Manchester City strike gold in New York as MLS deal extends their empire

Ferran Soriano hails 'brand City' after agreement with Yankees to set up new club in US league

Ian Herbert@ianherbs
Wednesday 22 May 2013 12:01

Manchester City's chief executive, Ferran Soriano, raised the prospect of a "brand City" spanning Manchester and New York, as his club announced that they are to become the majority owner of a new Major League Soccer club, who may play in sky blue and create a proving ground for future City stars.

The view from New York is that City have struck gold in securing a partnership with baseball's New York Yankees – one of the wealthiest sports franchises in the world – to establish a 20th MLS franchise, to be called New York City FC, details of which The Independent reported last month and confirmed today.

"We are the best local partner. We know what we're doing. We understand global marketing and have partnerships with people all over the world," said the Yankees' president, Randy Levine, whose club will take a quarter share in the new football franchise, which joins the MLS in 2015. "Commercially, we know our way around New York City. We know how to get things done here and it's very exciting. We have been approached many times by people in the Premier League and other places but it didn't feel right."

Football remains a distance behind American football and baseball here and does not generate anywhere near the same TV money that might entice some of the young players recruited into baseball, basketball and American football from the college draft. That is why Soriano rejected the idea of launching a Barcelona franchise in the MLS when he was chief executive of the Spanish club eight years ago, on the grounds that football was still relatively low-profile in the country. The sport was "not yet very relevant in the world. In the US soccer has to compete with much bigger sports which are deeply rooted in North American culture," he said then.

But MLS has grown since, boosted substantially by David Beckham's five years at LA Galaxy, and the Yankees' willingness to work with City's owners Abu Dhabi United Group, having rejected a number of approaches by Premier League teams, is a huge boost to Soriano and MLS. Manchester United attempted a tie-up with the Yankees in 2000 but ended up irritating the club when then chief executive Peter Kenyon exaggerated the scale of their commercial deal. United and the Yankees stocked each others' merchandise for a while but the link fizzled out. The more meaningful City-Yankees tie-up has roots in the Yankees' stadium concessions business, Legends Hospitality, which already provides services at the Etihad Stadium.

The deepening of ties could involve the Yankees playing exhibition baseball at the Etihad. "Can we play baseball in a soccer stadium?" Soriano asked Levine, when that was raised. "We'd love to," he replied.

Soriano, who will now set about filling top executive positions at the club, said that New York City FC would have to play at a temporary home for two or three years until their stadium, likely to cost $340m (£224m) and be built on land acquired in Queens for a minimal fee, is ready. The Yankee Stadium – where City will play Chelsea in a friendly on Saturday – is thought to be a likely temporary home.

Soriano also said he may look at the idea of recruiting marquee names such as Beckham to help build a following for the new team. The Abu Dhabi United group, City's parent company, will lay out the $500m (£330m) to establish and house the franchise, to be run by a new holding company. Soriano said he might ultimately retain responsibility for both clubs, with a New York City chief executive answerable to him.

Cross-selling means that commercial benefits can flow to Manchester City, who are desperately seeking ways of getting closer to Manchester United, a club which floated on the New York Stock Exchange last year, and who need to exist within the new strictures of Uefa's Financial Fair Play regime.

"We have lots of good players and lots of young players in England, a very big scouting network and some of the Manchester players may come here," Soriano said. "What we are doing is natural, in a global world – that we are going to have a fan in New York City who is also going to be a fan of Manchester City. When you put [the new team] together with another team in Manchester that is going to have the same name – City – and you'll have a lot of resources and expertise, then that makes it the perfect synergy. Look at our names – New York City and Manchester City – it's evident of the brand City."

But the benefits to City would be only a natural coincidence and the primary aim is to create a winning team which would tap into the potential fan base from a 19 million population, the chief executive said. "We wouldn't have done this only for branding, branding is not our objective," he said. Soriano admitted that a tough challenge lies ahead. "[This] is a bold move and not an easy one," he said, though Levine dismissed the idea that the task of becoming a household name in Queens was a vexed one because it is the back yard of the New York Mets baseball team. "We are new," Levine said. "The fact that the Mets play in Queens has absolutely nothing to do with it. The stadium we hope will be the best place."

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