Dietrich Mateschitz purchased the MetroStars and renamed the MLS club Red Bulls in 2006. (Photo courtesy of Dietrich Mateschitz)

By Michael Lewis Editor

Austrian billionaire and Red Bulls owner Dietrich Mateschitz, who built an international sports empire that included soccer and auto racing after co-founding energy drink Red Bull, has passed away.

He was 78.

Mateschitz had been ill for some time.

It was not known how Mateschitz’s death will affect the Red Bulls, whom he owned since 2006.

At the time of his death, Mateschitz wealth was valued at $19.9 billion, 141st on Forbes magazine’s Real Time Net Worth list.

In April 2006 , Red Bull and Mateschitz purchased the MetroStars from the Anschutz Entertainment Group and renamed the Major League Soccer club the New York Red Bulls. At the time, the team was play in Giant Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Taking over former MetroStars president Nick Sakiewicz’s plans for a soccer-specific stadium in Harrison, N.J., the company and team decided to build a slightly smaller version of the stadium used by Red Bull Salzburg in Mateschitz’s home country of Austria. Red Bull Arena, which opened in 2010, is considered one of the finest stadium in MLS.

In a 2007 interview with this writer on the first anniversary of buying an MLS franchise, Mateschitz explained his reasoning.

“We believe that soccer is extremely popular in the U.S. already,” Mateschitz said then. “We recognized that it is the high school sport No. 1; there are approximately 40 million active soccer players in the U.S., so we do believe that the basis to make it more popular is there.”

He felt there still was work to be done at other stages, especially at the professional level.

“What still can be done is to improve and further develop the quality of U.S. soccer, so that in the future there won’t be any difference between U.S. teams and their soccer players and those in Brazil, Spain, Italy, Germany, the UK etc.,” Mateschitz said.

“This means that MLS clubs must make further commitments to develop their youth talent in the most professional settings, train the active players technically as well as physically at the highest standards and bring in elite foreign talent to raise the level of play in the U.S.”

That didn’t include just quality on the field. There had to be strides made off the field as well.

“Marketing efforts have to also be increased,” Mateschitz said. “For example, over the past couple of months Red Bull has organized a national high school age league called Red Bull National League 17. In this league the best youth teams compete against one another to up their level of play and be seen by university coaches. We will also try to increase the number of soccer fields and locations to play street soccer etc.

“Finally, the popularity of soccer mainly depends on print and TV presence. And for media presence you need excitement, high quality level of play, well known U.S. and foreign players, brilliant games, high attendance, etc. Of course, this may sound like we are going around in circles now, but unless you don’t start to break it up somewhere, you won’t be able to change the situation.”

The Red Bulls were just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of soccer and sporting pursuits of the Red Bull and Mateschitz universe. Red Bull also owns four soccer teams – Red Bull Salzburg, RB Leipzig, Red Bull Bragantino (Brazil) and Red Bull Ghana. He and the company also entered sponsorship deals on several levels of auto racing, including Formula One and NASCAR.

In Salzburg, Mateschitz owned a hanger in which he displayed a collection of old planes.

Born in Sankt Marein im Mürztal, Styria, Austria on May 20, 1944, Mateschitz earned a marketing degree from Vienna University in 1972.

During his travels for Blendax, best known for shampoo (the company since was purchased by Procter and Gamble), he discovered the drink Krating Daeng. In 1984, and Chaleo Yoovidhya of Thailand founded the Red Bull energy drink company. Both men became billionaires from Red Bull. Yoovidhya died in 2012.