Sky Blue FC announced on Monday that the club would play all 2020 home matches at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. The move puts the longtime franchise closer to New York City and connected to the Big Apple via public transit, something which has long been lacking in its central New Jersey confines.
Sky Blue FC played at Yurcak Field on the campus of Rutgers University for the first seven National Women’s Soccer League seasons (plus three seasons in the now defunct Women’s Professional Soccer), but Sky Blue FC general manager Alyse LaHue was public this year about the team needing to make a venue change.
NWSL standards continue to rise, and Yurcak Field — which long lacked basics, like showers in the locker room — no longer met mandated minimums. Poor facility standards were among many grievances which previously put the team in the spotlight for its poor standards, a story first reported by The Equalizer in July 2018.
Those improving standards led to Sky Blue FC’s open search for a venue across the state of New Jersey and, ostensibly, New York City. Sky Blue played twice at Red Bull Arena — home of MLS’ New York Red Bulls — in 2019, drawing 9,415 fans against Reign FC in August and 8,314 fans against the Orlando Pride in September. The matches — which were the two best attended in club history — had a distinctly more professional feel than any other Sky Blue match, and it left a lasting impression in the middle of the club’s search for a permanent new home.
“After our players and fans experienced Red Bull Arena in 2019, we knew it was the perfect venue to host Sky Blue and showcase this incredible league,” LaHue said in a statement. “We’re extremely grateful to the Red Bulls organization for all their efforts in reaching this agreement, and will always remain thankful to Rutgers for their commitment to Sky Blue throughout the years.”
“The move to Red Bull Arena builds upon the positive momentum we gained last season and will help propel our club and the league to the next level.”
Speaking after Sky Blue’s first match at Red Bull Arena in 2019, LaHue said Sky Blue could play at the venue and “pull half of that [team-record crowd of 9,415] revenue-wise and still be OK in a venue like this.”
Few other options in the area represented actual upgrades from Rutgers. Montclair State University, where Red Bulls II play, is another utilitarian college facility with a few improvements over Rutgers, but it hardly would have helped Sky Blue keep pace with a league that continues to evolve. The same goes for playing at a baseball stadium, an option LaHue initially said she was considering but moved away from after personally inspecting Reign FC’s challenges with that setup. Louisville — an expansion team to begin play in 2021 — will play in a brand new, 10,000-seat, soccer-first stadium, for example.
The Washington Spirit recently announced the start of a similar upgrade in home venues. Washington played the first seven seasons at the 5,000-seat Maryland SoccerPlex, a smaller, suburban stadium. After two games in 2019 at Audi Field in Washington, D.C., the Spirit will gradually scale up. They will play four home matches at Audi Field in 2020 and seven games at the MLS venue in 2021.