Red Bull Arena review: Soccer, soccer everywhere, but not a drop to drink

Last night my family and I attended the first regular-season game at Red Bull Arena, the new soccer-only home of Red Bull New York in Harrison, New Jersey. I wasn’t sure what to expect, in more ways than one — it was not only my first visit to this stadium, but to a live pro soccer match at all, so I was curious to see both the new building and the fan turnout.

Getting to Harrison, a rundown industrial town across the Passaic River from Newark, was easy: As the Red Bulls website suggested, we avoided the highway and took the subway to the PATH train to Harrison, for a total trip time from Brooklyn of a little under an hour. The stadium, as expected, is currently surrounded by unsightly vacant lots filled with standing water, and is relatively unlovely from the outside, but is pleasant and fairly cozy on the inside; we were up in the top deck in corner seats, and had a good view of all the action.

I was initially thinking that the aluminum seating bowl felt chintzy — for this, they spent $200 million? mdash; but I soon realized that I was missing the point. Though the game itself was lacking in that feature that other sports call “scoring” (the Red Bulls won, 1-0), it was exciting the entire way, in large part thanks to the frenzied sellout crowd, which in turn was in large part thanks to the architecture: When you have 25,000 people stamping on aluminum flooring in unison, it’s loud, and fun no matter what’s going on on the field. And that’s before even getting into the incessant smoke bombs being set off by the fan club (sorry, “supporters club“) section down front.

There were only two huge flaws in the Red Bull Arena experience (not counting the frigid weather, which there’s nothing the team could do anything about, unless the smoke bombs were intended to speed up global warming). First off, as has been noted a couple of other places, the stadium has no water fountains, and the bathroom taps only dispense hot water. And each person is only allowed to bring one sealed bottle of water with them. On a cold night in March, this was merely an annoyance (especially since water at the concessions stands is $4 a bottle); when it’s 100 degrees in July, and the lines for the concession stands are as long as they were during halftime last night, it’s going to be a lawsuit waiting to happen.

The other problem is going to require a more time-consuming fix. As noted, we arrived via PATH, and it was an easy trip. Getting back was a different story: Apparently the 99-year-old Harrison station hasn’t been upgraded to accommodate post-sporting-event crowds — I counted about eight turnstiles total — which led to horrific lines just to get into the station. (As one supporter trapped on line behind me muttered: “Great game, great stadium, better team, terrible traffic control.”) Door-to-door travel time to get back home to Brooklyn: Two hours and ten minutes.

The Harrison station is currently undergoing a $173 million renovation, of which there were few signs last night, but if Wikipedia is to be believed, it should eventually ease traffic flow considerably. Added to Harrison’s $80 million in land and infrastructure costs for the stadium, though, it means New Jersey taxpayers are spending about a quarter-million-billion dollars to support their new soccer stadium (and the surrounding development, of course, if condos and retail ever really sprout on those waterlogged lots). The game was great, but for prices like that, I wouldn’t mind a drink of water.

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19 comments on “Red Bull Arena review: Soccer, soccer everywhere, but not a drop to drink

  1. modern spin on the old adage – “let them eat cake” is now “let ’em buy and drink our bottled water”

    sports customers will continue to be taken for granted by franchise owners until they strike back with the only weapon they have – don’t spend $$$’s until the owners listen…

    A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money!

  2. Thanks for a nice review of Red Bull Arena.

    However, I don’t think it is fair to say that the taxpayers spent a quarter billion for a soccer stadium. Most of that money is for a new PATH train station nearby, and that counts as a separate expense. A new station there is long overdue, and it is a value for the whole community. The PATH train doesn’t just operate on game days.

  3. Great article Neil. My only issue with the RBA is the lack of water fountains….

    With that said, was your experience at the RBA great enough to warrant you making a return trip? Did the incredible atmosphere created by the supporters offer enough “wow” factor? That’s what I’d like to know if the casual sports fan can be drawn in.

  4. There’s a reason I said a quarter billion “to support” the new stadium. Yes, the expanded station will be there for everyone else, but aside from the elevators for ADA compliance, it doesn’t look like much of it is needed except by the Red Bulls. Much like the Metro-North station for the Yankees, it’s a sports-inspired perk where it’s hard to say how much benefit ends up accruing to the public.

    And I’m definitely planning a trip back, but this time I’m sitting on the west side of the stadium, for a faster getaway, and leaving the instant the final whistle blows. If I still can’t get home in less than two hours, then I guess you’ll see me in 2013…

  5. Nice write up. I think Red Bull Arena is grossly overrated. The traffic getting in and out of Harrison was God awful. The stadium would have been much better if it was built in the Meadowlands. Even walking back to parking and the PATH was not great as the police had blocked off the most direct routes back for “safety” purposes. If it had kept traffic moving, I would have believed it, but it was at least 60 minutes to get out of there. I’m OK with walking up to the main level, but I did not see any escalators for young children or elderly folks to take to get to the main level. The video screens seem awful small for such a brand new facility. The fans may just be so desparate for a soccer stadium that they will ignore all these faults. It is a beautiful facility, and while sightlines can be impeded if you are on the sideline by one goal and will look down towards the other goal on the near sideline, it is a tradeoff I will take for getting closer to the action. To me, the real positive was how the team played. Lindpere looks very good and Coundoul saved the game literally. The fan atmosphere was much better here than ever in Giants Stadium. Now if they could only get the stadium out of Harrison and airlift it to the Meadowlands and add a couple of water fountains, it would be perfect.

  6. Neil-Your poor kids! Taking that long to get home. Mine would not be inclined to want to go back, with a return trip that long.

    But then, as they get older, you’ll spend more and more time watching your own kids play (whatever sports they’re into-soccer for many years for us), and have less time for professional sports outings.

  7. Well, if it were in the Meadowlands, we probably wouldn’t go at all, since then we’d have no choice but to drive.

    And my son does play soccer, but for him that’s even more reason to watch it as well. (Ditto baseball.)

  8. No water fountains, huh?

    Kinda reminds me of UCF’s stadium being built without them back in 2007, then when about a half-dozen people collapsed due to dehydration on Opening Day, they installed 50 within the next month.

  9. Not sure who UCF is, but Walter O’Malley famously pulled the same water fountain trick when Dodger Stadium opened until the city health department intervened.

  10. Uh, Meadowlands now has a NJ transit stop right at the stadium. Probably is closer to Giants Stadium than the so-called PATH, which is at least a quarter mile away from the stadium, and probably longer when the Harrison police shut off the direct access to it, making people walk a couple of blocks out of the way. Access to the stadium is terrible. Whoever thought to put this in to Harrison was not thinking. The surrounding area around the stadium is also terrible. Been to Toyota Park and Pizza Hut Park in Chicago and Dallas, and access to those is infinitely better— and you can park in the same zip code as the stadium. And if you are hungry or need a drink, try waiting a minimum of about 20-25 minutes to get something at the stands. The novelty of the stadium will wear off and this place won’t attract anyone after awhile unless the Red Bulls are good. Dare I say… bring back Giants Stadium!

  11. Giants Stadium was the reason Red Bull left in the first place. 10+ years of playing on a plastic pitch is more than enough for proof.

  12. “And each person is only allowed to bring one sealed bottle of water with them”

    Yeah, but you can bring, like, 7 cans of Redbull.

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