May 27, 2013
MY TWO CENTS
A tale of three teams
Will Smith, who lives in Brooklyn, is a long-time soccer fan and observer.
"The opinions reflected in the My Two Cents columns do not express the views of the editors or management of BigAppleSoccer. com"
By Will Smith
Special to BigAppleSoccer.com
With this past week’s announcement that NYC FC will be joining MLS 2015, the league finally achieved its dream of having a team in New York proper. As much as MLS has always claimed that the MetroStars/Red Bulls were the flagship team, the league has been looking to put a team in New York proper since its inception. In fact, back in 1994, there was hope that an investor would step up and renovate Mitchel Athletic Complex in time for the league’s inaugural season. There was even speculation that the then-USISL champion Rough Riders would be that party. When nothing came of it, the league went with one team in the metropolitan area, the MetroStars, who made their home at spacious, astroturf-covered, awful Giants Stadium.
Jump ahead 18 years and the soccer landscape has changed dramatically in both the metropolitan area and across the U.S. MLS is profitable and outdraws the NBA and NHL. There are also three teams that will be in play very soon locally; the venerable Red Bulls, newly formed NYC FC and the reinvented Cosmos. Let’s look at how the brave new world of soccer affects each of these parties as well as MLS.
Commissioner Don Garber finally has his holy grail; a team in NYC proper. This will give the league a new flagship franchise, one Garber expects to draw big crowds, made up largely of New Yorkers who either don’t want to cross the Hudson or get behind the Red Bull brand. As the Don sees it, having a team in NYC proper is glamorous, will draw big names, big crowds and big TV ratings. With MLS’s TV deal up in 2015, it is NYC FC, which is going to be the draw for all comers. To date, MLS, while drawing good crowds, has largely regional appeal on TV. In effect, if your city doesn’t have a team, you don’t watch the games on TV.
Of course, it’s not all wine and roses for NYC FC, despite having the financial backing of both Manchester City and the New York Yankees as well having U.S. National Team legend Claudio Reyna at the helm. For one thing, it appears the league, in an attempt to get NYC FC on the field in time for a new TV deal, sacrificed the notion of having a soccer specific stadium at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. There’s just too much community opposition and, even if it gets built, it won’t be done for 2015. So, it appears that the expansion club will now have to play at a temporary venue, most likely Yankee Stadium. For anyone who remembers the misery of seeing the Red Bulls at Giants Stadium, a crowd of 25,000 will look rather small in a stadium that fits twice that and you know that won’t look good on TV.
In addition, while there’s no doubt that Manchester City know soccer and the Yankees know New York, it’s also true that this new partnership may alienate some potential fans. If you’re a Mets fan or a Manchester United fan or a fan, really, of any other English club, there is no way you will support this team. Also, if you were one of the many fans rooting for a return to the top flight for the New York Cosmos, you will likely not support this team. Finally, if you are a Red Bulls fan, you will not support this team. I can see NYC FC becoming the team of front runners, Euro snobs and people who fear toll plazas, meaning that their games will likely have as much atmosphere as a mid-season Yankees-Twins game unless the team spends the next year and a half really getting involved in the community. Their hope is that Reyna, a great player for both the Nats and Man City in his prime, and one of the game’s good guys, makes community inroads. That said, Claudio has never run a club before and this is all new to him so, really, there’s no telling how that will turn out.
Now, when it comes to community involvement, the Cosmos, set to begin play in the second division North American Soccer League on Aug. third, have been doing a nice job now that they have gotten out of their own way and stopped worrying about selling apparel. For a long time, it was almost a given among U.S. soccer fans that the Cosmos would be MLS’s 20th team. They talked a good game, had the support of local fans that wanted a team in New York and had history on their side. In reality, they were never as close to joining MLS as fans thought. They didn’t want to pay the $100 million expansion fee, didn’t want to deal with the salary cap issues that come with membership in MLS and felt that, by virtue of having a brand name that is still well known as well as a stadium plan in the works, that MLS would fall over themselves to invite them into the league. The Cosmos gambled and lost. They never counted on the Yankees being a player nor did they ever consider that MLS would award the franchise to a party that did not yet have a soccer specific stadium in place. In essence, the Cosmos got the Billy Bats treatment from MLS.
On the bright side, they seem well on the way to establishing a very good NASL franchise that will have good roots in the Eastern Queens and Long Island communities beyond the Red Bulls’ reach. They also have the support of hardcore fans that are unhappy with the notion of supporting an MLS side that is, essentially, in their eyes, a satellite to a major Euro club.
Interestingly, the Cosmos ownership has managed to convince a group of fans that has been clamoring a “proper club” with “local ownership” and “true NYC roots” in the “top flight” that a middle eastern-owned team planning to play in the second division on Long Island is exactly what they want and more “pure” than either NYC FC or RBNY. Smooth.
Ah, the Red Bulls! What of them? MLS’s original metropolitan area franchise has had a trophy-less existence punctuated by an endless coaching carousel, multiple ownerships and fan indifference. Detractors call them FC Energy Drink and “corporate football” (as opposed to the Cosmos, who are owned by Sela Sports!). What becomes of this much maligned team? Will their fan base erode? Will they collapse? Will they be second fiddle to NYC FC? Third fiddle even? All these things are possible.
However, this moment presents a unique opportunity for the Red Bulls. The Cosmos will be out on the Island in the second division, drawing fans that wouldn’t be going to see the Red Bulls anyway. They aren’t a threat to them. If anything, the Red Bulls should partner with the Cosmos. This will give playing time to reserves and benefit the Cosmos on the field.
As for NYC FC, the Red Bulls have a year and a half to be on the attack before they take the field. If they can paint NYC FC as the team of Manhattanites, Euro Snobs and poseurs, they can successfully sell themselves as the team of the masses. Think of it…”We play out here in industrial Harrison. We represent the unglamorous industrial towns of New Jersey and the outer-boroughs of NYC. We’re like you. We’re here for you and have been for 18 years. We are your team.”
Not any more so that a team owned by the Man City and the Yankees passing themselves off as a real ”club” or the Cosmos passing themselves off as the picture of soccer purity.
As a soccer fan, I wish all the teams well and look forward to the circus that will be the next few years.
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