Sacking of coach Mike Petke proves a breaking point
24 January ~ The new MLS season will begin in March with two sets of unhappy fans in New York. Followers of the newly formed NYC FC are fuming over Manchester City’s decision to retain Frank Lampard until the end of the season, while a rebellion is afoot among fans of the city's established MLS side, the New York Red Bulls. On Friday, January 16, the Red Bulls hosted a meeting with 300 invited season ticket holders following on from the surprise dismissal of popular head coach Mike Petke. The move has met with widespread dismay among fans of the club already unhappy with their ownership by the Austrian energy drink corporation.
Red Bull's acquisition of the franchise in 2006 was not widely popular, even in a sports market where clubs’ identity transplants are generally more accepted than in Europe. Fans of the MetroStars baulked at the immediate displacement of their identity in favour of the red-and-white identikit image mirrored across the globe by similar Red Bull takeovers in Austria (RB Saltzburg, set up in 2005), Brazil, Ghana and Germany, where RB Leipzig were created in 2009.
However, in dismissing Petke, the owners appear to have made a major error. Not only was Petke relatively successful as a coach, winning the club’s only silverware to date, the Supporters Shield in 2013, he also represented a link to the club’s beginnings in 1995. A native New Yorker, Petke remains the leading appearance holder for the combined New York/New Jersey MetroStars/Red Bulls teams.
With Petke at the helm, a flimsy compromise of sorts was held in place, despite the underlying hostility that has simmered among fans ever since the usurpation of the club identity. With the coach gone, that dam has broken. The officials facing up to the charged audience included sporting director Ali Curtis, Petke’s successor as new head coach Jesse Marsch, and goalkeeper Luis Robles – the latter's presence something of a lame attempt to defuse tension.
Questions ranged from the logic of Petke’s dismissal to outright opposition to the owners. Many attendees wore specially printed T-shirts distributed by the group Red Bull Out (#RedBullOut) urging the ownership group to sell the team and return them to what they view to be the club’s MetroStars roots.
The #RedBullOut campaign now has over 500 followers and appears to have powerful allies. A fan-led campaign to purchase billboards around the Red Bull Stadium to voice displeasure with the management and ownership of the team has raised almost $5,000 (£3,400) in less than 24 hours.
However, despite such protestations, the Red Bulls owners’ grip on the club doesn’t show any signs of loosening. An attempt to buy the club last season by Jason Ader, CEO of an asset management company, was flatly rebuffed, while Curtis used the public meeting to announce a signed agreement for the Red Bulls to field a fully fledged reserve team in the third tier USL Pro starting in 2015. Meanwhile, the fan campaign can be followed here. John Porter