So, how do we rate the Dietrich Mateschitz era of the New York Red Bulls. (Photo courtesy of Red Bull)

By Michael Lewis Editor

The death of Dietrich Mateschitz has shaken the sports world and empire that he has ruled over.

Formula 1, of which the Red Bull co-founder and owner was a huge patron, is mourning his passing as well as his soccer teams.

As to how that will affect the New York Red Bulls, it remains to be seen.

Mateschitz passed away on Saturday. He was 78.

In 2006, Mateschitz and Red Bull purchased the MetroStars from the Anschutz Entertainment Group for at least $30 million, which seemed like a bargain by today’s worth of a Major League Soccer franchise.

Regardless, he helped usher in foreign owners into the league, especially in an era when American billionaires and multi-millionaires had questions about the league’s survival. Remember, the league threw out two Florida teams after the 2001 season and almost imploded.

There is little doubt that Mateschitz helped boost the Red Bulls into a high orbit, but he never met his goal of having the team winning the final game of the MLS season and parading around with the Philip K. Anschutz trophy.

The question many Red Bulls supporters, the ardent ones and more casual fans have today is whether Red Bull will want to continue to own and invest in a soccer team in the states. We know that Mateschitz was, ahem, bullish on his soccer teams.

Of course, some Red Bulls fans might scoff at the term invest, considering it has gone away from the …. of bringing in big-name players.

As whether Red Bull from its Salzburg, Austria headquarters will support the New Jersey side, is a good question and an impossible one to answer at this time.

We just don’t know.

Will the board want to continue to pump millions into the team or will they give up and try to sell it?

Hopefully, we will have some more concrete answers in the coming days and weeks.

So, how do we rate the Mateschitz era?

There is no doubt he invested millions into the club, bringing in such superstars as Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez (sorry, U.S. men’s national team fans, he was a superb player for the Mexican national side) and raised the level of awareness of the team, at least for a while.

He also pumped in millions to build a new home for the team – beautiful Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., which many observers around the league still feel is the crown jewel of MLS stadium, or still up in the top three, even with the new venues being built.

But the Red Bulls have been unable to fill that stadium on a regular basis – case in point: last week’s disappointing playoff crowd – outside of Hudson River Derby matches.

While the team failed to win an MLS Cup – it did play and lost to the Columbus Crew in the 2008 final – it did reach a level of consistency. During Mateschitz’s 17-year reign the team missed the MLS Cup Playoffs only once – in that abysmal, nightmare year of 2009. So, at least it was competitive.

Heck, the Red Bulls also won three Supporters’ Shields – in 2013, 2015 and 2018 – which would have been good enough for a league title in Austria or just about anywhere in the world, for that matter. But we live in America, the land of the playoffs.

So, the real brass ring was teased, but never grabbed.

Many fans also did not like the fact the team lost its nickname, the MetroStars, and had a product as its nickname. Well, at least they used the plural, Red Bulls, instead of the energy drink.

In recent years, while Red Bull has pumped in millions to purchase players and even the contract of current head coach Gerhard Struber, the results have not exactly panned out on the field.

Yes, it has been impressive that the team has reached the MLS postseason a record 13 consecutive times. That means something, but there is always a mediocrity factor in which the team regularly has gotten bounced in the first round of the playoffs.

Stuck in the craw of many Red Bulls supporters is New York City FC’s success. In only its seven year after joining the league as an expansion franchise in 2015, the Cityzens celebrated its first MLS Cup triumph in 2021.

Yes, in many ways, the Red Bulls, like it or not, have become the Chicago Cubs of professional soccer in the USA, vying for that elusive championship (the Cubs had to wait 108 years before winning the 2016 World Series).

So, how do we rate Mateschitz’s years?

Not a 10 and certainly not a zero.

It’s somewhere in between.

I’d give it a six or a seven.

He did save the team, pump in million, gave it an identity and a winning attitude early on and an incredible stadium, even though he had no MLS Cup championship to show.

As stated before, there are obvious questions about the team’s future and its ownership that probably have supporters worried or concerned.

If Red Bull doesn’t want to continue, hopefully for the team, perhaps there is a billionaire or two out there who would be interested to buy a soccer team.