PISCATAWAY, NJ—Sky Blue FC, a team in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), will no longer be playing at the Rutgers University campus after announcing a change of venue for their home matches this season.
For years, the club has been using Yurcak Field, located on the Busch campus in Piscataway, as its home pitch. But it said on November 18, it had “reached [an] agreement to play all 2020 matches at Red Bull Arena.”
Their new stadium, located in Harrison, is home to Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls.
Sky Blue last season moved two matches to the larger arena amid the excitement of last summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Sure enough, the pair of matches in Harrison represented the team’s record for attendance figures.
The October match at Red Bull pulled in 8,314, while the one played there in August pulled 9,415 fans. By contrast, Yurcak Field can only handle about 5,000 fans in total.
“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,” echoed Sky Blue General Manager Alyse LaHue.
LaHue said that the team “will always remain thankful to Rutgers for their commitment to Sky Blue throughout the years.”
The club’s roster includes US Women’s National Team co-captain Carli Lloyd, Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, Costa Rican midfielder Raquel “Rocky” Rodriguez, and Cameroon defender Estelle Johnson.
“There was no question that we all wanted to play [at Red Bull Stadium],” said Lloyd, a New Jersey native, following the October match in Harrison.
The arena opened nearly 10 years ago and has hosted several international events, including matches featuring the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Teams, an MLS All-Star Game against Manchester United, and high-profile clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester City, Club America, and Real Madrid.
“We are pleased to welcome Sky Blue FC back to Red Bull Arena after two successful events in 2019,” said Red Bulls General Manager Marc de Grandpre. “Having NWSL matches here in Harrison is great for soccer fans in the New York metro area, and we look forward to providing Sky Blue fans, players, and staff a world-class experience every time they enter Red Bull Arena.”
The club is owned by Gov. Phil Murphy, his wife Tammy, former Bed Bath & Beyond CEO Steve Temares, and most recently by former Avaya Holdings President Ed Nalbandian.
While Murphy doesn’t get involved with the media much regarding the club, Tammy Murphy, who was named team chair on February 19, has been more vocal.
“Twelve years ago, Tammy and I had a conversation about the fundamental unfairness of the lack of a professional women’s soccer league in the U.S.,” said Governor Murphy in 2018, explaining why he invested in the team in the first place: “It bothered us to our core that little girls who played soccer in the U.S., unlike other countries, did not have a professional league to aspire to as they grew up and developed a love for the game.”
The Governor has said that Sky Blue FC is now “the longest-running professional women’s soccer team in the United States.”
But media outlets including The Equalizer have highlighted concerns over mismanagement, poor housing conditions for the New Jersey athletes, and the lack of showers or a comfortable locker room at Yurcak Field.
“The past decade has been challenging, to say the least,” Murphy said in response to the reports. “The team has not been remotely financially successful and the league has struggled to stay afloat.”
“Like male athletes, women athletes deserve a first-rate experience, both in the workplace and off the field. It is clear that the players on Sky Blue FC have not consistently received such treatment,” Murphy admitted.
“That is simply not acceptable. That’s why, although we don’t manage day-to-day operations, fellow owner Steve Temares and I have required accountability from team management to improve working conditions for players. Although our staff is dedicated and hardworking and some progress has already been made, more work remains to be done.”
The state’s first lady has been working to make improvements. About a year ago, the team announced she’d step up her role in the turnaround efforts.
“We’re thrilled to partner with the Red Bulls to expand support for professional women’s soccer” said Tammy Murphy. “Last season demonstrated that we are ready to take our players and fans to the next level.”
“This move provides our professional athletes with the top-notch facilities they deserve and gives our growing fanbase increased access via public transit and an enhanced game day experience.”
“Red Bull Arena is considered the benchmark for soccer-specific stadiums in North America,” stated a Sky Blue release, adding that it sports an award-winning “natural grass surface.”
The venue is said to offer “fans a world-class sports experience, with seats beginning just yards from the touchlines… [and a] partial roof extends to the touchlines, protecting fans from weather and keeping in noise.”
Though the two matches at Red Bull Arena logged great attendance, it was only a fraction of potential fans, given the stadium’s capacity of 25,000. It appears the club is hoping to pull more fans from New York in the future.
The team’s schedule for 2020 has not yet been announced, but three Sky Blue players are expected to compete in the SheBelieves Cup on March 8, when the USA team takes on Spain at Red Bull Arena.
Dave is an award-winning business reporter who has authored over 200 articles for New Brunswick Today.