N.J. officials seeing red over team name change
HARRISON, N.J. -- Red Bull's purchase of Major League Soccer's MetroStars is causing a stir in New Jersey. The team wants to be known as Red Bull New York, effectively disassociating itself from the Garden State, and that's not sitting well with state officials.
One is even threatening to boot the team from the Meadowlands, where it will play until a new stadium in Harrison is ready in 2008.
"Their new name may be Red Bull New York, but striking New Jersey from their name seems to be a different kind of bull altogether," said Brendan Gilfillan, a spokesman for Gov. Jon S. Corzine. "This is a team that sells its products in New Jersey, draws its fan base from New Jersey and receives funding from New Jersey."
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg also urged Red Bull to reconsider in a letter sent Friday.
"Certainly you can ask your team's president and general manager, Alexi Lalas, himself a graduate of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, about the importance of 'Jersey Pride,'" Lautenberg wrote.
In fact, however, the MetroStars have not officially had New Jersey as part of their team name for several years. The team originally was known as the New York-New Jersey MetroStars, but the previous owners decided to streamline things by dropping the clumsy "New York-New Jersey" part prior to the 2003 season.
Lalas said Friday that the latest name change is not a slight against New Jersey. He said Austrian-based Red Bull, maker of the energy drink, is an international business, and New York is a better-known name than New Jersey.
"There are companies all over the world that recognize this point about New York," Lalas said. "Other teams that play in Giants Stadium also reflect this."
The reference to the New York Giants and New York Jets isn't relevant, said George Zoffinger, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.
Zoffinger threatened to kick out the team, which has played at the Meadowlands through its 10-year existence. "They will not play in our stadium unless they have New Jersey in their name," he said.
State legislators are also gearing up for a fight. On Friday, two Assembly members announced they are crafting legislation to pressure the team's owners "to give New Jersey the respect and courtesy" by including the state's name.