MLS

NY2: Departing from recent MLS expansion success?

The number 19. It’s such an unpleasant number to envisage when it comes to a league setup. We’ve watched Major League Soccer try to battle this uneven menagerie of clubs for over a year now. At least one team is always off on a weekend. One conference is larger than the other, and the one that’s smaller has more than half its participants enter the MLS Cup playoffs. It’s just feels awkward.

Not only is No. 20 important on those levels, but it’s also that magic number of clubs that FIFA advises for a top division. Most MLS fans have been waiting patiently for the next expansion that will bring the American soccer universe into order, and bring it to an even number 20 teams.

All signs point to NYC

MLS is really looking for a huge splash. Their big ambition is the largely unconquered market in America’s largest metropolis, New York City. They are so set on this that they’ve sold off part of their stake in Soccer United Marketing in order to raise funds to get the ball rolling. NY2, as it’s affectionately dubbed, seems to be the most likely candidate for No. 20, and the league has settled on a plan that hopes to set up shop in the Queens Borough, near Citi Field and the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber sees the Big Apple as a megamarket full of potential soccer fans. The New York Red Bulls (and former Metrostars) have not been successful in attracting the attention of people in the boroughs. On the other hand, the New York Cosmos are a remnant of the past that are ready to launch in NASL. They have a stadium planned as well, and it seems that time is of the essence for Garber to get the Flushing Stadium project on the road.

The big news this week was the leaking of information that Sheikh Mansour, the super-wealthy owner of Manchester City F.C., is close to working out the details to become the owner of the NY2 franchise. The fee is presumed to be around $100 million, and Mansour would also need to help with the financing of the stadium at the site of the 1964 World’s Fair.

The challenges facing a possible NY expansion

With the promise of a new prospective owner with lots of money to invest, the bid appears to be a good one. But there are some things to consider when it comes to how recent history has come to pass:

  • An expansion effort like the one planned for NY2 departs from recent launches. The most recent expansions, starting with Seattle, have either a) been at play in a lower division, b) had a well-organized supporters group and culture on full display, or c) both. The Sounders, Union, Timbers, Whitecaps, and Impact have all been well-supported before the announcement of their acceptance to MLS.
  • A current second team placed within a large market has yet to work out. Chivas USA has been a difficulty for the league over the years, struggling to gain acceptance in a tough sports market. El Chelis has helped to turn the Goats into more of a “Lovable Loser” this season, but it’s still not even close to a success. The failures of that franchise to grab a foothold should cause some concern about how NY2 is packaged and rolled out.
  • It’s not like the first team in the metropolitan New York area has made it. They’ve been around since the beginning, but the Red Bulls still struggle to get Red Bull Arena half full for many matches. Despite taking full advantage of the Designated Player rule, bringing in world class talent like Thierry Henry, the team still struggles to sell to New York. Many will point out that it’s difficult for many New Yorkers to get to Red Bull Arena. Whatever the case, NY2 needs to be certain people in their target market are going to be supportive.
  • There are a lot of opponents to NY2. Ugh…so we just said the target market needs to want them. Queens residents aren’t particularly happy. Red Bulls fans aren’t happy. The Cosmos presumably aren’t happy. Most of the mayoral candidates aren’t happy. Just who really wants this besides Garber, the MLS brass, and Sheikh Mansour? Again, this points to making this a grassroots effort, something that hasn’t been shown yet in this process.
  • You have an ownership group that is planning on taking the successful route in the reinstalled Cosmos. So why not just allow them to build their base and their stadium? There are some counter-cultural elements to that team. There is a feeling of autonomy with the Cosmos, that their name carries a ton of weight. One could imagine that they may expect MLS to cut them a break on the expansion fee in order to grab hold of the brand. In this era of franchise value, who would want to undervalue this 20th franchise? If MLS can get NY2 right on their own, they reap the financial rewards.
  • There are other suitors in geographically favorable areas that have gone the lower league route. From Orlando to Miami/Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta to Minnesota, we’ve read the desires of owners in these areas to get into MLS. The Southeast has no representation today in MLS. Assuming No. 20 is going to be NY2, you’d have to hope No. 21 or No. 22 would be Orlando (unless some form of relocation occurs).
Some positive light

Yet there is a certain facet to the potential Mansour/NY2 marriage that could provide the impetus towards the future of the league. This is not only from an influx of cash to the league, which an expansion fee brings.

MLS has seemed a little stagnant in the last few months. Some star power left, and thus far in 2013 it has generally seemed as though stadiums have been less full. Attendance numbers may be holding relatively constant, but they are based on tickets sold, not fannies in seats.

It may be time where a shift in overall league quality is necessary to overcome what feels like a possible plateau. If that is going to happen, a paradigm shift in terms of the salary cap may be necessary.

Would an owner like Mansour be willing to confine himself to the restrictive cap used in MLS? The typical feeling in this country seems to be that rich owners prefer to control salaries, and the current CBA does that. Each team can have up to three Designated Players, who above the league maximum $355,000 are paid out of the owner’s pocket. With the large investment Mansour would be making in this NY2 franchise, and given the seemingly fickle nature of the market itself, would three DP’s be enough to draw full houses?

That’s the real point in all of this. MLS appears to be ready to get elbows deep in this second New York City team, and this is the one that they really have to get right. If they do, it could be that final bump in the road they need to crest before its smooth sailing. A team in Queens averaging 25,000+ would invigorate a rivalry with the Red Bulls. It could be the East Coast standard bearer for MLS. If things change in the league financially, you could see new investors.

And so getting this right is tantamount. With the gigantic market available to them, nobody wants to see this team flounder around like Chivas USA. With the successful expansions that have happened in the last 5 years, one would hope that MLS doesn’t entirely discard those precepts. And if they are ready to embark on this venture without gathering a base of fans behind the project, they must figure out how they will win the fans once the franchise is in place.

 

19 Comments

  1. I don’t like the way this is going. The MLS likes to pretend it has parity, but exactly how is bringing in the owners of Man City going to maintain that? Cute DP rules aside, the owner is the one who pays the rest of the players salary. And we all know NY2, LA and other top owners are going to be MUCH more willing to spend on big name DPs than say, ours or NEs.
    If they want to go this route, I would love for them to revamp/repeal all these crazy roster rules and stipulations as well.

    • Roger Allaway says:

      The owner is not the one who pays the rest of the players’ salary. The league owns the players.

    • If you revamp all the roster rules then, by your theory above, we would have NO chance of winning. RBNY, LAG, NY2 would all swoop up any and all available talent at the highest price and we’d be stuck with the leftovers, along with NE, Columbus RSL and the rest of the small market teams. To maintain fairness those rules have to be in place right now, and not for reasons of parity.

      • No, we would still be able to win by things like superior scouting, coaching and youth development. (though we don’t have that right now either LOLOL)
        Being able to sign and keep (not release them due to roster restrictions like that young CB we had).
        Or, if we happened to convince some random forgotten USE NT player to play for us and this player last played in the MLS 6 years ago. -Why would we need to TRADE for his rights!?!?
        MY argument is that parity cannot happen. Look at things NOW. What two teams attract the big names? Is Kaka or Drogba rumored to be signing with Columbus or NE?

  2. I think the MLS is realizing its mistake that it is not good enough to build stadiums in whatever markets are available. They have to be built in the the actual cities for them to be successful. I seriously doubt Portland would be anywhere near successful if the stadium was annoying to get to. Go with the cache of the Cosmos and I think NYC will have a successful franchise.
    It will kill the Red Bulls though and taking whats left of that town with it.

  3. Dan Walsh says:

    MLS is pushing NYC now because they’re concerned that, once Mayor Mike Bloomberg is out of office, there won’t be support in city hall for this project. So they have to hustle.

    Only Orlando and San Antonio look like they are as good potential markets. Orlando will get in if they get the funding, regardless of what happens with NY2. Atlanta is a weak sports town. The Twin Cities do not inspire confidence it would be a flourishing pro soccer market.

    Plenty of people in New York support the idea of this team. Some opposition is always expected when park land is involved.

    Everyone is overlooking the fact that Mansour will not OWN the team. He will be the investor and operator. MLS owns all the teams. So what MLS will be getting is a HUGE investor for a team located in an area they want.

    The stadium’s location allows them to tap not just NYC more but also Long Island. Very few people from Long Island are likely going to Red Bulls games. Most people from Long Island are Mets fans, rather than Yankees fans, because of the closer proximity to Shea Stadium (Queens) than Yankee Stadium (Bronx).

    • I gotta disagree. Florida is a horrible sports market. Aside from the heat every sports franchise is floundering there. It always seems like whenever a new franchise is built in Florida, the open. money is spent to build a championship team then the teams are dismantled and the team falls into obscurity. After New York the MLS should stand pat for at least 5 years and consolidate its gains.

      • Dan Walsh says:

        True in much of the state. Orlando has had pretty good attendance in the NBA when they’re winning. I think they are POTENTIALLY a good market because there’s so little competition from other pro sports (unlike Tampa and Miami) and they’ve shown they can draw soccer fans. But I think San Antonio is a better potential market and where Chivas should move and rebrand.

      • ny soccer says:

        +1, tampa and miami failed in mls, football dominates the youth market, let beckham and the dolphins try to figure out soccer in that state

    • Atlanta. Join the movement:

      https://www.facebook.com/mlsatlanta

  4. ny soccer says:

    I like it and hope that the organizational tactics at MLS, NY2, Cosmos, and RBNY can find a way to divide, draw, and create conflict among the three major populations at issue. It makes some intuitive/geographic sense to expect RBNY to draw from NJ which has historic preeminence in US soccer, Cosmos drawing from Long Island and south/west Queens which is heavily populated by families with longstanding soccer interest, and NY2 establishing itself as ‘the urban team’ and drawing from increasingly affluent western Brooklyn. NY2 and RBNY would likely split Manhattan, and NY2 and Cosmos would split Queens. The opportunities for rivalry, numerically sufficient fanbases, and the excitement of subway series are definitely there.

  5. The problem with this is that the NY/NJ Metrostars/Red Bulls are the ultimate Astroturf team. Like the Devils, they had no real fan base in New York and with their charmless aluminum can of a stadium in Newark (with no views of the New York skyline), they still don’t. Their inability to work with the Cosmos (the representation of the grassroots) has been the biggest problem with the franchise, despite the obvious moves by the league to favor their growth.

    It’s hard to see how the addition of another franchise in New York will help this hot mess of a situation. The real solution is for the Red Bulls to move to Orlando and see if NY2 and the Cosmos can come to some sort of marriage, whether by shotgun or otherwise. The combination of the grassroots NY fans, and the deep pockets of Mr. Monsour, could be a world beater.

  6. NY2, done right, could have phenomenal support. Jackson Heights, Astoria, etc. – basically most of the nearby parts of Queens – is a pretty soccer-mad area, but the Red Bulls/MetroStars franchise has made little to no headway in market penetration and brand awareness out there for nearly two decades. I’m not sure how much they’ve even tried. Some sort of “Queens F.C.” presented, marketed, and linked into the communities out there in the right way with a stadium very close by has the potential to become another Portland. Also, as someone else said, this sort of arrangement would make Red Bulls vs. NY2 fit nicely into the New York metro region’s Yankees/Giants vs. Mets/Jets sports landscape.

    Of course, that’s about as far as you can get from what MLS seems to be doing with this. “Quick! Let’s ram through a Manchester City farm team despite local opposition to having a park taken away while the billionaire is still mayor!”, is going to create a situation worse than what Chivas USA’s been in the last few years, I’m afraid.

    All that said, Orlando still seems to me to make the most sense for #20, especially with progress on the stadium front in the middle of downtown. For all people talk about Florida being a dead sports market, you’ve got Orlando City averaging about 9,000-10,000 people per game in the third division USL Pro while playing out in the sprawl at the Orange Bowl. The support is definitely there.

  7. So many people write off orlando because of the failure of 2 teams 10 years ago. Its a different city, different league, and a different time.

    They’re averaging over 6000 fans a game in the 3rd division. 3rd! A jump to MLS would easily push that into the mid teens.

    They have an established presence, active in youth soccer, have a strong supporters group, have the city government support and they just recently had a major investor. They’re miles ahead of NY2 right now and they’re doing it right.

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