SBJ/June 11-17, 2012/Franchises

Heck gets a front-row look at passion of soccer fans in his role with New York Red Bulls

Last June, Chris Heck was named president of business operations for the New York Red Bulls. He came to the MLS club having spent seven years with the NBA, most recently as senior vice president of marketing partnerships. He also had experience with NFL and college-level work. But working with the Red Bulls, and in soccer, was something new — and it’s been anything but a quiet year. Heck helped lead the Red Bulls to increased attendance in 2011. The year also had him overseeing New York’s hosting of the 2011 MLS All-Star Game and two friendlies featuring the U.S. men’s team at Red Bull Arena.

Heck spoke with staff writer Christopher Botta last week about his first year on the job.


What was the biggest adjustment for you in changing sports and going from a league to a team?

Chris Heck notes more activation by Red Bull, the drink, with Red Bulls, the team.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
HECK:
How passionate our fans are. I’ve worked in just about every sport, including college athletics, and I’ve never seen anything like it. Not only the soccer fans in New York, but throughout the world. It’s a different level. That was the biggest wake-up call. It keeps you very much in tune. Our fans have very high expectations for entertainment, and that’s what I wanted.

What are you most proud of from your first year with the Red Bulls?

HECK:
Culturally, we’re doing something special here. We made some major changes in year one, from pricing to staffing to how we do business. We want to keep driving our attendance, our experience and our activation. At the end of this season, we want to be seen as one of the 10 major sports teams in this market. [The Red Bulls through six home games this year were averaging 15,823 fans, down about 9 percent from their six-game mark last season. MLS attendance traditionally picks up in the summer].

After hosting the 2011 MLS All-Star Game against Manchester United, is there any advice you would give the Philadelphia Union as they prepare for Chelsea FC against the MLS all-stars next month?

HECK:
Be extremely careful with who you sell your season tickets to by leveraging a major event. There were an overwhelming number, about 25 percent, who were brokers buying our season tickets to have access to purchase All-Star Game tickets. It can be a great shot in the arm, but it can be extremely detrimental to a franchise because [when] the brokers control a lot of tickets, the tickets can go unused and the accounts are not renewed for the next season.

It appears activation with the Red Bull drink and the team has been minimal the last few years. Is that a fair read?

HECK:
It was very fair in the past, but it is 100 percent inaccurate as we speak. We’ve had 1 million branded cans with Rafa Marquez and 800,000 of branded four-packs with Thierry Henry and ticket offers on there. There is a major … marketing campaign, a joint effort between the New York Red Bulls and Red Bull, including outdoor advertising featuring our players and the drink. There will also be a television commercial airing nationally over the next few weeks for the World of Red Bull featuring our arena and Henry.

Where does your organization stand on the potential for another MLS franchise in the New York area?

HECK:
If another team comes into the marketplace, we would love the rivalry. Right now, we are New York’s team. We are the only team in our sport, in the greatest market in the world. If they add another team, we will feel quite comfortable with our position here.

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