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.