Comcast, the Mets, and Other Winners in the New Man City-Yankees MLS FranchiseBy
It’s official: Manchester City—not Manchester United —is “the Yankees” of the soccer world.
The spendthrift English soccer club is teaming up with the New York Yankees to buy a Major League Soccer expansion team that will be called the New York City Football Club, according to an announcement late Tuesday. The partnership is paying an estimated $100 million to join the league.
Majority ownership in the new club will be held by Sheik Mansour, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family and owner of Manchester City. Yankees Global Enterprises, the corporate entity of the Yankees, will have a 20 percent to 25 percent stake, according to the Associated Press. The Yankees’ participation is more than monetary: The team controls one of sports’ most powerful marketing engines, with a thriving concessions business and proven agility in moving through the shifting field that is Big Apple politics.
The deal also gives the new squad a potential home, at least for a year, in Yankee Stadium while its owners try to finalize a controversial plan for a stadium in Queens.
Will the new team be any good? Who knows. Win or lose, plenty of folks will come out ahead. Here are a few:
The company’s NBCSports dallies in the MLS market, carrying a few games a week, plus some playoff games. Comcast also carries ESPN, which does the same. If Mansour can enlist as fans enough of the population in the country’s biggest media market, ratings may improve. Meanwhile, News Corp., which owns at least 49 percent of the Yankees YES network, will miss out. It gave up its MLS TV rights last year.
The Austrian drink maker has thoroughly plastered its name across New Jersey’s MLS franchise, the likeliest candidate for a rivalry with the coming crosstown club. As the Yankees know well, nothing boosts ticket sales like a subway series—or in this case, a PATH-regional-transit series. The derby that has developed between MLS’s Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders has helped both clubs post some of the best attendance numbers in the league. The Red Bulls need it; the team’s average attendance is down 12 percent this season.
Every other MLS team
A fairly strict salary cap system keeps relative parity in the league, though it allows flexibility for blockbuster buys such as those for David Beckham or Thierry Henri, the highest-paid player in the MLS. Any club that can shell out for that kind of talent is going to help sell tickets, merchandise, and TV ads across the board. The sheik and the Steinbrenners aren’t known for thrift.
If the new soccer club is able to finalize plans for a stadium proposed to go up near Citi Field in Queens, parking will be an issue. Mets owners Jeff Wilpon and his cousin Scott have been angling for $40 million to let soccer fans use its lots, according to the New York Times. That represents more than half of the long-suffering club’s payroll this year.
New York’s most eminent rapper/entrepreneur hasn’t announced any allegiances with the new soccer club yet, but what better opportunity to bolster his brand in the U.K.? He has played the same formula with the Yankees, the Knicks, and the Nets: a couple of lyrics on a hit track, plus an occasional appearance in the stadium’s best seats, equals iTunes gold.