The headlines will read “New York Yankees and Manchester City bring professional soccer to the Big Apple,” but there is more to the narrative than just that.
Give Major League Soccer it’s due; they have managed to align themselves with the most respected sporting franchise in the country for the leagues most ambitious business endeavor of all time. Attaching the New York Yankee brand to the vast wealth of Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi ownership group is a sure fire homerun for all involved (no pun intended of course).
However, the glitz and glamor of this announcement also hides a glaring truth; Major League Soccer is abandoning it’s hopes of landing a soccer specific stadium within the confines of Flushing Meadow Corona Park.
One need only dissect the league’s press statement and the content of their ensuing conference call to draw that (logical) conclusion.
Take the announcement at it’s surface as your first clue. Fred Wilpon and the New York Mets wanted to usher in this project before the Bernie Madoff scandal all but took them out of the running. Since then, MLS has plowed forward, seeking a home within the proper limits of Flushing Meadow Park – with or without them.
The fact is, Flushing Meadow cannot happen without the Mets. Why? Because parking space would have to be shared. MLS would need to expand on their already ample 13 acre request to build the necessary roads and lots to accommodate 25-35k visitors a match. With local opposition already balking at the current area projections, the league would then be forced to turn to the Mets.
Now, do you think Wilpon will want to accommodate the New York Yankees in his own backyard?
Reading further into the press release, there are other clues. Here is Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano offering a visible tell.
“New York City FC will have a permanent home in the City in the great traditions of New York sports and world soccer — a home that must be a sports, commercial and civic success,” Soriano said. “But in considering any stadium site, we will listen first. This is what we have always done in Manchester and what we will do in New York. Only in this way, can the Club truly represent the City whose name it will carry.”
“Listening first” is a nod to the overwhelming opposition MLS has received within the Park project itself – one not lost on the Fairness Coalition of Queens.
“We welcome Major League Soccer to New York City. We are pleased with their new willingness to consider other sites in New York. The proposal for a stadium inside the heart of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is deeply flawed and would irrevocably damage a vital community resource,” they said in a statement. “We look forward to finding a more appropriate home for the team that does not sacrifice public parkland and that does not giveaway parkland to a documented human rights abuser. Lets make this a development that all New Yorkers can be excited about.”
For the first time since aggressively pursuing this initiative, Major League Soccer and their latest franchise are leaving the door open to other, perhaps more suitable options for a stadium within the City limits.
“The club says it will continue the discussions already under way with the City of New York, local residents, community and business leaders, and soccer leagues about a possible new stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park (FMCP) in Queens, while also continuing to look at other potential sites,” reads the release.
That was emphasized by Garber in Tuesday’s conference call. The Commissioner deflected questions about a Queens stadium to new Manchester City and Yankee ownership despite the millions of dollars spent by the league in lobbying politicians to land a home on the site of the former World’s Fair. With that, the league washed their hands of the entire affair and put the onus on New York City F.C. to get the job done.
For their part, neither the Yankees nor Manchester City were willing to commit to building upon the work MLS has established over the past two years, but instead, pleaded for patience as they looked to carve their own road.
“We are just starting the process here,” Yankees President Randy Levine noted during Tuesday’s conference call. “A lot of work has been done in Queens. A lot of reasons to be in Queens but we are going to step back – not step back, step forward – because this is the first day for the Yankees.”
This would go a long way in explaining why MLS hasn’t filed for a stadium permit within the City limits. Sources within the New York City Planning and Development board have told Empire of Soccer the league hasn’t even applied a request for land – the first step in any ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) process.
Finally, changes in the league’s timeline should also raise red flags. New York City F.C. will begin play in 2015. Venue? To be determined. Timeline for a soccer specific stadium to be secured? None given.
For the past two years, MLS has targeted 2016 as the year they would not only field their 20th New York franchise, but unveil the club’s soccer specific arena. Their release purposely omits what has been a rigid and guiding timeline.
When New York City F.C. takes the field in 2015, it won’t be in their own proper home. Have recent friendlies and exhibition games in Yankee Stadium encouraged the baseball brass to allow a field sharing deal as they did long ago with the New York Cosmos (Levine seems to think so)? Or will New York City F.C. be forced into the confines of Metlife Stadium, bringing the league back into the swamp that it took 14 years to crawl out of?
No one can deny how important it is for this growing league to continue to add quality ownership groups to an already impressive stable of operators. They should be applauded for their success in luring both Manchester City and the Yankees into the fold.
However, their addition is also a reset in the leagues original expansion plans. MLS chose a difficult path towards a nearly unattainable location. Can New York City F.C. continue their quest for the park? Sure. Will they look for a home in Queens? Perhaps.
What is certain is this; MLS now leaves two years of effort in the hands of an ownership group that is – on the surface – ambivalent about those established goals to begin with. And the possibility always exists that they can settle on the cheaper alternative – setting roots in Yankee Stadium for good.
No matter which direction the franchise seeks to go, Flushing no longer looks like their final destination.
Archived content originally from EmpireOfSoccer.com by Dave Martinez