Lost in the anticipation of Lionel Messi making his Major League Soccer debut Saturday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison — an excitement that has led to individual tickets listing for $3,000 being labeled as a “great deal” and more than 350 media requests from around the world — is this somewhat forgotten fact: Messi has played in Red Bull Arena before.
Less than a year ago, in fact — in what was Argentina’s last warmup for a World Cup it eventually won.
This is a good thing, New York Red Bulls General Manager Marc de Grandpré said. It means the organization is ready for its Messi Moment.
It’s why de Grandpré is confident the club will handle the most anticipated MLS game in New Jersey since David Beckham got his first MLS start, playing for the L.A. Galaxy against the Red Bulls in the old Giants Stadium.
It’s why de Grandpré is confident the organization and the arena will put on a show that will make the overflow crowd — many of which will be first-timers — want to come back for future matches.
Impact on players
It’s a fair question to ask: If Lionel Messi is the Pelé of his generation, how will the New York Red Bulls ensure their own players will compete against him rather than simply being in awe of him when they face him Saturday night?
“I think it’s something that we have to acknowledge,” Red Bulls General Manager Marc de Grandpré said. “It’s going to be something they’re going to have to manage, but I have full faith in Troy Lesesne, our head coach, to make sure that they process that, accept it, move on and quickly get down to business once first kick happens.
“Their sole mission is to be the first ones to give (Messi and inter Miami FC) a loss — and to do it in front of a full house and really leave the folks in the building energized.”
“We’ve done this before — whether it was with Messi or (FC Barcelona) or other big-name players and clubs,” he said. “I’d say our team is a well-oiled machine when it comes to these big events at Red Bull Arena.”
To be sure, this will be more than just another match.
What already was planned to be a party — the club already had plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop with pregame and postgame concerts — is going to another level.
The “BULLevard” and CrossBar (two pregame fan-fest areas outside the arena) will open at 4 p.m. Run DMC will be performing, as will two of the members of East Orange’s own Naughty by Nature (Vin Rock and DJ Kay Gee).
Gates will open earlier, too, at 5:30 for the 7:30 first kick. Fireworks and a postmatch concert are planned, too. There will be a steady push to have as many people in the crowd of 25,000 arrive by the nearby Harrison PATH Station as possible.
And, while de Grandpré will not name names for security reasons, the club said a number of celebrities already are planning to attend. All of this creates a grand opportunity, he said.
“The event we’re going to put on ultimately will ensure that everyone who comes to the arena for the first time to see Messi will want to come back,” de Grandpré said. “We’re going to put on the most exciting event in the New York metro area for the season. This is going to be the place to be.
“We have a long list of celebrities and people who want to come out who’ve never been here. Our goal is to convert them into wanting to come back to Red Bull Arena for more games. And we’re pretty confident we’ll be able to do that. We’re excited.”
ROI-NJ spoke with de Grandpré about the planning for the match — and how the Red Bulls will use it to propel the organization going forward. Here’s a look at more of the conversation.
ROI-NJ: Let’s talk about more on logistics. How much additional staff will you need to bring in to manage the event?
Marc de Grandpré: The biggest thing we’re focused on is making sure that it stays a really safe experience for everyone. We’re focused on security. We know when we have Messi in the arena or Argentina or Barcelona, there’s always going to be some field jumpers. So, we’re adding 75 folks that are going to be literally around our pitch for the match to make sure that the players are safe, Messi is safe and that no one decides to jump.
Around the concourse, I’m not going to go into details for security reasons, but I can tell you that outside and inside the building, it’ll be a very safe environment for everyone. Our goal is to make sure that everyone just enjoys the match and doesn’t have to worry about their safety. We’re going to go to the extreme measures that we need to take to make sure that everyone comes here and leaves with a smile.
ROI: Speaking of smiles, let’s talk bottom line. Even with the extra costs, how much does an event like this generate for the club?
MDG: This will be our largest grossing revenue gate for an MLS match ever.
ROI: Are seats still available?
MDG: What’s interesting is that we’ve held some tickets back that we’re selling now to certain folks in packages. We’ve put together a really successful plan to make sure that people weren’t just coming to see Messi, but that they would commit to three other matches throughout the season. If they want to buy four tickets to see Messi, they have to buy four tickets to see three other matches. It’s our job to make sure they want to come back and see more of the action that we have at Red Bull Arena.
The better question may be: Where are they coming from? Here is list of places where people have purchased tickets for Messi’s appearance with Miami FC Saturday night at Red Bull Arena, according to the club.
- 33: States;
- 20: New Jersey counties (all but Cumberland);
- 10: Countries (including U.S.);
- 5: Every New York City borough.
ROI: Have to ask: Will you be selling Messi jerseys?
MDG: We won’t have Messi jerseys in the building. But we’re going to be selling our hip-hop kit that the players will be playing in. It’s our third kit and it’s already been one of our best-selling uniforms for the season.
ROI-NJ: As we’ve documented, Messi has been here previously. And Red Bull Arena has hosted big matches before. Why is the anticipation so high for this game?
MDG: It’s not just Messi’s inaugural MLS match, but how he’s played coming in, and what he did to help his team win the Leagues Cup, scoring 10 goals in seven matches. I don’t think anyone could have scripted it this way. And I don’t think anyone in Hollywood would have believed the script if we said this is how it’s going to go when he steps on the pitch.
ROI: Is the media coverage higher than you expected when it was announced that Messi was joining MLS?
MDG: I think it’s been greater than we all thought it could be. We have over 350 media requests to cover the match. We’ve never seen that many. Look at the earned media we’re getting collectively because of this match and the league. It’s 300% plus, week over week.
Read more from ROI-NJ:
- Red Bulls — for brief moment — thought of moving Messi game to MetLife Stadium
- Red Bulls’ GM: Team will make ‘significant investment’ in roster in 2024
ROI: In your first stint with the Red Bulls, you were with the club during the Beckham game at Giants Stadium, a 5-4 Red Bulls victory before 66,237. How does this match compare?
MDG: I’d say one of my most memorable moments with this club was seeing Giants Stadium full for that game. The energy of that game — the way the match went back and forth — I think, to this day, it was one of the most entertaining soccer matches that the MLS has ever seen. I think Saturday will hopefully be able to replicate that energy.
ROI: And you’re confident your crew will be able to pull it off without issue?
MDG: I think our experience managing what I’d call global events is well documented. We’ve done it countless times over the years. We’re ready and we know how to make sure that everyone who comes here has a great experience in a safe environment.