MLS Going Against Its Own Principles In Rush to Launch NYCFC

At Monday’s press conference, New York City FC (NYCFC), who will begin playing in Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2015, announced they will be housed at Yankee Stadium for three years. This comes less than a year after what seemed like a rushed announcement giving Manchester City FC and the New York Yankees the franchise rights for the second New York team in MLS. At the time it seemed as if a stadium solution, while not on the horizon, could become clearer in the coming months.

Instead, the situation has become murkier and more embarrassing for MLS. Stadium ideas have hit a dead end around the city and even finding a training ground is meeting community opposition.

In early May 2013, when Major League Soccer was obsessed with placing a team in New York, there were two equations at play.

1. Sagging TV ratings with the next contract negotiation imminent.

2. Counter the growing momentum of the New York Cosmos who had chosen to play in the second-tier North American Soccer League (NASL) rather than MLS.

Despite awarding New York City a team in May 2013, trouble was on the horizon. First this was demonstrated by The Borough Boys, the largest supporters group that was advocating MLS expansion to New York City, expressing disappointment in the decision. The group opted to continue supporting the second division New York Cosmos who began play in the summer of 2013. In a statement released by the group it was made clear that the new franchise had hurdles to overcome:

“While we always desired an MLS franchise, what we never desired was being forced to accept a foreign club’s worldwide branding ambitions, using New York City as a vehicle to promote a separate soccer club abroad, We felt they (The NY Cosmos) were the best choice for MLS expansion and in part because they demonstrated a commitment to being an authentic New York club, a club that was born of New York, made its history in New York, and a club who’s very iconic status in this great city attracted countless members to the Borough Boys.”

The second sign of trouble was the inability of MLS, NYCFC or the Yankees to shift the narrative politically in the city once a franchise was awarded. The feeling in May of 2013 was despite the failure to have a stadium plan in place that awarding the franchise would move things substantially. If anything, NYCFC is in a worse place now, eleven months later as far as building a soccer-specific-stadium than they were on the day the franchise was awarded.

The awarding of NYCFC was odd as it came after years of employing a strategy that rewarded organic growth and historical legacies with elevation of the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact from Division 2 leagues to the major league in North America. Months after NYCFC was awarded, Orlando’s exceptionally well-supported and well-run third division team was awarded a ticket to MLS but only after a stadium plan was in place and was financed by local government and private interests.

The former three markets and sides listed in the above paragraph had been historical links to the days of the original NASL and today are among the strongest and most visibly successful clubs on the continent. Many local supporters felt that this was the model to follow yet again and that the New York Cosmos should be in MLS instead of a Manchester City backed franchise. But because MLS wanted star power prior to renegotiating a TV deal and had sold Manchester City’s executives on the value of the league coupled with the Cosmos decision to join NASL, MLS went in a very risky direction.

This is a direction where MLS was never supposed to go. After the success of soccer-specific-stadiums across the continent and the implementation of a hard rule that new franchises would not be awarded without a stadium plan, MLS suspended its own rules for one-time and one solitary ownership group. Has the ensuing eleven months proven MLS made a mistake in jumping the gun in to award the franchise? Perhaps, although the TV contract and Cosmos factor may have left the league with little choice, especially with Manchester City so hot to trot to invest in the league.

Since the NYCFC debacle began, Orlando as mentioned above had seen its minor league team guaranteed an MLS move in 2015 thanks to a new stadium funded partially by taxpayers. Atlanta has been awarded an MLS team based on a comprehensive stadium plan that involves a ground sharing with the Atlanta Falcons. Miami has been selected by David Beckham as the site of his MLS franchise but will not receive a team until a stadium deal is done. In Miami, progress is not being made as quickly as hoped on a stadium, which will leave MLS in an awkward position if advancement is not made soon. Either MLS can abandon the return to the Miami/Fort Lauderdale market, or allow Beckham the same deal that NYCFC was given by playing in Marlins Park indefinitely. Given the New York precedent, Beckham could argue for the latter.

Where does NYCFC go from here? A sentiment is that MLS Commissioner Don Garber and the league brass rammed this team down the throats of the committed and dedicated soccer fans in the five boroughs. Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised tax breaks but the new Mayor Bill DeBlasio is less enthusiastic. Garber was boxed in by his repeated “Not a matter of if but a matter of when” statement regarding the awarding of a second New York franchise.

It is important for the health of American Soccer and MLS that NYCFC is wildly successful. For years, many have argued that a second New York club, based in the city itself, could be a game-changer for MLS as it attempted to cut through the clutter and establish itself as both a big-time American pro sports league AND a global player in the world of club soccer. While many still retain the hope that this will happen, and the global branding of being associated with Manchester City helps the cause, the early returns have been far from encouraging.

This story as it continues to unfold could be the toughest pill MLS has swallowed in some time. Despite the league’s continued growth on many fronts, the continued trouble in the nation’s largest market with what may have been seen as the eventual flagship team of MLS can only make things appear more cloudy than they are.

Perception so often is reality. And on this one, MLS seems to be playing catch-up.

28 thoughts on “MLS Going Against Its Own Principles In Rush to Launch NYCFC”

  1. Yet another article on Soccer in NY that excludes the club that plays in a 25,000-seat soccer palace 12 miles from NYC.

    The notion that NY2 (or NY3, as some call it) exists to “counter the momentum of the Cosmos” is laughable.

    Don’t get me wrong. The Cosmos FO has done a fine job setting up shop on Long Island, but attracting 7,000 fans a game and having a smart social media strategy isn’t exactly creating “momentum.” The Cosmos and Man City/Yankees are both finding out the grim truth: it’s very, very hard to build inside the city limits. There’s a reason why the Giants, Jets, and OG Cosmos play(ed) their games in NJ, and it has everything to do with politics and land values within the five boroughs.

    Red Bull Arena took a decade (a decade!) to complete through political dealings, soil remediation, and construction.

    I agree that MLS is taking a massive risk, and applying a double-standard when it comes to markets like Orlando that have achieved growth “the right way.”

    But the Cosmos, frankly, have little to do with it.

  2. This seems like your backing your brand without discussing you are an employee of an NASL team or at least affiliated with one.

    NYCFC faces a difficult proposition of working with an administration that won’t work as well with them as the Bloomberg administration. Time will only tell but what difference does it make if NYCFC play their entire existence in Yankees Stadium? Seattle play in an NFL stadium as will Atlanta. None can claim to play in one of the most iconic stadiums in the world.

    As well, I take real issue with this ‘momentum’ that Cosmos have. What momentum is that? I live here and can tell you I’ve yet to run into one Cosmos supporter or even anyone who has gone to a match. I go to the Football Factory. I go to Nevada Smiths and know they both run trips out there or show matches but I’ve yet to see anyone in a shirt or waiting to go or even waiting to watch a match.

    Very disappointing article Kartik.

    1. Most cosmos fans left Football Factory after Red Bull FO decided to make that their party bar, and no one of relevance goes to Nevada’s anymore why would you even do that to yourself.

      Everytime you step into Jack Dempseys for AONYC, guess who founded the chapter, Cosmos fans, and St Pauli in Brooklyn, guess who, and Blackburn NYC, I bet you didn’t guess Cosmos fans, and those are just the groups Cosmos fans have been directly involved in with, I haven’t even mentioned Manhattan #1CSC and New York Hornets. Cosmos fans have been laying the groundwork for organic grassroots support since 2007, dont kid yourself.

      1. Alright, I can appreciate all that and admit I didn’t know that.

        Either way, I still don’t see or understand what ‘momentum’ Cosmos has.

        And for the record I’m not a Football Factory fan. It’s just the place that I have to go with other supporters. I don’t care for neutral pubs.

    2. You talk RBNY yet you ignore that The Cosmos COO is the man that got that done. 90% of The Cosmos Staff is his team that followed him over, turning down better positions all across the US because The Cosmos name carries more weight than any other soccer name in US soccer history.

      1. And yet they play in a lacrosse stadium, averaging under 7,000, while playing minor league soccer in a league no one cares about. That name is doing wonders.

        1. Its actualy a small football stadium and 7000 a game there with no real stars in a league most people are unaware of in this crowded entertainment and sports market is really really will only get better. The writer is correct, a lot of the moves with City were due to Cosmos and a reaction to them…up until it fell to wayside MLS was all on board with the Cosmos.

  3. You go to Nevada Smiths? Hardly the center of supporters culture it was 6 years ago… I see about as much cosmos gear as rb gear at legends but that’s besides the point. For the cosmos it all depends on the rfp in Belmont, the Red Bulls have a stadium, and until the Cosmos and City have one as well they can both disappear in an instant.

    1. I only bring up Nevada Smiths as an example of key gathering places for football supporters. What little Red Bull versus Cosmos gear is inconsequential you barely see either.

      Wang couldn’t get his Islander project done out on Long Island. Who’s going to support Cosmos out there besides Long Islanders? It’s the same situation as Jersey Red Bull. Red Bull have done so little to market themselves to the city which has always been a complaint of the club.

      Long Island and Harrison are not New York City. I’m glad Jersey has a team. I’m hopeful Cosmos figures it out and joins the MLS at some point. It will make for a nice derby with Jersey and Long Island.

  4. NYCFC will be fine. It’s a huge market and you can bet Sheikh mansour will pump enough money to make it a success.

    MLS needs a big spending villain. Maybe the Galaxy was the previous club, spending on Becks and then Keane. Seattle/Toronto this year. NYCFC can be the next one to help drive overall narratives in MLS. Plucky Columbus going against the big boys. NYCFC is good for the league as a whole.

      1. I don’t believe anyone would argue that playing in Yankee stadium is beneficial to league or NYCFC. And while the path to a soccer specific stadium in NYC itself has proven much more arduous than anyone anticipated, I tend to think the virtually unlimited cash the Sheik has at his disposal will enable a stadium project rather soon.

        1. Yes, indeed. This is precisely why MLS was willing to bend its principles (and not the first nor last time) to get this franchise set up. I believe a stadium will get built in the next few years within the five boroughs, and that will be great for MLS.

  5. 75% of the recently announced expansion teams do not have stadiums, ChivasUSA sits without an owner and TV ratings are in the toilet. We are witnessing the beginning of the end for MLS. MLS’ recent actions do not exhibit a league with a strong foundation but rather a league looking for cash flow.

    1. The league is stable and is not in any danger of disappearing. But, I still would like to see how the league thinks it’s going to grow its audience beyond putting teams in NYC, Florida, and Atlanta.

      Chivas? Yeah, kind of a disaster.

    2. Ratings are in the toilet?

      Beginning of the end? With cash infusions from four new owners and a new TV contract on the way?


      I think the league can look for cash flow while at the same time have a strong foundation. The new owners coming in are younger and hungry to improve the quality of the league.

      I get it, you love pro/rel and are enamored of the NASL, but the MLS picture is hardly bleak.

      1. How is the league owning ChivasUSA and slinging expansion teams with no stadiums stable?

        How is changing the guidelines for expansion teams stable for the league? Seems a bit desperate if you ask me.

  6. When I watched the the live stream on Monday a reporter asked if they will be playing at Yankee Stadium for 3 years like the New York Times article said and the response was “we will play at Yankee Stadium for as long as it takes to build a proper soccer stadium in one of the 5 boroughs.” Nothing about 3 years.

    MLS had a hundred million reasons to grant NYCFC access into the league before having a SSS.

    1. And when they say 5 boroughs they really mean 3 because they would be nuts to put it on Staten Island and it would take an act of God to get one in Manhattan no wait I don’t even think God could get them a stadium in Manhattan.

    2. You think you can get a stadium drawn up, through NYC politics and review and built in 3 years?? LOL Now THAT would be an act of God. Its gonna be 3 years plus indefinitely, assuming Yankees want to continue the relationship after 3 years. Make no mistake this is a long term arrangement.

      1. A long term arrangement that is going to be a huge when the first Yankee player gets some injury that in even some distant fashion could possibly be attributed to the fields usage for soccer, even if it is in no related… should be quite the PR coup for MLS…

  7. MLS is going backwards not forwards what happened to the intimate SSS on grass? It’s a money grab most teams are losing money so Garber goes on expansion spree and gets $250 mil to redistribute among MLS owners. Is that good business or desperate business….

    1. Exactly my point. These guidelines were not established by U.S. Soccer, FIFA or Concacaf. These guidelines and principles were established by MLS! Something smells fishy and I believe MLS is desperate.

      1. You indirectly have pointed out the problem. USSF does not run American soccer like the English FA or almost every other FA.
        All they control is the national team and referees etc.

        Club soccer is completely controlled by the leagues (MLS in particular), who do whatever they want and make their own rules.

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