This article first appeared in Football.com
After years of planning, and months of growing speculation, the MLS announced that Manchester City and the New York Yankees have partnered up in order to establish the league’s newest expansion team in New York City.
The move has been received with a mixture of approbation and criticism.
Proponents of the move point to New York City as the perfect location for a new team in light of its diverse population, and its impact on commerce, media, and entertainment. On the other hand, detractors are displeased with the league’s focus on big markets, and use the Red Bulls’ inability to garner a large fan base as evidence that the city cannot produce enough fans to support a new team.
Here are the three main reasons I believe Don Garber and MLS have made the right decision:
Location and Accessibility
Let me start with the obvious: New York City is the capital of the world.
The cosmopolis is the most populous city in the United States, with over eight million inhabitants, many of whom trace their ethnic roots to countries where soccer is not only popular, but is inexorably linked to their ethos.
The city’s diverse, soccer-loving population is still an untapped source, as far as the MLS is concerned. So far, the league has failed to convince hundreds of thousands of fans to shift their allegiances from their native countries’ clubs to one of its nineteen. This is a problem I’ve encountered numerous times. Only recently, I asked a Barcelona jersey-wearing Latino teenager what he thought about the league’s decision to house its new team in the city. The boy told me that he didn’t follow the MLS; however, he was excited at the prospect of having a team in the area.
Of course, critics will point to the fact that New York already has a team: the New York Red Bulls. But the reality is that the Red Bulls are not really a New York team, and that may be the main reason why the club has had difficulty filling Red Bull Arena; despite the fact that management has spent millions to bring in designated players like Thierry Henry. They may be called the Red Bulls, but they’re really from New Jersey.
Additionally, while commuting to Red Bull Arena is simple in theory, it can be rather taxing. The Path train is ill equipped to handle Red Bull crowds when attendance is low, let alone when there is a full house. For those of you who haven’t experienced the commute, imagine yourselves being stuck in a sardine can for over an hour. Driving to the stadium from New York is hardly better, as traffic can be hellish, and the tolls only add to the inconvenience.
It’s fair to say that wherever the stadium ends up being built in the city, the transit authority is far more experienced, and better equipped, to deal with large crowds.
There are concerns about the city’s ability to sustain so many sports franchises (there are eight in the greater metropolitan area alone). After all, one can only be a fan of so many teams. However, the Brooklyn Nets have shown that moving to the city does galvanize former fans, and attract new ones. As a matter of fact, the Nets move has been so successful, that the NHL’s New York Islanders will be making a move to Brooklyn, as well.
The New York Yankees and Manchester City are marketing powerhouses, with a worldwide reach.
The Yankees are arguably among the three biggest sporting franchises in the world, rivaled only by the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid.
In New York, the brand has a cult-like following due to its historical significance, as well as its ubiquity in other cultural spheres, particularly the music industry. Former baseball players have been immortalized for their contributions to the team’s unparalleled success, while artists have elevated the brand to an almost mythical status. The team’s logo is instantly recognizable. Its pull is so evident that it has perhaps transcended the sport it represents, and has come to stand for the city, itself. This is especially the case internationally, where baseball is not even an afterthought.
Manchester City may not have the same global recognition as the baseball franchise, but Sheikh Mansour and the Abu Dhabi United Group’s millions will guarantee that the club will spare no expense to make New York City Football Club a household name.
The investment fund already has a successful blueprint to follow. Before being purchased in 2008, the “smaller” Manchester club routinely – and sometimes unsuccessfully – fought to avert relegation. By 2011, City had already won the FA Cup, and qualified for the Champions League, and by 2012, the club had already topped the Premier League in scintillating fashion.
Granted, much of that blueprint concerns player signings, and with the MLS salary cap, Mansour and Co. will have to build a team within the league’s imposed limitations. Nevertheless, the fund’s inexhaustible finances will do much to attract the best available designated players, who will be lured by the brand, as well as the mystique of playing in New York City.
The marriage between the two behemoths is virtually a perfect union. The combination of economic power and ubiquitous branding foreshadows a city garlanded with extravagant advertising, announcing soccer’s return to the city (think Cosmos), not to mention media appearances by the franchises’ world-renowned sporting celebrities. Start imagining Derek Jeter in a NYCFC jersey.
A Budding Rivalry
Many are already speculating that NYCFC will drain the Red Bulls of its already modest fan base. It’s doubtful that that will be the case. The Red Bulls (previously the Metrostars) are one of the league’s original teams, and have been around long enough to build a loyal following.
It is far more likely that the teams’ proximity to one another will actually promote a rivalry by galvanizing current fans and attracting new ones. Moreover, it’s plausible that the rivalry will engender a regional partisanship, turning games into “battles” between New York and New Jersey. That notion was at the forefront of people’s minds when the New York Jets were contemplating building a stadium on the west side of Manhattan.
The visceral animosity that fans have towards the Yankees and Manchester City should also play a part in producing two rival camps. It’s not unthinkable that New York Mets fans will become partial to the Red Bulls, by default. By the same token, it would almost be sacrilegious for New York’s Manchester United fans to become NYCFC supporters; thus, the potential is there for Eurocentric footy aficionados to be compelled by the MLS’s new rivalry.