HARRISON, N.J. — The stories of players who grow up rooting for their local MLS team and years later don the jersey are growing to be commonplace, especially with the rise of the academy programs.
A less frequent occurrence in the USA is the individual who goes from season-ticket holder to leading executive of a professional soccer club. That’s the story of Chris Heck, who was recently named the new Red Bulls president of business operations.
For Heck, who has long attended Red Bulls matches with his 11-year-old soccer-playing daughter, the mission is now to convert more soccer fans into dedicated Red Bulls season-ticket holders like him.
With Red Bull Arena selling out just once for an MLS match in the year since it opened, Heck will not only be relying on his soccer passion in his new post. He will also bring to bear every bit of two decades of experience with the NBA to help increase Red Bulls attendance.
“You’re going to see a different approach to the last six games of the regular season,” Heck said recently. “We’re going to have more fans in this building. It’s something I need to build on for 2012.”
The highly regarded former basketball executive, whose areas of concentration centered on fan experience, marketing and sponsorship, has a specific strategy in mind to keep the fans filing through the turnstiles of Red Bull Arena and expand the influence of the Red Bull brand in New York.
“My focus is to give the fans an experience,” said Heck, who reports to general manager and sporting director Erik Solér. “We want them to come back — provide the fans with an experience like none other.”
But unlike previous club executives in the early years of the franchise, who had come to New York with promotions and tricks from other leagues — all of which largely failed, Heck is familiar with and loyal to the subtleties and tradition of soccer.
“We’re not selling basketball, baseball, anything else in New York,” Heck said. “We’re selling soccer — an authentic experience.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer