When the Red Bulls opened up their 2020 season last March 1st, a crowd of 15,703 was on hand at Red Bull Arena to see a 3-2 win over FC Cincinnati. That was followed by a 1-1 draw on the road with Real Salt Lake on March 7th.
And then, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sports world including Major League Soccer.
The MLS returned to play in July with games played in a bubble with no fans at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex in Florida. It wasn’t until August 20th when the Red Bulls would be back home at Red Bull Arena when they beat New York City FC 1-0. The pandemic was still ongoing, but New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy allowed the Red Bulls to play home games…without fans in attendance and that was the situation for the remainder of the season.
But with the vaccine rollout ramping up and the hope that the pandemic will soon be in our rear-view mirrors, the restrictions for sports venues in the Garden State have been rolled back a bit. Venues of 5,000 seats or more can now welcome back fans at 10% capacity for indoor events and 15% capacity for outdoor events.
That means when the 2021 Major League Soccer season kicks off, the Red Bulls will once again be able to have a limited number of fans back at Red Bull Arena. With a seating capacity of 25,000, the Red Bulls can have approximately 3,750 fans in the stadium.
“We could not be any happier to welcome back and host the most devoted fans in sports to Red Bull Arena, the premier soccer venue in North America,” said Joe Stetson, the Red Bulls’ Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer. “We will ensure a safe, healthy and comfortable return for our fans. That has remained, and will continue to be, our priority.”
Governor Murphy made the announcement to open up venues to fans on February 22nd during an appearance with “Moose and Maggie” on WFAN Radio. The new guidelines went into effect on March 1st and the first professional sporting event in New Jersey to welcome back fans for the first time in almost a year took place on Tuesday night when about 1,800 fans watched the Devils lose to the Islanders 2-1 at Prudential Center in Newark, just minutes away from the Red Bulls’ home in Harrison.
Red Bulls Will Have A Plan In Place For Health And Safety Of Fans:
While the guidance, which includes mandatory social distancing and mask wearing but not a negative COVID test that is required in New York State, has just gone into effect, the Red Bulls have been working hard throughout the pandemic to prepare for the moment that they could welcome back fans.
The organization was hard at work coming up with multiple plans not knowing what the guidance for the state was going to eventually be.
“Our staff has been immersed in planning the details for as many potential scenarios as possible,” said Stetson. “Our goal is for our fans to return to a safe, healthy and comfortable environment. Throughout this past year, we have had a living document for all of the key stakeholders within the organization to contribute as we’ve collectively worked toward the best way to return our fans to Red Bull Arena.”
The Red Bulls also kept tabs on what other MLS teams and other sports teams and leagues, both in North America and around the world, were doing to prepare for the return of fans. The organization’s mission was to establish their own set of protocols to ensure that when Red Bulls supporters were allowed to return to South Ward and throughout the rest of arguably the best soccer facility in North America, that the plan was smart and safe.
So, who will make up the expected crowd of 3,750 (or more if the guidance changes) when the season starts?
The Red Bulls announced that their “Red Members” (season ticket holders) will have priority access to the limited number of tickets.
“They are, and always have been, the lifeblood of our club and an extension of what our organization represents,” said Stetson. “Throughout the entire pandemic, our Red Members have stuck by our side and have truly shown their loyalty to this club in what may have been the worst of times for many people out there. We implemented several community programs including “Local Assist” and “Homegrown Heroes” as the result of the special bond forged between the club, our Red Members and the community.”
In the near future, there will be an announcement regarding the complete set of health and safety measures that will be implemented by the organization led by Vice-President of Operations Shaun Oliver. Red Bulls partner Hackensack Meridian Health will be giving Red Members care packages that will help them maintain health and cleanliness both when they are at Red Bull Arena and during their daily lives.
The package will include a neck gaiter to use as a face covering, touch screen washable gloves that are good for texting and to prevent direct contact, a phone pouch and lanyard to keep your phone safe from direct contact when scanning tickets, a safe key to help prevent direct contact with commonly touched surfaces, hand sanitizer, and a Red Member scarf.
At Some Point, All Red Bulls Fans Will Have Access To Tickets:
As far as the general public is concerned, the Red Bulls are anticipating that they will also be able to return to Red Bull Arena should there be any tickets not claimed by season ticket holders or if the capacity limit increases at some point.
“We are optimistic that in the near future all fans who would like the opportunity to attend a match at Red Bull Arena will have the chance,” said Stetson.
In the post pandemic world, it’s reasonable to assume that the way concessions are handled at sporting events. Teams are looking at ways to improve the sale of food and drink along with volunteers and the Red Bulls are having discussions with their concessionaire Delaware North to ensure that fans will have safe and healthy options.
“We want to give our fans the opportunity to be contactless as much as possible,” said Stetson.
Before the pandemic, Red Bulls fans who arrived at home games early enough were able to experience the interactive activities outside of Red Bull Arena at the “BULLevard”. The Red Bulls conducted a virtual BULLevard when the team returned to Harrison but were not able to have fans. It was a way for the team to offer a small slice of the game-day experience for Red Bulls fans watching the games at home on television.
In terms of a return to the traditional BULLevard at the stadium, the organization wants that to continue and just like having to start with a limited number of fans, the organization is planning on a scaled-down version for now as well as partnering with Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey on a virtual activation.
“We are truly proud of what the BULLevard has become and how much our fans have enjoyed taking part in the interactive activities on game days,” said Stetson. “We will have limited activations early on this season but will have full activation space when the time is appropriate from the standpoint of health and safety.”
It’s been a challenging year for everyone trying to navigate through the pandemic. There have been small steps in a return to normalcy or whatever the new normal is going to look like and a part of that normalcy is sports including the Red Bulls. We’ve all missed going to games and now that is starting to happen again as sports franchises in New Jersey and New York have been welcoming back fans.
This spring, Red Bull Arena will be open for business, not just for the games on the pitch but with fans in the stands.