Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Red Bull New York: MLS Oddball (Thank God)

If you're a New York Red Bulls fan - or any kind of MLS fan for that matter - you owe it to yourself to read the great article in today's Sports Business Journal about Red Bull's unique perspective on marketing, advertising and team ownership. 

For those already inclined to think that Red Bull GmbH doesn't know what it's doing when it comes to owning and managing an MLS team, the piece will probably only harden preconceptions.  OK, so hiring soda drink salesman Marc de Grandpre to oversee a soccer franchise was probably a terrible idea.  But stick with me here...

What the article makes clear is that RBNY is unlike any other club in that it doesn't buy into traditional notions of advertising, marketing partnerships and brand building. Instead, driven by the unconventional approach of Dietrich Mateschitz (above), everything is geared toward being exceptional and different.  Remember Apple's motto "Think Different"?  Red Bull has taken that to heart - in spades.

Of course, some might claim that Red Bull is ignoring tried and tested rules, but if you think about the degree to which our culture has become saturated with cross-promotions, pointless "synergies" and strategic partnerships that go nowhere, there is something remarkably refreshing about Red Bull's approach. As Sports Business Journal explains, if you looked around Red Bull Arena on Saturday and noticed that ads were not plastered on every square inch of available space, there was a good reason behind it.  They don't want them there.

At the same time, Red Bull seems to have learned from some of its more egregious mistakes and has fine-tuned its approach, judiciously mixing in conventional advertising while ditching some of its less successful (to put it mildly) guerrilla tactics.

More than anything, what the piece drives home is that no other MLS owner would have dared to make the kind of investment that "Uncle Dietrich" (as we here at TVN have taken to calling him) has made in Red Bull Arena.  In that respect, despite all the growing pains - and boy were they painful - Red Bull now has a very real chance to emerge as a massive net positive for the sport and the league, raising the bar for soccer in North America and pushing MLS in a more audacious direction. Will others take the baton and run with it?  Time will tell.
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