Friday, January 31, 2014

Stewart & McKellan: "Football!"

Love it. I'm going to be sad when their show is over and they leave New York (although Sir Patrick is a neighbor of mine in Brooklyn).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

More From Down Under - Almost Sydney City?

We have more details on Manchester City's acquisition of A-League side Melbourne Heart. This comes to us from the Sydney Morning Herald:
Sydney FC said no to Manchester City millions
by Sebastian Hassett

Before Manchester City settled on purchasing Melbourne Heart, the cashed-up English Premier League club tried to buy Sydney FC last year.

City rocked the Australian football landscape on Thursday by claiming an 80 per cent stake in the expansion club, a deal that effectively transforms the A-League strugglers into one of nation's most powerful clubs. But the Heart were not City's first Australian choice and perhaps not even their second. Sydney FC chairman Scott Barlow revealed to Fairfax Media that he point-blank rejected the overtures of City's Abu Dhabi-based investors last year.

“It was flattering for us that Manchester City made an approach to us early last year to explore the possibility of buying into Sydney FC,” Barlow said. "They outlined their plans to create a network of clubs in the world's most iconic cities.

“Their primary focus at the time was New York but Sydney was very much on their radar. I conveyed that we were by no means motivated sellers and that we were very committed to Sydney FC.”

Barlow said Sydney FC owner David Traktovenko, who is Barlow's father-in-law, was only looking to increase his investment in the club in the years ahead. Clearly, Sydney are not threatened by the new arrivals. “Today's announcement I believe is a positive for Melbourne Heart and we welcome Manchester City's involvement on the A-League,” Barlow said.

"What we won't welcome is any attempt they make to introduce sky blue. There's only one sky blue club in the A-League, and that's Sydney."

Fairfax Media also understands City's owners were briefly considering a stake in the Western Sydney Wanderers. It is believed FFA chairman Frank Lowy was keen to talk City's owners into taking charge of the Wanderers when he heard of their desire to buy an Australian club.

However, the Citizens' global project is to target inner-city clubs, in keeping with the team's name. They have also purchased a new franchise for Major League Soccer, named New York City FC, who will debut in 2015.

Despite funding the club's overhaul from underachievers to global powerhouses, Sheikh Mansour is seldom spotted at Manchester City and is hardly expected to set foot inside AAMI Park.

But his in-laws might be impressed: one of Sheikh Mansour's two wives is a daughter of Godolphin owner Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, who has become obsessed with winning the Melbourne Cup.

While the $11.5 million takeover has secured Manchester City an 80 per cent stake, the new ownership group in charge of Melbourne Storm - led by Bart Campbell - have secured a 20 per cent.

The FFA sanctioned the deal on Wednesday night, claiming Hunter Sports Group's co-ownership of the Newcastle Knights and Newcastle Jets was proof the sports could co-exist. The NRL has also given the deal their blessing.

Central Coast Mariners coach Phil Moss, who was at Northern Spirit when Scottish club Rangers took over, said the deal would likely turn Heart into a contender.

“It obviously adds some glamour to the league and some profile,” he said. “What their motivations are for buying into the league will probably come out in the next few days and what they're looking to do and how the relationship will work. But certainly to have a brand like Manchester City come into the A-League shows just how far we've come. It's a real feather in the cap.”
Initial thought - Western Sydney Wanderers FC is, like Melbourne Heart FC, an expansion franchise relatively new to the A-League. A second club added to a major metropolitan area to create a local derby. They're even newer than Heart, currently playing in their sophomore season.

I'm intrigued that Man City declined to pursue Wanderers based at least in part on their location. They play in a suburb of Sydney called Parramatta, about fifteen miles west of downtown. Their desire for an urban stadium is certainly reflected in NYCFC's push for a soccer-specific stadium in the Bronx, and makes me wonder what other sites they have in mind should that prove unattainable.

There was a few other interesting notes in that article:
"(Manchester City FC) outlined their plans to create a network of clubs in the world's most iconic cities."
I would say that Sydney is a more iconic city than Melbourne, although Melbourne is the sporting center of Australia. I doubt many Americans could name a Melbourne landmark, while the Sydney Opera House remains a global symbol of the nation. I noticed that it's also included in the Sydney FC crest.
"(C)ertainly to have a brand like Manchester City come into the A-League shows just how far we've come. It's a real feather in the cap."
That's precisely what MLS Commissioner Don Garber thinks.
"What we won't welcome is any attempt they make to introduce sky blue. There's only one sky blue club in the A-League, and that's Sydney."
We'll see what plans Man City has to rebrand Melbourne Hearts FC in their own image. And can Sydney FC really have any say in the matter? I'm not familiar with A-League bylaws. Like that shirt sponsor, though.

I'm sure we'll be hearing more in the days and weeks to come about the Melbourne club and what specific relationship it will have to ours. For now, it's fascinating to hear what might have been.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

New Sister Club Down Under

Big news out of the parent company today, as Manchester City announced that it had acquired another foreign club, this time in Australia's A-League. Melbourne Heart FC joins NYCFC as overseas sister clubs to Man City.

The structure seems to be the same as the NYCFC deal; Man City takes an 80% stake in the club, with a local partner taking up the remaining 20%. As in the case with the Yankees, their partner in Melbourne Hearts is another sporting group, the Rugby League Melbourne Storm.

Unlike NYCFC, which is currently being built from the ground up, this acquisition is a takeover of a currently existing club. It was added to the A-League as an expansion franchise in 2010 as the second of two clubs in Melbourne after Melbourne Victory FC, which was a founding member of the league in 2005. They are currently playing in their fourth season in the league (the A-League, like most of the world, plays a winter schedule).

Melbourne Heart released this statement on the acquisition:

• Investment underscores growing profile of the Hyundai A-League and potential of football in Australia and throughout the region

1000hrs - 23 January 2014, Melbourne: A consortium led by Manchester City Football Club has acquired Melbourne Heart FC effective immediately. The consortium also includes the ownership group of the Melbourne Storm as minority shareholders with a 20 percent stake.

Ferran Soriano, CEO of Manchester City, said: "We are excited about the opportunity to make Melbourne Heart one of the most successful football clubs in Australia and throughout the region. We believe the strong sports culture of Melbourne combined with the football and commercial expertise within our consortium will make for a powerful combination both on and off the pitch".

Bart Campbell, Chairman of the holding company Heart Consortium Group and Chairman of the Melbourne Storm NRL side, said: "Partnering with City to co-invest in Melbourne Heart will further strengthen the sporting landscape in one of the world's greatest cities and bring a range of new capabilities to AAMI Park. We are excited to be a part of this unique project. It is our shared ambition to replicate the model that City created with the New York Yankees around New York City FC and for both organisations to benefit as a result".

He added: "We are grateful to Peter Sidwell and his Board for creating a Club with such obvious strengths and potential."

Speaking on behalf of the exiting Board of Melbourne Heart FC, Chairman Peter Sidwell said, "The Board feels that with the successful establishment and evolution of the Club over the last four years, Melbourne Heart now stands on sound commercial and financial foundations. The Board feels that the next phase of the club's development can be most fully realised with this new investment and the associated benefits that the enthusiasm of the consortium will bring".

FFA CEO David Gallop said the acquisition of the Melbourne Heart licence was a huge vote of confidence in the future of the Hyundai A-League.

"Football has moved into the mainstream of Australian sport and is ideally placed to benefit from the boom in football across Asia," said Gallop.

"Manchester City and their Australian partners have made a strategic investment and I welcome them to our growing competition. It's another sign that the world is taking notice of Australian football.

"Manchester City and their partners will bring a high level of expertise in football and sports business matters and that can only strengthen the Melbourne Heart and the Hyundai A-League as a whole."

Regarding its plans for the Club, Ferran Soriano stated: "The first thing we must do is take the time to listen and learn and then to develop our strategy for strengthening the Club over time."

Out of respect for the coaching staff and the players in the middle of the A-League season, the new ownership group will not be making any major announcements until mid-2014.

Manchester City's investment in Melbourne Heart FC follows its establishment of New York City Football Club in May 2013, which will enter Major League Soccer in the United States in the 2015 season, and its establishment of Manchester City Women's Football Club, that will play in 2014.

In support of this expansion, City has significantly boosted its resources in scouting, coaching, human performance, football tactics and other football capabilities, most notably through its landmark City Football Academy (CFA) in Manchester, UK. Due to open in 2014, the CFA will transform the organisation's training and youth development capabilities and help it to attract the world's most promising footballers both now and in the future.
There have already been rumors that Heart will be renamed "Melbourne City FC" in line with both Man City and NYCFC, but I'm not aware that the club has made any actual statements or even hints in that direction.

I also can't help but wonder what sort of branding Man City has in mind for its new sister club. Could we see some sort of unified club brand across all three continents? We don't even yet know what NYCFC's crest and colors will look like, although most fans are speculating that they will retain the double-blue that have defined the club since the expansion announcement last May. If we are indeed to see the NYCFC crest in the next few weeks, that might give us a clue to their plans for Heart.

Melbourne Heart currently plays in red and white stripes, so a transition to City sky blue would represent a major shift, along the lines of the MetroStars/Red Bull corporate rebranding that infuriated so many New Jersey soccer fans in 2006. The furor there was short-lived, and I'm not aware of any significant defection; the fans, while upset, stayed with their club even after it abandoned the traditional name and colors. Perhaps they're counting on a similar reaction from the Heart faithful.

The Melbourne Derby would also lose its dynamic red/blue divide, as Melbourne Victory play in navy.

There's something wonderful about a clear color dichotomy in local derbies, be it Everton/Liverpool, Man United/Man City, Arsenal/Chelsea and (we presume) the Red Bulls and NYCFC. Kind of a shame to lose one.

As for the players in those shirts, that's where our local club enters the picture. If players are to come on loan from Manchester to develop in New York, as is widely speculated, would it then follow that players from New York would be sent "down the system" to Melbourne? If, as its detractors suggest, NYCFC is the triple-A farm club, would Heart be double-A? The City Football Academy would train each man in the City Way and he could develop his craft in the various leagues.

Manchester City just might be creating something new in football, an international family of clubs spanning the globe with a shared academy and linked by ownership, by philosophy, and maybe even by players and branding. It's an ambitious undertaking. We know that MLS Commissioner Don Garber supports and encourages European involvement in his league, so he must be smiling today.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

NYCFC Stadium Town Hall - First Reaction

"(T)here's always the danger that (a town hall meeting) degenerates into a shouting match or gives local cranks an opportunity to nurse old grudges."

Yep. Called it.

Last night, the community town hall meeting turned contentious, in part because of those old grudges. I don't know if I was picturing the self-described "communist" who delivered "an expletive laden rant on capitalism" and had to be removed when he tried rushed the stage when I spoke of "local cranks", but he would sure seem to qualify.

Image credit: Dave Martinez, Empire of Soccer

Not that there aren't good points questioning the stadium. One I found particularly interesting can be found in Empire of Soccer's coverage of the event:
As one Bronx resident put it, "If they want to build it, fine. Use your own money."
Can't say I really disagree with that. The team has sufficient capital that public funds, even tax incentives and city tax-exempt bonds, aren't needed to build the project. I'd be happier if more high-end properties were developed without public dollars, and this could be an excellent opportunity for the team to take a bold stand. They could generate a tremendous amount of local good will, not to mention national press.

Building a soccer-specific stadium without any public money (except possibly for any minor changes that would need to be made to the Major Deegan off-ramp and/or the Metro-North train station) would go a long way towards establishing soccer as the people's game in the Bronx.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Town Hall Meeting TONIGHT to Discuss Stadium

South Bronx United is promoting a town hall meeting tonight for residents of the area to discuss building a soccer-specific stadium for NYCFC at 157th Street and River Avenue.

The meeting will be hosted by the 161st Street Business Improvement District, at 900 Grand Concourse (161st St). It begins at 7:30 pm. It is open for all community members to attend, listen and share their opinions.

I presume the club will have someone in attendance, although I don't know who that will be or if they will speak. I would hope that they're available to answer questions, so much as the preliminary nature of the plans will allow. They've been playing their cards pretty close to the vest, so I would doubt that anything new is coming out tonight, but I'll keep my ear to the ground and see what I can glean from any responses.

Then there's always the danger that it degenerates into a shouting match or gives local cranks an opportunity to nurse old grudges. We've certainly seen this enough in political town halls.

If you are able to attend, let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

SI: "Preparing to Step Into the MLS Spotlight"

Following Friday's press conference, Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl has an excellent piece on how the club is coming together:
Friday was Jason Kreis’s day in Gotham, the chance for the first coach of New York City FC to be presented to the media and discuss his vision for what NYCFC can be when it makes its debut as an MLS expansion team in 2015.

With an investment of more than $500 million, including a $100 million expansion fee and what will eventually be a soccer stadium costing up to $400 million, the new club being started by the owners of Manchester City and the New York Yankees is one more sign of MLS’s progress in recent years.

On a day when Toronto FC completed a stunning week of transfers to acquire Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe, and on the day we learned MLS’s next TV contract (a deal shared by ESPN and Fox Sports) would be worth around $70 million a year, according to Sports Business Journal, it was another proud moment for MLS to see a home-grown player and coach like Kreis fit in perfectly on a podium with NYC FC sporting director Claudio Reyna, Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano and City director of football Txiki Begiristain.
He had some very interesting thoughts about what was presented last week. Among his major takeaways:
• Reyna is already pursuing Designated Players

The U.S. Hall of Famer and All-Time Best XI midfielder told me that he and other club officials have already met with "more than 10" potential big-name signings, either with their agents or the players themselves. NYCFC will use the maximum allotment of three DPs, whose salaries are not limited by the league’s salary budget cap.

"We have to be very aggressive and active in an offensive mode with player recruitment and the player search," Reyna said. "Our approach, with Jason and I, is to go find the players we want to fit into how he wants to build the team. And not just the right people that are important on the field, but probably more important off the field. Toronto did a great job bringing Michael [Bradley] back. He’s the right guy, a top professional. Those are the kind of people we’re looking for." Reyna said he’s enjoying the DP search process.

"It's a lot of fun, to be honest," he explained. "I get to travel and watch games and meet with players and their reps. Every week there’s a new name being thrown at us."
This is excellent news. 2015 will be here before we know it, and the process of signing players will take much of that time. In the press conference, head coach Jason Kreis confirmed that NYCFC expects to sign three Designated Players; under my reading of the rule that third DP would cost them $250,000 in luxury taxes unless one is 23 years old or younger. Perhaps they're including young players in their search, or perhaps they're just counting on paying the relatively-minor one-time fee.
• The other parts of building NYCFC are moving forward

Reyna said the team hopes to have an announcement by the end of the month on the location of its training facility/team offices, which will be in New York State but not in the five boroughs of NYC. (Westchester seems a real possibility.)

What’s more, Soriano revealed a team badge is coming in the next few weeks, as is the announcement of the team's temporary stadium host. (The odds-on favorite is Yankee Stadium.)

As for the permanent stadium the team plans to build, Soriano said NYCFC is looking at several sites in the Bronx and elsewhere in the city. The news lately on the stadium front hasn’t been great. Michael Bloomberg was a supporter of providing city support for a stadium, but that doesn't appear to be the case so far with new NYC mayor Bill de Blasio.

"We are going to be patient," Soriano said. "We need the community to say, 'We want you here,' because we're going to be here for years and years. So if it takes more time, we'll take more time. We'll talk, we'll listen. We're looking forward to talking to new elected officials. We're optimistic, first because we’re going to play elsewhere [temporarily], so we're not going to rush. And secondly because we’re not going to do anything that is not perfect."
I've written before that de Blasio is almost certainly going to require NYCFC to start from scratch in its dealings with the city, a minor if expected setback. I still believe that the proposed Bronx location will go ahead, if that's what the club really wants, but likely with a diminished city contribution.

Westchester seems an obvious choice for training facilities, especially if the stadium is in the Bronx. It would also play into the triangular division we're working towards, with Long Island being Cosmos Country, the Western suburbs across the Hudson belonging to the Red Bulls and NYCFC's territory encompassing the city and extending north to Connecticut.

It's also very good to hear that the team's crest is almost ready to go; that's going to be a key element in reaching out to the city. The "launch crest" has been fine as a placeholder, but as the club's profile increases they have an opportunity to really establish a brand in the city's mind.
• NYCFC is positioning itself to cater to the local soccer fans who may not have embraced MLS yet

Soriano is an intriguing guy, a former FC Barcelona executive who said he first tried to be part of an MLS startup in New York with Barça in 2005. He tried again with Barça in Miami later in the decade and, after moving to Man City, has now done the deal with NYCFC, which is his baby. Soriano has spent a lot of time in the city mingling with soccer fans and going to soccer bars.

"There are savvy fans here, more than people think," he said. "I've seen it. You go to a bar, you watch a Premier League or Champions League game, and these American fans understand soccer. They understand the difference between excellent soccer, good soccer and bad soccer. They’re just waiting for somebody to offer good soccer [here]. This is what we want to do."
This is perhaps the most exciting news of all to me, since it perfectly sums up my own situation. I've been a follower of the Beautiful Game for decades, but have had no interest in MLS. If the MetroStars in the early 1990s had expressed the slightest interest in building a soccer culture in the city, I would have eagerly jumped on board. Instead, they made it quite clear that their hearts were firmly on the west side of the Hudson, and many of us wrote them off as a result.

A soccer culture did grow in the city, but it was one steeped in foreign teams, largely from Europe. Walk down any street, and you'll see bars advertising matches from the Premier League, La Liga, Champions League and the Bundesliga. Go to any youth soccer pitch in the city, and you'll see kids wearing shirts from clubs the world over: Arsenal, Man United, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona and many others. You'll probably see a smattering of MLS jerseys (although in my experience you're far more likely to see the Cosmos than Red Bulls), but those are vastly outnumbered.

My son just started winter indoor soccer, and when they were issued red jerseys "Red Bulls" was jokingly suggested as the team name. Turns out that of the eight kids on the team, only one recognized it as a reference to the pro team. Two decades after MLS was founded, and this natural market—youth soccer players as well as the parents who support them in the sport—remains largely untapped.

That is indicative of the MetroStars/Red Bulls' spectacular failure to create any significant presence in New York City, and it's why MLS was so desperate for "NY2" in the first place. I'm glad to see that NYCFC understands the culture here, the enormity of the task ahead of them as well as the rewards they stand to receive if they can be successful where their predecessor club failed.

The more I hear from NYCFC's leadership, the more excited I am for 2015. They seem to be hitting all the right notes so far.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Video: Jason Kreis Press Conference

The club has posted the full video of Jason Kreis's introductory press conference to You Tube:

There's a lot to like here.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Making the Rounds

In addition to his introductory press conference yesterday, new head coach Jason Kreis put in an appearance at last night's Nets/Heat game in Brooklyn: Nice to see the club getting some recognition. That's Director of Football Operations Claudio Reyna sitting next to him.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Jason Kreis Introduced at Press Conference

At a press conference this afternoon, New York City FC officially introduced Jason Kreis as the club's first head coach.

New York City Football Club Head Coach Jason Kreis answers a question at a press conference held to introduce him to the media, Friday, January 10, 2014, in New York. Ray Stubblebine/Insider Images for New York City Football Club

Manchester City Football Club Director of Football Txiki Begiristain speaks at a press conference to introduce New York City Football Club Head Coach Jason Kreis, left, Friday, January 10, 2014, in New York. Ray Stubblebine/Insider Images for New York City Football Club

Ferran Soriano, CEO of New York City Football Club and Manchester City FC, left, speaks next to NYCFC Head Coach Jason Kreis at a press conference to introduce Kreis, Friday, January 10, 2014, in New York. Ray Stubblebine/Insider Images for New York City Football Club

New York City Football Club Sporting Director Claudio Reyna, left, reacts with new Head Coach Jason Kreis after a press conference to introduce Kreis, Friday, January 10, 2014, in New York. Ray Stubblebine/Insider Images for New York City Football Club

We'll have a full report on the press conference once they post the video, but there are some early pull quotes that bode well for the club's direction.

CEO Ferran Soriano said:
"We're building a top class club, that's going to be rooted in New York, that will use City resources around the world. There's no marketing trick here, it's just playing good soccer. We can do that in New York, and that will attract fans."
"We will have an academy. Also important that we find good partners that have been doing it for a long time."
From Director of Football Operations Claudio Reyna:
"We want to make sure that this team has a New York feel. This is the greatest city in the world."
"Maybe one day, yes, it will be one of the premier clubs in the world. We're very excited about what #NYCFC can become."
"It was very important for me to get an American coach, and an American coach who had a great understanding of the league.... We're going to do everything it takes to make sure he has the right players. We're going to look all over the US, we need domestic talent first. And we're going to look all over internationally."
And, of course, from Kreis himself:
"I'm quite certain that we will sign 3 Designated Players. I'm also certain that they will be the right people."
"The opportunity is in front of us, and we fully intend to reach out and take it."
I hear an echo of his personal motto "Audentes Fortuna Juvat", or "Fortune favors the bold", in that last quote. There's a lot for fans to look forward to.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What Does Our New Mayor Mean for NYCFC?

At 12:01 this morning, as fireworks soared above Prospect Park, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio took the oath of office in front of his Park Slope house and became the 109th Mayor of New York.

AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool

Although His Honor wore a very fetching sky blue tie for the occasion, he's not expected to look kindly upon his predecessor's work towards getting NYCFC a soccer-specific-stadium in the city. It would be a surprise if he didn't kill the agreements and plans in place set in place by Michael Bloomberg in the last months of his mayoralty.

AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool

If and when he does, it shouldn't be considered a significant setback for the club; this is instead standard operating procedure. Bloomberg himself scrapped plans for new stadiums for the Yankees and Mets that had been agreed to by his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, on his way out of Gracie Mansion. This is just how the process works. Bloomberg couldn't get the deal done during his term, and a new Mayor means new priorities.

People who don't fully understand New York politics (not to mention those with rooting interests leaning towards the red) will undoubtedly seize on de Blasio's effective veto as some sort of sign that NYCFC will be thwarted in its goal. But just as the Yankees and Mets built stadiums after Bloomberg mothballed their agreements with the city, so too with NYCFC be able to work out a deal acceptable to our new chief executive.