Houston, we have a problem. A serious problem. If that game exhibited the skill of the defending champs, the MLS is worse than most thought - will more fans come out? Will the NY Times hire a Red Bulls beat reporter instead of pilfering the AP wire report? Arena et al are already being considered the league’s best, but even so, will it translate into the stands? I’d like to see the Red Bulls succeed simply to press that question.
The fact that I went to one of my favorite sporting events, Braves-Mets, had me consider a lot of these questions the day after under the context of a sold-out MLB game, until my heart told me it would be a disservice. I came away with a few thoughts though.
For starters, and re-hashing an old argument between some locals, for my trips this weekend, the Long Island Railroad to Shea Stadium from Penn Station was much easier, comfortable, quicker, and better than the bus to the Meadowlands. The only advantage the trip to Jersey had was the ease of entering the stadium itself, which at Shea was a complete disaster thanks to a sell-out crowd and metal-detector-wielding security at the gates. It’s really a wash - pick your poison - which was why I was hankering for a Manhattan soccer stadium on par with Madison Square Garden.
MLS needs some rivalries. Nothing new here, and I’m not sure how to approach that except for giving it some time, but the buzz surrounding every pitch of a Braves-Mets game is something MLS needs. At present, MLS is a bit more like the NBA, where the playoffs bring the buzz. The large number of teams getting playoff spots has to have at least some effect there. Sure, baseball has 162 games, but fewer teams make it into the playoffs bringing at least some degree to larger repercussions along with each loss. Look no further to Yankee fans already stressing about their team.
I hate Orange. I really hate Orange, which had me cursing uniforms this weekend. Houston’s orange jerseys and orange-crushed fans are hideous (although I do kind of like there white ones with very little orange), and the Mets are even brighter, thus worse. The design of everything from team colors to mascots to logos to uniforms is just terrible in pro sports right now. I can’t remember the last time a team introduced a new jersey or logo or anything that I liked. Los Angeles, you are now on the clock.
Everybody should be looking toward Kansas City or Chicago for uniform-design, and they represent the two big benchmarks in quality design. The Wizards keep it simple with blue and white and the three-stripe design that worked as well 30 years ago as it does now (on Chelsea). The Fire on the other hand, did a tremendous job following a fire department design without it looking too corny or over-designed. DC United falls in between these, with a more modern simplicity. DC also has no real mascot, which is how I wish all sporting clubs were considered, but who wants to wear a black jersey in summer? As sponsorships continue to stumble in, I find it hard to think anyone will do a better job than Red Bull, which avoided plastering the words all over the jersey and instead sided for a dojo image of butting bulls in front of a big yellow sun. There is something amiss with the design around the neck – it’s a collar optical illusion up there. The Galaxy’s interim jerseys look like a teenager put it together. Hideous colors, design, everything. Maybe I care too much about this – clearly, yes, I do – but MLS uniforms really let me down. I need to find some teenagers, to see if the people MLS is marketing to, like them. I’d also like to see with overall attendance being taken into consideration, how well do MLS jerseys sell compared to other sports? Say, for every 100 fans, how many purchase a jersey?
All in all, after crunching my brain to compare to the two pro sports experiences this weekend, I find it’s unfair. The overall similarity of the experiences though, that of going out in beautiful weather to watch sports, interact with family and friends, and feel like you’re part of something, was what struck me the most. It didn’t matter where I was at, Bulls or Braves, the feeling was there. It didnt matter that 43,120 more people went to the Braves-Mets game than the Red Bulls game. On an 80-degree day in April that found me already complaining of the heat, I was glad summer (as far as the sports calendar is concerned) was here. Give and sports will give back (even bowling). Her life is in your hands.