Yankees Invest in Soccer Team Controlled by Manchester City

The New York Yankees will be an investor in Major League Soccer’s expansion team in New York, which will be controlled by Manchester City Football Club.

The league’s 20th team will be called New York City Football Club and begins play in 2015. The league and team will continue working to finding a suitable site for a soccer-specific stadium, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Yankees President Randy Levine and Manchester City Chief Executive Officer Ferran Soriano said on a joint conference call with Bloomberg News.

“I couldn’t think of two better partners,” Garber said. “The sport continues to grow in this country. What better way for us to lead the effort than to bring together two of the biggest global brands in sports.”

Bloomberg News first reported in December that Manchester City, the English Premier League team owned by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was close to being awarded an MLS expansion franchise for a record $100 million.

Garber wouldn’t disclose the expansion fee, saying only it’s a record that “reflects the increasing value.”

Manchester City finished second to Manchester United in the Premier League this season after winning the season before.

The Yankees and Man City have an existing commercial relationship through Legends Hospitality, an international entertainment, hospitality and marketing company that provides services at the English side’s home, Etihad Stadium.

Yankees’ Stake

Levine said the Yankees would support Man City and the league in their effort to secure a suitable stadium site. He declined to comment when asked if the team would or could play at Yankee Stadium.

“We know how to get things done in New York City,” said Levine, whose Yankees opened a $1.5 billion stadium in 2009. “We think the combination will be very, very powerful.”

The Yankees will have a 20-25 percent stake in the soccer team, according to a person familiar with the transaction who requested anonymity because terms aren’t public.

Garber last year said the league was “at the finish line” in negotiations with New York City officials on the league’s plan to build a 25,000-seat home for a new team based in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, east of Manhattan. The park already houses Citi Field, home of Major League Baseball’s New York Mets, and the National Tennis Center, home to the U.S. Open.

The previous high fee for an MLS expansion franchise was $40 million for several teams.

Worldwide Reach

Soriano said the agreement with MLS, and the partnership with the Yankees, allows for international marketing opportunities.

“On the commercial side, we will do things together,” he said, declining to be specific. “New York is a great opportunity.”

The Yankees in 2001 announced a marketing alliance with Manchester United, which has 20 English championships, bringing together two of the best-known sporting brands in the world. No money was exchanged under terms of the agreement, which called for each team to sell the other’s merchandise. The alliance was short-lived.

Levine said Yankees owners Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, like their late father, George, are soccer fans.

“We’re all in,” he said.

No Beckham

Soriano said retired player David Beckham, whose previous teams included Manchester United, hasn’t been contacted to play a role with the New York team.

Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, said in an e-mail that the involvement of the 27-time World Series champions is a signal of MLS’s growth and potential.

“You can choose to ignore it, compete against it or embrace it,” Swangard said. “The Yankees embracing Man City signals both the relevance of soccer in the U.S. and the importance of extending strong brands globally.”

MLS officials have been working for more than three years to bring a new team to New York, creating a rivalry with the New York Red Bulls, owned by Austrian energy-drink company Red Bull GmbH. The Red Bulls, whose roster includes Thierry Henry of France and Tim Cahill of Australia, plays in a 25,000-seat stadium in Harrison, New Jersey, about a 20-minute train ride from Manhattan.

Red Bulls

Red Bulls General Manager Jerome de Bontin said in a statement that MLS expansion illustrates a growing interest in soccer.

“Our club’s energy is focused on winning a championship for the league’s most loyal and passionate fans, many of whom have steadfastly backed this organization and MLS since its inception and come from all over the tri-state area,” he said.

Flushing Meadows is bordered by the neighborhood of Corona, where Mexicans, Ecuadoreans, Chileans and other Latinos help make up one of New York’s most passionate soccer fan bases.

The Fairness Coalition of Queens, a collection of community groups, in a statement said it was pleased with the ownership group’s willingness to consider other sites. “The proposal for a stadium inside the heart of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is deeply flawed and would irrevocably damage a vital community resource,” the statement said.

NASL Cosmos

The last professional soccer team to play in the city was the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League, who popularized the game in the U.S. by signing international stars such as Pele of Brazil and Franz Beckenbauer of Germany. The Cosmos, started in 1971, played home games in three city venues, the last one in 1976 at the old Yankee Stadium, before moving to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Manchester City has a 10-year naming-rights agreement worth $453 million with Etihad, Abu Dhabi’s national airline.

Man City will play fellow English Premier League team Chelsea, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, in an exhibition on May 25 at Yankee Stadium.

New York City Council member Daniel Dromm in a statement last month said city officials were negotiating to aid a project that involves an oil billionaire “that helps rule a country where gays or lesbians is a crime punishable by death.”

“This is outrageous,” said Dromm’s statement, which included an excerpt from the U.S. State Department Report on Human Rights Abuses in the United Arab Emirates.

Dromm didn’t immediately return a message left with his press officer seeking comment on the MLS announcement.

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