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Sky Blue nix Red Bull deal, look to future

Sky Blue FC captain Christie Rampone. (Photo Copyright Linehan Photography for The Equalizer)

Sky Blue FC and New York Red Bulls had agreed to two different concepts for operational agreements to merge the NWSL side into the MLS juggernaut, but in the end the business details were not to the liking of Sky Blue’s ownership group.

“You have to look at Sky Blue as a very small organization,” Sky Blue owner and CEO Thomas Hofstetter said during a Thursday media call.  “Red Bull (is) a big, global corporation.  They have their other goals and priorities.  I don’t mean this in a bad way.  At the end of the day we just didn’t feel that from a business perspective, the deal that we were discussing, could get on the same page.  It was mainly business driven.”

News broke late Tuesday of the deal between the New Jersey based clubs had dissolved.  Thursday, Sky Blue introduced Tony Novo as the club’s new president and general manager.  Jim Gilooey was named Director of Sales.

“For Sky Blue, it was a matter of okay do we go left or right,” Hofstetter said.  “Since the deal with Red Bull didn’t work out (“both sides were bummed,” Hofstetter said) we made the decision to go right—to the other side.  So that’s one of the reasons for this call.  We as an ownership are committed.  One of the first things we decided was we wanted to strengthen our team.”

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to join this organization and move forward into the 2014 season and beyond,” Novo said on the call.  “We’re not looking to do any major overhauls.  What we’re looking to do is just basically grow with what we already have.  The team has had respectable attendance and exposure and we’re just going to take that to the next level.”

Novo previously worked in a similar capacity with the New Jersey Irommen, a professional men’s indoor soccer club.  He will be looking to put his Irommen lessons to good use at Sky Blue where he says one of the differences is the caliber of players.

“Here (we’ve) got some of the best female players on the planet playing in our backyard.  It’s a tremendous opportunity to grow this to the next level.”

What is the next level you ask?

“For me it means primarily three things,” Hofstetter began.  “We definitely want to increase our attendance.  So getting our brand out and getting more exposure of our brand in the community is definitely one of our goals.  Goal No. 2 is to continue to realize our budget goals (something the club did for the first time in 2013) and reduce our losses.  Which leads me to goal No. 3 which is we want to increase our sponsorship revenue.  Those are the three major pieces.”

Hofstetter then added that “of course we want to win the championship.”

Novo will make it his business to tap into the wealth of registered youth soccer players throughout New Jersey.  Sky Blue pulled up the rear in league attendance in 2013 leaving them nowhere to go but up.

“There are thousands of kids out there that play soccer and look up to these role models,” he said.  “We just have to get them exposed to that.”

Novo said the top priority at the club right now is securing an upgraded training facility and finalizing a venue.  A return to Yurcak Field seems most likely, but the club has scoured options across New Jersey and the rest of the New York area looking for a more strategic place to call home.

“Once we do that,” Novo said, “we can start marketing to that area.  Last year there were some unknowns as far as what the team was doing, where the team was going to be and when it was going to be there.  Now we want to get that out of the way in the next month or so.  Give the team a good place to train and a good place to play and market around that.”

“It goes without saying that the youth soccer scene is huge in New Jersey.  That’s the number one thing that we have to grow.”

Pressed for specifics about how to tap a market that has not necessarily responded to Sky Blue since 2009, Novo turned again to the players.  “We use the role models that we have.  When you look at indoor soccer or some of the other soccer that we have in this country, you have not always the best players in the world.  When you look at the U.S. women’s soccer game, you have some of the best female players on the planet playing in our backyard.  You can’t argue that point.  Some of these kids will look up to their role models that are playing for the U.S. national team and some of the other national teams and will be able to go see them in their backyard and talk to them, touch them, get their autographs.  I think that’s a huge carrot out there.  That’s going to be our goal is to open up their eyes and give them the opportunity to see some of these players play in New Jersey.”

“If you look at our first season,” Hofstetter said, referring to 2009, “we averaged well over 3,000 people at the stadium.”

Regarding Yurcak Field, Novo said:  “It’s not a place we that would be disappointed to play at, but we are looking at other venues to see if there is anything that is more attractive for us.”

Hofstetter said Yurcak is “probably the best option that we have,” but the two added that no firm decisions have been made on a venue for 2014.

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