The team that Garber built: NYCFC is MLS team No. 20

Photo: Courtesy of MLS/NYCFC

We all knew it was coming.

Yes, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber made all those other cities and supporter’s groups feel as though they had a chance at it, but deep down, even those poor souls probably knew it was all but a done deal.

The worst-kept secret of the last month was that Sheikh Mansour was interested in getting in on the project known as NY2. With Manchester City F.C. visiting the Big Apple this month for a friendly against Chelsea F.C., it was anticipated the deal would be confirmed. And it was.

But there was an extra surprise party that showed up at the announcement – one that is much more familiar to American sports fans than M.C.F.C.’s Ferran Soriano or even Garber himself. New York Yankees President Randy Levine was there, and his presence bore some shocking news. The Yankees would be a partner alongside Manchester City in the 20th franchise. The team will be known as New York City F.C., and Garber’s dream was realized.

What about the standards?

For someone who has watched the league continue to grow in a measured manner, this expansion seems a bit rushed. It may be for good reason, as the New York Cosmos are ready to launch as the summer wanes. Grabbing the hearts and minds of soccer fans in the vast metropolis could be important for a new MLS franchise, before the classically branded Cosmos had a shot (though I would hope that the city would also have enough soccer fans to support the NASL Cosmos).

But there are some things that don’t quite meet the muster of past expansions, and that allows a little doubt to creep in. A soccer-specific stadium has been quite important since the mid 2000’s in gaining the league’s blessing as an adequate bid. This project does not have one yet, and by the estimation of Dave Martinez at Empire of Soccer, the announcement itself is an admission that the Flushing Meadow stadium project is a goner. Whether that’s the case or not is unclear, but Flushing Meadow isn’t exactly Yankee territory, so maybe it’s not the greatest place for this franchise to land. The Yankees’ partnership in this deal should at least provide a temporary home for NYCFC at Yankee Stadium, perhaps longer if difficulties arise with the politics of stadium building (see DC United’s struggles).

Other circumstances that have been strongly encouraged for teams to enter the league are to have:

  1. the team competing and demonstrating a level of economic viability in a lower division in the US pyramid, or
  2. a core group of supporters lobbying for a team.

It’s no surprise that MLS went through with NYCFC without having these conditions met, because it’s been clear Garber and the league have pined for this kind of situation in New York. Straying from the recipe for success may have justification in the money that is being floated in this deal, since that kind of financial commitment “means business.” In other words, you don’t plunk down that money without a plan to recoup. It will, however, leave a few other regions who jumped through the appropriate hoops feeling a bit snubbed – Orlando, San Antonio, and Fort Lauderdale, to name a few.

The one other possible trouble spot involves the potential for some alienation from the parties that are exerting joint custody of the franchise. The Yankees and the Citizens are two brands that have their supporters, but they also have many who are loathe to them. These connections have a chance to benefit the team in the short term, to hopefully get a group of supporters up and running. But in my mind, the success of making this truly New York City FC will hinge on the ability of the front office to distance itself from those other entities. If you want a city embracing your team, it has to be about the city and not about alliances. For an example of how not to embark on a franchise which has clear ties to divisive sports figures, see the mess at Chivas USA going on concurrently to this announcement.

What about the money?

MLS was always going to get a big dollar amount from a second NY team. Don Garber didn’t specifically answer the question today, but he did allude to accuracy in reports of a $100 million expansion fee. It’s quite an amount to recoup, and that doesn’t account for any further monies that may be needed to secure a new stadium.

Aside from the sheer volume of corporate dollars, possible season ticket holders, and potential TV viewers on the YES Network, this offers Manchester City a chance to market themselves directly through a club in the US. In other words, you may see a few more powder blue kits on the streets of Manhattan soon. As mentioned above, this kind of outlay shows a commitment to grow the brand, and with Mansour and the Yankees on board, you’d have to think money is not a hurdle in things like marketing and promotion.

But there is more to growing a brand than just a bunch of ads on YES. With all of the world class soccer available on television, putting the right product on the pitch is important. In an interview conducted for ESPNFC by Roger Bennett, Soriano said that the vision for NYCFC is clear: “Our approach is to have another club that will not be a subsidiary, that will have its own strategy and objectives, that will share resources and synergies with us so we can deliver what we love to New York, which is beautiful football on a permanent basis.”

That’s definitely a tall order to live by, in a controlled financial environment like MLS. Luckily for Soriano and company, at least one team is finding much early success at building a “beautiful” style – the Portland Timbers. A working model is there to play attacking soccer that can inspire an entire city, and the only thing NYCFC will need to reinforce that is a winner.

If they are successful in fielding a team that plays, “beautiful football,” they have a built in broadcast partner in the YES Network, which can deliver the product to the citizens (pun intended) of New York. If they can bring in a couple of captivating players to lead the team, and develop a stadium venue in the boroughs that has the infrastructure and local support for the team, this could be exactly what MLS drew up from the beginning of this process. But as their immediate rival New York Red Bulls have shown, it’s not easy to translate investment to trophies, and NYCFC will have to get to work. Immediately.

So in my mind, this has great potential if done right. If they can use the clout of Manchester City and the Yankees to help get the ball rolling, but then distance itself from those ties, they could certainly make New York City FC be an organic part of the city. Regardless of all the stadium issues that are on everyone’s mind, the best thing the club can do is develop a group of supporters to begin the culture. Get the city behind the team, and it could be the boost in the Big Apple MLS has always hoped to get.



  1. For all the talk (and archaic rules) aimed towards parity moves like this do anything but increase parity. Major markets are one thing and unavoidable, but couple those with major owners with deep pockets, major ambition and major reputation, and there will be a divide former with the haves and the have nots.
    And no, I actually don’t mind that. I just want to see the MLS adapt. It’s a shame the NYs and LAs will have their pick of the superstars while the CLBs, PHIs and NEs will have to fight through “allocation drafts” and “discovery claims” and “allocation money” just for a chance at the scraps.

    • Philly is the 5th largest media market in the country and our professional teams in other sports are all considered “big market”. No reason the Union shouldn’t compete for the same superstars as NY/LA, assuming a competent front office.

    • The Duke says:

      Seattle should be looked at as a close parallel to Philly. They have to contend with LA and aren’t the biggest market on their respective coast, but if you put in the dough and the know, you’ll make it. The Union FO will need to get better.

      • Section 114 says:

        That’s like saying the Union are competing with Miami. BAD example.
        The problem with the Union is not a small market, it is small ownership. They put the stadium in the wrong place and are overextended to invest in this team.

    • The fact that we feel comfortable lumping the Union in with Columbus (or the other team Clark Hunt barely pays attention to, Dallas) or New England is a damning indictment of our ownership group. It’s embarrassing how small-time we’re (rightly) perceived to be around the league despite playing in such a large market.

  2. My prediction: NYCFC will become the “Yankees” of MLS, while Red Bull falls to “Mets” status. I also agree with the concerns over parity. We see how money is ruining the BPL and similar top leagues. MLS’s obsession with convoluted parity rules, while maddening at times, is also what has the potential to make it one of the world’s best leagues for fans (eventually). It’s also what prevents it from repeating the mistakes of the past (read, Cosmos).
    Can’t wait to see Mansour freak out when he realizes that he can’t just buy a successful team. I can see their starting 11 today – Beckham, Messi and Ronaldo, paired alongside 8 recent US college grads. That should be entertaining.
    The critical factor for me is that they need a location. They have to get something that is easily accessible by public transit within the 5 boroughs. Once the stadium location is set, the locals will start bonding with the team.

  3. OneManWolfpack says:

    I wish they would have given it to Orlando or San Antonio first. I think those markets are much more deserving. Creating a supporter group from nothing will be tough, but I think they will gain some pretty decent support. I HATE the name though. It should have been NYFC. NYCFC is just a mouthful… but I am sure they will just be called “City” anyway.

    • I’m hoping that the reason the league is fine with not giving Orlando an expansion team right now is because they know Chivas is going to have to be disbanded at the end of the year, and there will have to be a replacement on deck. This NYC team will probably barely be ready to answer the call in 2015; the smaller markets jostling for an expansion team all have a current lower-level organization with built-in fans and at least a minimal front office staff. Orlando could certainly do the same thing they’re proposing for “NY City”, play a year in the Orange Bowl until the stadium gets built. Couldn’t be worse than what they have now with Chivas!

    • Dan Walsh says:

      It could actually be pretty natural to call the team “City.” I was born in NYC, come from a few generations of New Yorkers, and was raised in NJ and Brooklyn. And though I haven’t lived in the NY area since 2000, if you say “the City,” I still think New York City, almost regardless of where I am.

      (Of course, “the city” doesn’t usually refer to the boroughs outside Manhattan, but whatever. 😉 )

      • Dan, you Pennsylvania carpetbagger! I’m going to assume your time spent on the Jersey side of the river was in Hudson or Bergen counties?

  4. All of Us says:

    19 years NO CUPS!

  5. The expansion for the 2nd/1st NYC team is great in the short term, in terms of a massive expansion fee, great publicity, and excellent sports marketing teams coming together for MLS. But will the Field of Dreams model work? In the long term, could we end up with 2 poorly attended teams in the NY metro area?

    • Side note, I just looked at the MLS attendance averages for this season, and Chivas USA is at 43% capacity, 8,000 fans/game, 2nd bottom is San Jose at just over 10,000 in their tiny stadium. Their numbers are down 38% from last year (13,000 per game). That franchise is a complete and total mess. No wonder Carlos Slim doesn’t want them!

  6. I like this move. If they have immediate success (off-field at least) everyone will hate them (i.e. Yankees or Cowboys, or Sounders in MLS) and the other leagues have proven that a polarizing team in a major market is good business. I really hope they can build some strong local support so this team can succeed. I think a team in the NY market, especially if it’s polarizing, will help MLS in the long-term. I believe there were better options than this as mentioned above, and I always felt RBNY should have built a stadium in the city, but if the league treats this with respect, gets strong local support and builds the team the right way I think this will work out very well.
    That and hopefully we can create a four-team cup with NYCFC, NYRB and D.C.

    • McMohansky says:

      I agree. This is a great business move for the MLS that will also bring more international media exposure to the league.

  7. Unfortunately, as the article makes clear, even before the team is actually on the ground MLS is already permitting it to by-pass rules that apply to other teams and markets. This is Garber’s pet project and the team will continue to be treated as such. Too bad.
    As some posters have pointed out, parity has the potential to make this league the most interesting in the world. Garber should be careful not to ruin that concept. MLS needs parity. American sports need parity.
    With that said, another team in NY maybe a good idea. The Red Bulls will become a NJ team (they are a NJ team already). The Red Bulls will be the noisy neighbors to Man City. Ironic. No matter what is said officially, this is bad for them.
    At least now we have 20.

  8. As a Philly expatriate living in Brooklyn, I can tell you that there are many soccer fans here who nominally support the Energy Drinks but would be more than happy to jump ship for a team with a less stupid name/image/”attitude” and a stadium that’s actually in New York. That time seems to have come, and I think RBNY is going to have to seriously rethink their entire strategy…I mean, they need to anyway, but this definitely makes the whole thing pretty urgent.

  9. scottymac says:

    The new franchise guidelines dont need to apply to NYCFC. The point of the guidelines are to ensure sustainability in a new market. Do you have the cachet of a new stadium or existing, homegrown support. NYC is an existing market, the largest in the US, and this club obviously has financial support. While Yankee Stadium isn’t a SSS, it is a world class venue (certainly priced that way).

    As for Garber making rules fit when it suits him, this isn’t new nor a surprise. The DP rules alone have been put in place to tilt the table towards the larger market teams, and the rest of the league subsidizes it. We whine because RBNY gets Henry, what we should be really pissed about is that our FO’s apparently shallow pockets pay 1/19th of the first $350K. At some point, the DP rule will be viewed as not helping the LA/NY ascendancy, but taxing the small market/small owners. RBNY can pay Henry straight up, they don’t need the subsidy.

    The win for MLS is TV revenue. YES locally and NBC has to be thrilled for the chance to show 2 matches a year as a “Subway Series” or “Manhattan Matchup” or something equally awful. 15M > 1.5M, sorry OCFC, but you don’t have enough eyeballs for potential advertisers…

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