As we draw closer and closer to the end of the 2015 MLS season, we’ve seen New York City FC see the highs and the lows of soccer and the sports business in the Big Apple. But given how the season has went, the question has to be asked: is NYCFC a legitimate team or NYC’s newest marketing scheme?
By Jeff Weisinger
By now there’s no question that New York City was parched for soccer. The Red Bulls, who claim to be “New York’s team” have never set foot in New York City prior to late June, and the Cosmos, despite returning to the New York area, play in a lower-level division.
One of the objectives of the expansion New York City FC in their inaugural season was to cater to that desire for New Yorkers to have their own soccer team within the five boroughs. That part was achieved and achieved better than expected. NYCFC jerseys and other apparel were backordered early in the season due to the surprisingly high demand and the club’s home opener in March had more people than the Yankees averaged in 2014 altogether.
In fact, NYCFC’s June 28th match against the Red Bulls brought in nearly a quarter more total amount of people (48,047) than the Yanks have averaged this season (40,008). The Yankees haven’t come close to the 48,000, or the 50,000 mark in attendance since 2008, the final year of the old Yankee Stadium.
Throughout the city more and more people are wearing soccer apparel, jerseys, and scarves to games – something that’ll become more apparent as it gets colder in the coming months – and more importantly, they’re wearing more NYCFC apparel. People who didn’t watch soccer before this year, minus the World Cup, are taking notice to the sport due to NYCFC, and have even noticed the Red Bulls because of NYCFC.
As far as a marketing scheme goes, mainly one to promote soccer in the biggest city in the country, NYCFC’s met that goal. People know about the club, know more about the sport and are going to games. The Blues have the third highest attendance in MLS, averaging 28,987 per game through Sept. 6.
NYCFC hasn’t been shy about spending money on big-time star players, a.k.a. the Yankee strategy, bringing in all-time greats like Spain’s David Villa, (eventually) England’s Frank Lampard and Italy’s Andrea Pirlo this summer. However, as the Yankees themselves have learned, big names don’t always translate into championships, or in NYCFC’s case, wins.
The Blues are still currently out of the playoff chase with their window to sneak into the MLS postseason becoming thinner and thinner. The international players were not ready for the aggressive MLS game at the very start, however players like Villa and Pirlo, in particular, have adjusted their individual games to compete in MLS.
But to call this a legitimate team would be far from the truth. In fact, this wasn’t built as a winning team from the beginning.
While the big names bring the fans to the seats, the rest of the team hasn’t been able to keep up to the international talent on the roster. That part isn’t, or shouldn’t be as surprising given the fact that nearly three-quarters of NYCFC’s roster is made of players who were made available for an expansion draft, a.k.a. players other teams could do without – so to expect anything great out of them is slightly a stretch.
However, the one thing anyone can take out of this season is that building a dominant franchise is going to take time, and patience is the one thing you really can’t ask out of a New Yorker, especially anyone from the city. New York City is a winning city – the only way to get fans around the Big Apple to care about your team is if you win. The Yankees wouldn’t have the attention they have now, internationally at that, if they had the losing trends that NYCFC went through this season – just ask the New York Mets how the last nine-plus years have gone for them.
Or ask the New York Knicks about how things went for them fan-wise last year, especially after their dismal start.
While having a team with big names like a Villa, Lampard, Pirlo and even Mix Diskerud is great – they have to jell on the field and win in doing so, especially in New York City. For a team looking for a stadium deal within the five boroughs, you have to have a solid product. People will go to Yankee Stadium to see a soccer match for a first-year team that’s completely brand new – we call that the “shiny new toy effect.”
It wouldn’t do the club justice to call the first year a failure, at least not yet with seven games left in the season and a chance, if that, to still sneak into the playoffs in the East. However, to question the club’s motives as far as either being a cash cow or a legitimate organization whose main goal is to win is completely fair.
If this team doesn’t make the playoffs, let alone manages to finish the season with a single-digit win total, it may be safe to call them just another New York marketing scheme, and not a winning, or even a potentially-winning team.
With seven games left, it’s time for the real New York City FC to stand up. Does the Big Apple have a winner and something to look forward to for years to come? Or just another event for people to throw their money into on weekends in the Bronx?
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