July 9, 2011
Red Bull Arena (Capacity: 25,000)
New York Red Bulls vs DC United
Final Score: 0 – 1
* The stadium was re-visited for a game on April 8, 2023
Soccer-Specific Stadiums have become the norm in MLS and on this seasonably warm July day, I excitedly attended my first professional soccer match. The Red Bulls originally started as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars and are one of the original MLS franchises. In 2006, the club was taken over by an energy drink company and they were re-branded as the New York Red Bulls, making the team the only one (that I know of) in American professional sports to have a logo and nickname completely off a corporate owner. Despite having several high-profile players through the years (including Thierry Henry), New York has yet to win the MLS Cup or the US Open Cup, failing in three total appearances. However, in ’13, ’15 and ’18, the team finished the regular season in first place and won the Supporters Shield. After years in cavernous Giants Stadium, the Red Bulls had their own stadium built in 2010. It’s located in Harrison, NJ, a gritty, working town of 19,000 just across the Passaic River from Newark in the northeast part of the state. Red Bull Arena provides the Tri-State Area with its own terrific soccer venue that strikes similarities to the finest European facilities.
Prestige Ranking: 4 out of 5
With the exception of a couple good Spanish restaurants there’s really not much to see in Harrison. The stadium itself is located in the southern part of the town, amongst warehouses, old industrial areas and new mixed-use developments. This includes a row down Frank Rodgers Boulevard that has a handful of restaurants. The most noticeable project since my first visit are plots of large apartments and lofts in front of the stadium. Warehouses and blah industry remain on the east side of RBA, along with a distinct sewage smell along the Passaic River. At least you are 20-30 minutes from New York City.
Location Ranking: 3 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
The new development has altered parking options in the area and likely will continue to do so. There is still a rather large lot near the train station and while this is the closest option to RBA, it will also have the most congestion, especially as people walk through it. Northwest of the train tracks, there are some lots that can be used. What I found best was the very large garage at the Harrison Parking Center. It was easy to navigate and the walk at 12 minutes wasn’t terrible (though I could’ve done without the overzealous crossing guard needlessly blocking off Somerset St to pedestrians). The best route is via I-280 as using I-78 to the south (or I-95) means more navigating, likely via the McCarter Highway (Route 21) in Newark. I had no problem coming in and the aforementioned parking garage is signed the whole way. Leaving the garage was fine until I got to Bergen Street. There, it took me 15 minutes to get back on I-280 West, because police directing traffic did a bad job, constantly letting streams of cars go from Frank Rodgers Blvd and then only letting a couple at a time go from our direction. Note that the entrance to I-280 has no sign and is a weird turn, however traffic and people directing means no trouble as to figuring out where to go.
Mass transit seems to be the route of choice for many as the team draws a lot from New York City, only a 20-minute ride away. PATH trains from Lower Manhattan lead to a station in Harrison, just a few blocks from the stadium. The PATH also connects to Newark Penn Station for those in Jersey looking to go elsewhere.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 6 out of 8
This first picture below was taken in 2011 and no longer will anyone have a nice, unimpeded stadium view like that given the new housing buildings that have gone up. The introduction to the stadium features a silver, almost metallic looking design. The most noticeable feature (especially when driving on area highways further away) is the curved roof that is most visible on the sides and behind the stadium. In between, is the front or face of the “arena” and it is flat with windows and silver colored siding. There is a Red Bull logo on the top and it’s weird that this is team branding. Overall, a fine design, but not one that is terribly inviting or mind-blowing.
Exterior Ranking: 6.5 out of 10
Outside the stadium, there are some giveaways and soccer themed games for those that arrive early. It seemed tempered compared to my prior visit. Fans enter at ground-level as a fairly wide pavement space is underneath the seating bowl. It’s a half-circle and rather industrial looking with steel all around and unless you have a field-level seat, there isn’t much point to the space other than to get you to stairs on the side for the above concourse. This area is more traditional and features a lower ceiling. A couple varieties of charcoal gray is used for walls, floors and beams. There are spaces to see the game and in a few spots, you’ll see mini bars with standing tables. Stairs lead to the main concourse, which features most of the food stands. Space is tight and where things are most jammed is the outdoor walkway on the west side, which is in front of the indoor clubs. I do like how there is a third-level concourse along the east sideline as this area isn’t bad for halftime food or a bathroom break.
Concourse Ranking: 3 out of 5
There’s a lot of good food in this part of New Jersey as Harrison and nearby Newark excel in Portuguese and Spanish cuisine. It’s too bad that flavor isn’t more celebrated in Red Bull Arena or even with maybe some food trucks, like they had outside when I visited in 2011. The concessions here feature portable carts that have Empanadas, Tacos and Nachos…but nothing elaborate. Other items feature nice variety as each stand seemed a little different. The Fat Rooster certainly fit that bill. Dropped from my last visit was a BBQ stand and a Sandwich area (including a good Cuban). In the alcohol department, you can get beer, wine, mixed drinks, etc. Lots of canned options there, with a few that looked local.
Food Ranking: 6 out of 8
What a terrific facility that is perfect for the beautiful game! The fully enclosed stadium features a partial translucent roof that lets in some light, but protects the seats from sun and precipitation, while the pitch remains exposed. Though I’m a big fan of seeing skylines from my seat (Newark’s is right there, while NYC is not too far off in the distance), I loved the enclosed nature of RBA, helping to induce noise. The design features a lower level of seats set in concrete and then a more populated upper-deck (with an aluminum base), emphasizing the “upper”. These seats, much above the lower ones, are very steeply pitched and give a great perspective on the game, especially given the lack of a suite level below. Only the east sideline has a couple hinderances: few seats with railing obstructions and a waste of space in what could’ve been five rows of seating, instead features a single stripe of temporary chairs. The second level stops on the west sideline as there is a triple-stacking of suites, lounges and press boxes. In addition, underneath are cushy 100 level seats below with additional spots for media. Confining all of the specialty seating to one area is such an advantage for the rest of the seating bowl. Supporter seating sections include the 100 level “South Ward” reserved for the standing, vocal supporters, while a section in the upper end 200s is for the visitors. All of the seats are blue and in the middle of the east sideline seats is a large Red Bull logo. The seats themselves feel a little flimsy and on the smaller side, but overall are comfortable.
Interior Ranking: 12 out of 14
Hanging under the roof at each end are two HD video screens. Could be a little bigger, but it works well. During gameplay, they take a quarter of a side out for game info and stats. The scoreboard is not obtrusive and in a good spot.
Scoreboard Ranking: 3 out of 4
It’s rather limited, despite the franchise being almost 30 years old. The only history displayed is what is on the upper beams of the north end concourse. Pictures and a line describing a big moment can be seen here. Near the Bodega is a “Best 20 in 20”, featuring a poster picture of the best franchise players. On the façade of the suite level are the years of the Supporters Shield wins and a “Legends Row” featuring one player.
Displays Ranking: 2.5 out of 6
Man does inflation suck. Prices have doubled in the 10+ years since I last visited. Tickets in 2023 were typically going for $45 – $90. Good news is that for most matches, you should be able to find resale seats around $40 and there are enough empty areas that you can probably move to a desired spot. Parking is $15 to $30, depending on the lot. Concessions are crazy: $7.50 for a hot dog, $11.50 for a burger and $15 for a beer.
Cost Ranking: 5 out of 8
Support has been going down for the team over the last decade. We know that MLS’ announced attendance numbers are a joke, yet it’s still telling that the inflated numbers put the Red Bulls 19th in the league for the 2022 season. The 25,000-seat stadium is understandably hard to fill and empty seats are more noticeable than other places because of that deep blue seat color. A low point came in the playoffs last year against Cincinnati as the Red Bulls had the most embarrassing looking crowd for a weekend October affair (with nice weather) as it looked like maybe 5,000 there. In 2015, I watched a playoff game when it was 75% empty as NYRB almost tied it at the end. Of course, the other four major professional sports leagues dominate the landscape in this part of the country. Attendance and fan support certainly has dropped since I last visited in 2011, possibly attributed to accumulating fan unhappiness with management, the introduction of NYCFC and the ending of the stadium’s honeymoon period. On the positive side of things, fans do seem into the team (not casual) and when I attended on a cold April night, the crowd size was a little better than I would’ve guessed.
Fan Support Ranking: 4.5 out of 8
Despite never being full, the atmosphere is good, even early in the season. Getting things going is the South Ward, with groups like the Viking Army and the Empire Supporters Club. Constant drumming accompanies various songs and chants, with “We Love Ya” kicking it off. Numbers are down in the South Ward, but noise is still up and enhancing the atmosphere. The rest of the fans were knowledgeable and into the game with appropriate reactions, even for the smaller plays. “Let’s Go Red Bulls” chants would occasionally break out. Late in the 2023 game I attended, the crowd was certainly into it towards the end as the Red Bulls tried to find an equalizer and when they did score, the majority were on their feet, with a few jumping up and down. I liked the goal celebration too with red flames behind the goal and insanely loud “Bulls on Parade” playing by Rage Against the Machine. Good stuff. Stadium design helps keep in noise, even if it’s a little slow to reverberate.
Atmosphere Ranking: 9.5 out of 14
D.C. United is the long-time rival for the Red Bulls, though since New York City FC started, the Hudson River Derby has taken over as the biggest game each year…..Inside the stadium, there is a team store that is scrunched into a portion of the concourse. It’s pretty small for such a new facility and I couldn’t even really browse as it was just too packed….The concourse has some nice modern touches like a charging station for phones and a mobile-ordering kiosk for food……P.A. Announcements are made in both English and Spanish.
Game (Initial Visit)
Adding more fuel to the fire with this match against D.C. United was the fact that the teams swapped Dwayne De Rosario and Dax McCarty not too long before the game. New York came out flat and sloppy with careless turnovers and wayward passes. Just before the half, Tim Ream saved a goal by defending a sharp-angled Charlie Davies shot off the line. De Rosario came back to haunt New York as he connected on a lovely give and go, giving DC the lead in the 61st minute. New York tried to tie it in stoppage time, but a couple set pieces failed to get to the net.