Has soccer finally “arrived” as a major sport in the U.S.A.? I get asked this question all the time about the world’s game. Thanks to our friends in the Big Apple and the UK, the answer may be “yes,” sooner than later, as seen by the English Premier League’s Manchester City and Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees’ recent purchase of an MLS expansion team for $100 million. The 75%-25% ownership split between the two legendary sports businesses (who certainly are no strangers to spending money), also includes plans to build a stadium for the team in Queens. That, alone, could cost approximately $400 million, according to New York Times articles. A New York-style, half-billion dollar investment in soccer signals to me a bull market.
This deal is sizable in its own right. And the intangible business effect is potentially massive. The deal connects the dots of the other pockets of soccer success in the MLS, from New Jersey to Seattle, and this just adds more attendance potential for the MLS among the American fans. The 2012 MLS season with more than 6 million fans broke its previous record of 5.5 million. Although New York City Football Club (FC) won’t touch “the pitch” until 2015, from all angles, this will be a win-win-win-win situation for New York City and its soccer fans, the Yankees, Manchester City and, of course, sponsors.
New York does have a historic period of greatness in soccer; let’s not forget about Pele’s Cosmos from the ’70s and the frenzy into which they put the city. While New York already has an MLS team, the New York Red Bulls, they don’t actually play in the city. (Their state-of-the-art facility is located in New Jersey.) They have a great fan base which averages around 18,000 in attendance per game at a 24,000-seat stadium. Their stadium is solely dedicated to MLS and is a favorite among soccer fans for modern amenities and intimate seating. And, they are owned by Austria-based Red Bull, one of the greatest marketers in the world.
A brand new team located in one of the five boroughs, specifically with a stadium in Queens near Citi Field and the U.S. Open, is sure to see success. New York City is already a soccer-friendly city, with numerous pubs dedicated to watching European games. According to Scarborough research, people living in the New York DMA are 6% more likely than the average American to be a fan of MLS and 26% more likely to be a European soccer fan.
The New York Yankees win, too, with a new partner in Manchester City and ownership of another New York City sports team. While New York City FC negotiates it permanent stadium location, they would look to play their first season at an interim home field, with Yankee Stadium being the early favorite. For the Yankees, this is another sport that puts fans in the seats to make money. The early benefits of this partnership can be seen at the recent match Manchester City played at Yankee Stadium versus Chelsea. The match was used to start growing the fan base for the newly announced NYC FC, and the game drew a crowd of 39,462 spectators to watch Man City win 5-3. For a frame of reference, this is a 5.47% larger crowd than the average Yankees home game for the 2013 season, according to a recent Sports Business Journal article.
Let’s not forget that this is a coup for Manchester City, a team looking to establish itself as a global soccer brand. While the news of New York City FC is huge for MLS, this is only a small part of Man City’s larger strategy. According to an article on NESN.com, Man City is already looking to establish similar clubs in leagues across Asia and Mexico, with the idea that all teams will play a similar brand of soccer and will gain access to top talent in each country. Think of MLB’s farm system, but on a global scale.
Perhaps the biggest win is for national and global soccer sponsors, who now have access to a critical U.S. market and, thus, legitimizing their soccer strategy. According to a recent ESPN poll, soccer is the second-most popular sport in the U.S. among males age 18 to 24, a demographic that marketers and advertisers covet. Furthermore, Emirates Airlines, a major sponsor of Arsenal in the English Premier League (EPL), has already expressed interest in the opportunity, according to 360sport.com, and Samsung, a major sponsor of Chelsea FC in the EPL, has its U.S. headquarters in New Jersey. This is exciting news for the soccer landscape in America, which continues to grow and move in new directions each year.
So, my question stands – has soccer finally “arrived?”