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Official Review by Josh Oakes, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Located on the banks of the Passaic River in Harrison, New Jersey is one of the best soccer stadiums in North America (and possibly THE best). Prior to 2010, the New York Red Bulls, previously NY/ NJ Metro Stars, played in the local NFL stadium, as did most MLS teams. Giants Stadium served its purpose, and gave the team a place to play, but it was a football stadium in the end, not a soccer stadium.
Red Bull Arena was the answer.
With an overall capacity of 25,189, this shiny gem of a stadium is exactly what all soccer stadiums in the States should aspire to be, minus the location.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Concessions are spread out generously across the two-tiered stadium and the variety leaves very little to be desired. Chicken and waffles, churros, empanadas, burgers, hot dogs, pizza, and South-Pacific meat pies are all offered here. The prices are about what you would expect at an MLS stadium, but the churros are only $5 and are a fan favorite.
The drink variety is quite good here as well. There are plenty of small vendors scattered around the lower concourse selling a wide variety of drinks. Prices start at around $7, which isn't bad for a professional stadium. Your best bet for drinks comes courtesy of The Beer Market behind section 124.
You can feel the excitement in the air long before you arrive at the arena. Fans decked out in Red Bull gear fill the trains going from Manhattan to Harrison and the road leading to the arena is filled with promotional stands and pre-game activities. The atmosphere just feels like soccer, and the soccer-specific stadium plays a huge part in that. The whole focus is on soccer, and nothing else.
The various supporter groups behind the south goal show up well before kickoff and are there until well after the teams have left the pitch. If you can, buy a ticket either in or near the south end line, it is quite the experience as there is really no concept of personal space in this area. When the Red Bulls score, prepared to be high-fived, hugged, and screamed at all in the same motion.
The only negative thing about the atmosphere here is that the stadium is rarely ever full. Entire sections of the upper deck go empty game after game, which is really a shame, considering the brilliance of this stadium.
Over the course of the season, Red Bull Arena will host a number of international games and have seen the likes of Bayern Munich, Paris St. Germain, the U.S. Men's and Women's national teams and many more in its short existence. For these games, the arena does get packed, and the atmosphere is absolutely astounding.
The neighborhood could be worse and at least it's not Chester, Pennsylvania, which is home to PPL Park and the Philadelphia Union. Harrison, New Jersey is not a very attractive town (sorry locals, it's just not). There are, however, plenty of places to eat within walking distance, just go before the game as walking through Harrison at night with a family is not something I would advise.
Nino's Pizza is just up the road from the PATH (train) station. Across the Jackson Street Bridge and to the south is Market Street where you will find the likes of Titanic, which is a Spanish restaurant with an interior designed to look like a ship, Market BBQ, Catas, another Spanish place, El Pastor Bar & Restaurant, and many more.
Red Bull Arena's location does a good job of weeding out so called "fans" who treat sporting events as social events and nothing more (Wizards fans, I'm looking at you). As I alluded to earlier, everyone is here for soccer and they love their Red Bulls. Sure, you'll get harassed for wearing the wrong colors, but it's mostly in good fun. Don't do anything to draw the ire of the home fans and they'll bring you in as one of their own.
When the Red Bulls score, everyone goes nuts, not just the supporters groups. Even the moneyed elite in their luxury boxes stand up! The stereotype that all northerners are rude doesn't really hold up here. Sure, there are a few drunken idiots, but that's just part of the game.
I have been told that there is parking at Red Bull Arena, but I have yet to see it, unless they call the post-apocalyptic looking lot in front of the stadium parking. If you are coming from the south, try to find a place somewhere in Harrison and walk across the Jackson St. Bridge. Coming from points north, i.e. Manhattan, you will have to transfer from the New York subway to the New Jersey PATH train and take that into Harrison. The New York subway card is compatible with the New Jersey PATH. Now, the PATH can be somewhat confusing, just stay on the same train from Manhattan and follow the people in Red Bulls gear.
Another thing to note, the Harrison Station is packed after the game. Make sure that you have enough money loaded onto your card to get there and back before you go to the game, otherwise you will be stuck in line for a very long time.
Once inside the stadium, finding water fountains, restrooms, and seating sections is not difficult and there are seating maps all over the place.
One thing to be aware of, the upper level concourse is not contiguous. In order to access the upper level end line sections, you will have to use the staircases behind the lower level end line and the same goes for the sideline sections.
Upper deck tickets start at $25 and retail for a front row, and end line seat retail for $33. You can usually find them for cheaper on resale marketplaces.
It is an open-air stadium with a clear roof that covers the upper and lower levels, which is a plus. The overall experience is well worth the price of admission. The atmosphere is intense, but still family friendly. Also, there is no obstructed view anywhere in the stadium, even the standing room provides an excellent view of the pitch.
The Red Bulls win extra points for running their game day operations right. Pregame tailgating is a North American innovation that's been imported here, and the Red Bulls allow a fun, anything goes atmosphere with live music and plenty of games for the kids. But inside, the game is presented properly without constant interruptions or music or anything else to distract the casual fans. A European stadium somehow wouldn't feel right with cheerleaders and jock jams and nonstop promotional interruptions like we deal with in most North American sport. Red Bull Arena feels European not just architecturally, but also in the way it's run, and that is about the highest compliment that can be paid to it.
Member Review by samanthabunten
Judging by the relatively sparse attendance at Red Bull Arena, it appears the soccer craze hasn't fully caught on in the New York area just yet. But with the brand new, state-of-the-art facility the Red Bulls have built, it shouldn't take long.
The arena, new for the 2010 season, is intuitively designed, squeaky clean, and extremely fan-friendly.
From the architectural innovations that allow the arena to be open air but still stay warm, to the easy-to-navigate concourse packed with concession stands boasting diverse food and drinks from around the world, the Red Bulls offer a venue that will satisfy everyone from the die-hard soccer hooligan to the novice checking out their first professional soccer match
Member Review by shamus170 on Jul 18, 2011
This soccer-specific stadium is quite striking on the inside as it feels like you are in the middle some brand new grounds in the middle of England, Switzerland or Germany. From the translucent roof covering all the seats to the terrific sightlines on the great seating design it is an excellent place to watch a game. Looking forward to it being shown off during the MLS all star game in a few weeks. Too bad Red Bulls management continue to bring in overpriced guys who have yet to win anything in the franchise's 15 years of existence. There are a lot of diehards who go and it was a blast watching the Empire Supporters Club during the game. Yes, the neighborhood surrounding RBA is as bland as it gets full of abandoned warehouses and drab industrial areas. Its well worth eating inside with all of the great options featuring a Newark flavor to it.
Member Review by KevinJordan on Aug 18, 2013
MLS stadia have historically fit into one of two categories. The first generation of converted football stadia often made a mockery of the beautiful game, with hash marks and yard markers dotting a choppy (or worse, plastic) pitch. The second generation, which started coming to life in the past decade, is the soccer-specific stadium.
Some of these are better than others, but all shared one thing in common – a cheapness in construction befitting soccer’s second-tier status in America. Red Bull Arena, which opened in 2010, broke the mold. The highest compliment one could pay to Red Bull Arena is that it wouldn’t be out of place in Europe, from the translucent roof to the intimate seating bowl to the (unfortunate) industrial brownfield location.
Member Review by sportsroadtrips on Apr 24, 2014
Attended a Wednesday night game with just 13,000 on hand, and it was chilly too. Beautiful stadium with great sight lines from the upper deck across from the suites. Crowd was not that lively for soccer. Tickets are better acquired on the secondary market, and food prices have gone up since the review was done. Definitely needs some post-game bars to allow the train crowd to time its departure.
Member Review by jacorbett70 on Aug 10, 2014
Access: For 2014, PATH construction and weekend schedule limitations will result in a longer journey to/from NY. PATH will re-open weekends to WTC for 2015 and the Harrison station is undergoing improvements. There is a shuttle near Gate A to Newark Penn Station. Newark Ironbound is a good neighborhood to eat before/after the game, about a ten minute walk south going over the bridge from Frank Rodgers Blvd. A hotel (Element by Westin) is under construction at the PATH station. Also a Dunkin' Donuts and Five Guys by PATH. Other things being constructed outside after a very slow start at seeing anything in the immediate vicinity of stadium. There is a handful of pre-game activities outside stadium. Loud and passionate South Ward supporters section, good acoustics inside.
Member Review by noahmazzeo on Sep 24, 2014
Red Bull Arena is an exciting venue to attend. The fans are crazy and the team is normally very good! Food is very expensive though. The neighborhood isn't to nice either, but the arena is great!!
Member Review by NiklasAlessandro on Dec 29, 2014
The best soccer place in the US!
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