Why The New Manchester City-Backed MLS Franchise Shouldn’t Be in New York City

As much good work as MLS Commissioner Don Garber has done for MLS in the United States, he occasionally makes American soccer fans scratch their collective heads, like with his recent comment that there’s way too much soccer on television.  Another confounding example in recent months is his effort to land a second MLS team in the New York area. Two weeks ago Garber declared an expansion team announcement was likely in four to six weeks. Last week, reports spread that Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour is set to fork over the $100 million expansion fee for a new MLS team to be creatively called New York City FC.

I like the idea of the league having 20 teams, but it bothers me that Garber wants it to be in New York City so much.  I understand his rationale – the corporate cash that would flow, the major media exposure, the potential Manchester-like rivalry with the New York Red Bulls, etc.  Understandably, MLS is not going to turn down someone willing to pay that mind-boggling $100 million expansion fee.  But the thought of NYC having a second team and a brand new soccer specific stadium seems unfair when the New York Red Bulls don’t even consistently sell out their own practically brand new soccer specific stadium (Red Bull Arena opened in 2010).  Obviously, New York City is big enough to support two teams but they don’t even support one very well.  The Red Bulls currently rank tenth in the league in attendance, averaging 17,053 per game.

I realize the Red Bulls actually play in Harrison, New Jersey and that the proposed stadium for New York City FC would be in Queens, but it’s still asking a lot for two MLS teams in such close proximity to thrive.  Keep in mind that Los Angeles has the Galaxy and Chivas USA, but the Galaxy have the third highest average attendance in MLS this year (21,271), while Chivas USA have the lowest in the league (8,045).  I’m not saying the situation would absolutely be replicated in New York City, but it should give Garber pause.

With the league already spread so geographically thin across our vast continent, it seems redundant to shoehorn a second franchise in the New York City area when the Southeastern region of the U.S. doesn’t have a single team.  MLS did give the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion a try for several seasons before folding both clubs in 2001 as neither had solid enough fan support, but the soccer climate has changed significantly in the twelve years since those clubs’ demise and it’s time to set up a new team in the region.

For several months, it seemed Florida’s Orlando City SC (which plays in the USL PRO league) had momentum for the MLS expansion slot with their Portland Timbers-like fan support and diehard ownership.  But on Friday the Florida legislature voted down a stadium funding support bill that would have helped Orlando City construct a new downtown stadium and presumably boost their quest to become MLS’ 20th team.

Garber probably isn’t too disappointed about the Orlando City setback.  Now the inevitably splashy official announcement from MLS and Sheikh Mansour can proceed later this month without any loud opposition.  The announcement is expected to coincide with Manchester City’s post-season tour, which includes a match against Chelsea at Yankee Stadium on May 25.

Assuming the second New York City franchise materializes as the league’s 20th team, rather than eventually placing an uneven 21st club in the Southeast, a better option might be transplanting dismal Chivas USA to North Carolina, Georgia, or Florida.  I’m completely in favor of new teams, investors, and stadia that will benefit MLS overall, I would just rather see MLS expansion teams awarded to devoted and deserving fan bases clamoring for their own club (as the league did with Portland) rather than MLS trying to manufacture a new crown jewel of a team that no one is really asking for.  Well, except for Sheikh Mansour that is.

34 thoughts on “Why The New Manchester City-Backed MLS Franchise Shouldn’t Be in New York City”

  1. If telecom billionaire Carlos Slim buys CD Guadalajara (incl Chivas USA), I think it likely he will sell CUSA. Vergara has put a ridiculous price on the CUSA segment of the sale. Slim might demand that it be cut out of the deal unless the price goes down. Either way MLS might be in a position to be looking for a new ownership group and that could put the relocation wheels in motion.

  2. The proximity between the two locations is far greater than you’re giving weight to. Red Bulls have never tried to market themselves to the NYC market. They might as well be playing in Florida. Harrisson has nothing going for it as far as entertainment pre or post match within walking distance and as you arrive via train you can see how dilapidated and abandoned the entire area is.

    Having true representation in the NYC marketplace is a huge win for MLS and I’m glad they’re going all in for this. The amount of football supporters in Queens alone could justify this club much less the entire city of New York. You can’t have the largest media market unrepresented by the sport and it’s far past time this has happened. Cosmos should have been the 20th club and I’m very disappointed by their course but that ship has sailed.

    Queens has a vibrant population of different nationalities and incomes. Soccer is a passion for the hundreds of people that fill the area that the new stadium will be built and with that the new fields that the club will build around it. This will be a jewel for not only the MLS but for New York City in general.

    1. These are all great points. Especially the one about the Cosmos.

      For the most part, people in New York really don’t consider the Red Bulls as a New York team.

      Putting a football club within one of NYC’s five boroughs is waaaay different than putting one across the water in New Jersey.

      There are an estimated 8 million people living in the five boroughs. 2.2 million of them live in Queens and about half of those people are from foreign countries.

      If marketed correctly, there could be a stronger following than the team in Harrison, NJ.

      1. Agreed. People who don’t live here just don’t get it. I live in Brooklyn. It takes three different trains, two different transportation cards, and an hour and a half to get to Harrison. The Red Bulls aren’t a New York team. Period. A true NYC team will do great, draw many more supporters than the Red Bulls, and create a fantastic rivalry akin to the Rangers and Devils.

        1. Author of Manchester City’s ‘This is our City’ here, have to say this article seems to be very negative.

          The fact New York City FC would be linked with Manchester City will without any doubt improve the attraction to New York residents.

          There is even a large group of City fans already in New York, their numbers are also growing. Manchester and New York will see an increase in tourism via Air travel and New York City will finally get a Soccer team to dedicate themselves too right on their doorstep.

          The authors idea that New York would struggle to fill a stadium is complete and utter rubbish, seems to me like the author is probably a Red Bull fan and the story has bent their nose out of joint.

          1. I forgot to mention the fact the NEW New York City FC would aid development of Manchester City’s youth team players, we have some amazing young talent coming through right now and when our 100 million training academy is finished the world is ours and New York’s oyster.

          2. Are Man City interested in investing heavily in youth academies here in NYC?

            The potential for world class players is probably better in NYC than in Manchester just because of the sheer numbers. All we need is real development which NYC as well as America have been longing for.

            Hopefully Man City will show the rest of the MLS clubs how it is done which will force them to keep up.

            If NYC FC can produce the first American star, than the Sheikh will become much richer than he already is…

  3. This article, respectfully, seems to be written by someone with no knowledge of NYC. To those on Long Island, Harrison might as well be Florida. They are NOT the same market. And any suggestion that North Carolina is a smarter place to put a team is a head scratcher to say the least.

    And Red Bull has failed because they have failed on the oitch

  4. A stadium in Queens would do better numbers attendance wise (depending on ticket rices) than NY Red Bulls. NY Red Bulls tickets are way overpriced for a MLS team. Unless you are a member of the supporters group, cheapest ticket is something like $25 and those are often the first to go anyway. I went once to a Red Bulls game and wound up paying $50 for one ticket, ok its my fault for not getting it in advance but thats too expensive for a family for example.

    I don’t know if an MLS team can work in the Southeast, that region of te country isn’t really a professional sports hotbed, even Atlanta doesn’t do well minus their NFL team and college sports.

    Probably the best place for a new team without one at the moment is St. Louis or a return to Florida

    1. Hey Matt, while not a fan of Red Bull I have to say ticket prices these days are dirt cheap. You can buy a ticket to get into the stadium for 20 dollars and sit in the upper ring and there is no such thing as a bad seat there. I prefer watching the matches from a higher vantage point so 20 bucks is a fair price.

  5. Something that also needs to be brought up it that an uneven 21 teams isn’t going to be a problem. 21 teams is going to end up leading to three conferences each with 7 teams. The league is likely to focus it’s next expansion on having 24 teams total and keeping the 3 conferences.

  6. Atlanta is a city of transplants, many of which maintain their sports loyalties. New teams that come along can grab the fan base, especially given that most Americans don’t have a home team to remain loyal to. The Silverbacks do quite well in their small stadium and have a growing fan base. While they aren’t ready to average 20,000 yet, they are proving that Atlanta will support the sport.

  7. I like this idea and here’s why: I live in New York, I love football, and I freaking HATE going to New Jersey.

    The Red Bulls (or MetroStars) were foolish to think they could just plop a team down on the wrong side of the Hudson River, and expect New Yorkers to come to the games. The reason the Giants and Jets were successful in doing so is that they both had established fanbases and decades of team history (they also moved to NJ in the 70s when the city was a freaking disaster).

    If NYC FC lands in Queens, it will be very easy for me to hop on a train and catch a game, and that I will do. Pretty soon the Red Bulls are going to have to change their name to reflect what they really are–New Jersey’s home team.

  8. First of all, if people are making this a geography discussion, explain how 2 NFL teams with New York in their name can sell out their games in New Jersey? The product by the Red Bulls is not good enough to merit a trip to New Jersey. That’s the truth. Red Bull is loaded and they still haven’t gotten it right.

    Remember MLS gave NY the same story about a bright future when the Red Bulls bought the Metrostars and when the new stadium was built. Now they want to force feed a second MLS team in a market that doesn’t support its first franchise.

  9. I’m glad that they are putting a team in NYC means I can take the train to NYC instead of sitting on the GW trying to get into and out of NJ, but I would be way happier if the Revs moved to Hartford and were renamed New England United.

  10. First, the location of Red Bull Arena is more critical than people realize. Jersey is not NYC. People living in NYC aren’t going to add 3 hours of round trip transportation to get to a game in New Jersey. They just aren’t. You can’t look at the attendance figures of the Red Bulls and extrapolate that to say NYC can’t support a 2nd team. They don’t have a first team to support. New Jersey has a team.

    Second, this is all about TV. How do the other major sporting leagues in the US (and around the world, for that matter) make the most of their revenue…through TV contracts. MLS makes a pittance compared to other leagues. The NHL, which you could say is on the same tier as MLS in this country, makes $200 million a year from their TV contract. The MLS makes somewhere between $10-$15 million per year I think. NYC is the largest TV market in the country and MLS wants to capitalize on that and drive viewership up to have more leverage in future TC contract negotiations.

    So, the reasons to have NY2 are to put a team actually in NYC and to drive TV viewership and eventually revenue. Makes sense to me versus adding Orlando City to MLS.

    1. No one watches MLS nationally. The NHL is last among the major sports and even that can command attention from time to time on a large scale. So your comparison doesn’t work.

      Having two teams in NY doesn’t guarantee anything for ratings. At best, ESPN or Fox can point to how many people aren’t watching in the market rather than who is.

      MLS has to capture their local markets and in NY it has not done that. Portland, Seattle, Kansas City are shining examples of what MLS can be but that is not the case in the other cities.

      1. More people watch the Red Bulls locally than people watch either of those three teams in their local markets. Yes Seattle has the highest ratings and both KC and Portland have good ratings as well; but the NYC market is about 4x the size of Seattle, over 6x the size of Portland, and nearly 8x the size of KC.

        1. That’s not translating to a sold out stadium or any kind of marketing plan from the team.

          Both NY MLS teams have to compete against multiple teams from each sports league. Instead of trying to help NYRB, MLS is adding another team to face the same issues. Wonder how that’ll go.

          1. I don’t think the team in Queens will face the same issue. Remember that Queens would be the 5th largest city in America if it was not a borough. It’s a bigger market than Orlando.

  11. The logic in some of these arguments is funny. On one hand, you have people saying, “You can’t expect NYC to support Red Bulls because the club in actually in New Jersey.” Then, in the same line of thought, people talk about how we “need a team in the southeast.”

    Do people realize how large the “southeast” is? North Carolina is larger than England! We don’t need “a team in the southeast”; we need 80 teams in the southeast. And we actually have quite a few teams around the southeast, the thing is they aren’t linked by a promotion/relegation system so most of these teams have no prayer of being in the top division. The only regions with hope are Orlando, Miami and Atlanta. Why can only major metropolitan areas have top level soccer?

    This illustrates why I love the EPL and why it gets more of my attention than MLS ever will in its curent format. I love my local soccer club (4th tier), but MLS will never let us even have a chance at the big time…..so screw them.

    What I hope for is that in a few years, we can have a real discussion about implementing a promotion/relegation system in American soccer. The NASL is doing a lot of very exciting things and they also operate without a salary cap. A MLS club only pays ~$3-4MM in player salaries. That is nothing. NASL could blow past that pretty easily and if NASL has a few clubs that would obviously be competitive with MLS, then we’ll see what happens. I think there’s a decent chance that in 50 years, American soccer will be flourishing, but MLS will only be a footnote in history.

    1. North Carolina’s population (for the entire state) is 9 million people.

      There are 8 million people in a 20 mile radius of New York City.

      It’s a lot easier/quicker (20-25 mins) for a person to get from the Bronx to Queens, than it is for someone to get from Raleigh to Charlotte (hour and a half – 2hrs by car).

      1. That’s kinda my point. The geography of the US is so daunting. Who else deals with this? How do the Russians do it?

        I kinda think the eventual solution should be some sort of regional leagues with promotion/relegation and the top clubs in each league compete in some kinda US-wide “champions league”. I’d love that.

        1. Do you want soccer to actually be successful in America? LOL.

          The things you’re talking about are maniacal, impossible, and a recipe for sport extinction in this country.

          The U.S. isn’t England because we have 3 major sports plus hockey, then soccer and mixed martial arts round up the backend. There’s no time or money for a five-tier relegation system in towns of 20,000.

    2. What is your point about North Carolina being larger than England? NC has a population of about 9.8 million and England has a population of about 53 million that is a big difference. New England has a population of about 14.5 million. If you added the populations of North and South Carolina you would have a population about equal to New England and there is way more money in New England than in the Carolinas.

      On a different note though I do agree with you about smaller markets getting the shaft because Connecticut gets it worse compared to probably anywhere just because we are stuck between NYC and Boston. Which I think is a load of crap if Jersey can have teams then CT should be able to have teams too because NJ is stuck between NYC and Philly.

      1. My point is that geography is important. Here in the US, you always have to wear a little armor when admitting that your primary fandom lies with an EPL side. The miltant wing of American soccer doesn’t want to hear that crap: “You’re unpatriotic if you don’t support MLS!”

        I kinda think all bets go out the window once the club is more than an hour’s travel from your home. After that, none of them are “local clubs” anymore and you might as well support whoever. So, to really expose “the southeast” to MLS, isn’t as easy as plopping a club in Atlanta or Orlando. It wouldn’t make me say, “Wow, now there is an MLS club that is only a 6 hour drive from my house. I’m going to rethink this whole EPL thing and support the local club.” Nah….I’ll keep getting tickets to my local USL/PDL club who puts on a great show May – July and mostly supporting my EPL club the rest of the year. I just wish that my local club had an opportunity to move up since they’re well run and successful on the pitch.

        And….point taken about populations. It was a crude comparison, but I was more focused on travel time than population concentrations.

  12. Fair points Nathan but as said by Christan, Pete, and others, the article is fairly naive, with respect its geography or the impact a team that actually plays in New York City will have on the MLS.

    Its not fair to compare a woefully under-achieving, satellite expansion team, as Chivas USA to the Proposed team in Queens.

    Also, matching the anemic success of the Red Bulls to the 3 time champion Galaxy is a bit off, to say the least.

    My hubris as a New Yorker aside, MLS knows that in order to grow the sport, they need a franchise in the media capital of the US.

    The Red Bulls’ new owners have done a half-way decent job with the team and a great one with the stadium but it’s in the middle of nowhere – no disrespect to Harrison and NJ, and a pain to get to.

    The Bulls do a relatively poor job of marketing themselves to New Yorkers.

    The franchise gets buried under the press given to the 5 major league teams what play in NYC.

    And as proven with the Nets’ move to Brooklyn, Queens County alone can support a team, much less the whole city.

  13. I’d just echo what Christian said earlier about the NYC area and why it makes sense.

    As to the southeast – are you kidding me? Yeah, just follow the path of the NBA and NHL and MLB and try jamming something other than NFL football into that part of the country. Utterly dismal record pretty much down the line.

    And even the NFL is dying a slow, sure death in Jacksonville while not doing particularly well in Charlotte. That Jacksonville club will probably be playing in London by 2020.

    The American southeast always looks good to stats-cruncher types. Lots of population, relatively few pro sports teams to serve it.

    But it just never seems to work. With (real) football the dynamics would seem to be a bit different to an extent, but also disadvantageous vis-a-vis traditional American sports as well.

  14. Atlanta will get the next franchise. The falcons new stadium is being built for an MLS team and the idea to host international soccer events in the southeast.

  15. This is why Micromanaged League Soccer (aka Mediocre League Soccer) is going nowhere.

    U have to let the game grow from the ground up, not try to implement it from the top down.

    All of this leads to some of the most bloody boring soccer and game atmosphere one can imagine.

  16. I would LOVE to have a team in Charlotte. When Mexico played in the gold cup there a few years ago we saw 45-50k in the Panthers stadium. I believe it would be the perfect home for a new football team.

  17. Obviously, New York City is big enough to support two teams but they don’t even support one very well.

    That’s cos they currently don’t even have one. New Jerseyhas a team, but to most residents of NYC (i.e. those not living within convenient reach of the PATH train in Manhattan), it might as well be on another planet.

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