The big story around MLS circles today is seeming imminence of French star Thierry Henry’s voyage to America. According to multiple sources, the Barca winger will make his MLS debut this Summer following the World Cup. At 32, Henry will immediately become the league’s 2nd most prominent player in history and will provide an instant shot of attention to the Red Bulls and MLS. Fans of MLS and New York now have a secondary rooting interest in the World Cup. A great run by the French and Henry will make his appearance all the more dramatic for the team and the league.
Jack Bell of the New York Times recently wrote a blog entry opining that Brazilian star Ronaldinho should be the big target for the Red Bulls. In his article, he suggests that the Brazilan might increase attendance at RBA by 5-10k. Although Henry was the apparent team target, the question of attendance growth remains relevant. Will Henry increase attendance by that much at RBA? Will there be an attendance increase on the road?
We think that there will be a marked increase in road attendance with Henry in the league. He is a recognizable star to most soccer fans and with each MLS team getting only one visit from the Red Bulls per year, he will be a major attraction. In New York, a 10k increase is overly optimistic over the course of the year, but 5k is probably reasonable in year one. The key for the Red Bulls will be to use the increased visibility in 2010 to increase their fan base and interest in the team.
It will be interesting to see how Henry’s image is used by league sponsors to market their products. Will he become a household name to mainstream soccer fans? Will companies other that Gillette pony up dollars to put Henry in front of American eyeballs? This is an exciting time for the league and one that will provide an array of fascinating business issues over the next few months.