New York City FC epitomise the growing role of football in US

The MLS season is finally underway, and with it comes the emergence of a new team in the Big Apple – New York City Football Club. Unlike many other clubs in the MLS, New York City FC seems poised to make an instant splash in the league, due in large part to the financial backing of City Football Group owner Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Sheikh Mansour, with estimated assets of $40 billion USD – which is more than the GDP of Iceland and Estonia combined- has already invested a considerable amount of money into the club, helping to secure the likes of Chelsea legend Frank Lampard and Spanish World Cup Winner David Villa.

The growing popularity of the MLS in recent years was buoyed this summer by unparalleled television ratings for the World Cup. In 2014, for instance, T.V. ratings for the MLS jumped 27% on NBC Sports Network, while ESPN saw a more modest, but nonetheless steady, increase of 9%.

The World Cup Final, featuring Germany and Argentina, famously became the most watched ‘soccer’ match in American history, with over 26.5 million viewers.

In fact, more Americans flocked to their television monitors to watch the United States play Belgium in the opening round of the World Cup than they did during both the 2014 NBA Finals and MLB World Series. These numbers are indicative of a growing trend that, in recent years, has seen football become an increasingly hot prospect among America’s sports lovers, particularly in the younger demographics.

The mantle is surely there for the taking if New York City FC can capitalise on this rising tide of interest. Skeptics have doubted how well the club can adapt to a city that already features ten professional sports teams, including one of the more popular clubs in the New York Red Bulls. Adam Skolnick, Manager of ticket sales at New York City FC, offered a few insights into the club’s marketing strategy in the New York area:

“We capitalised fortunately through the World Cup. It was largely a grassroots operation; every single game we were out at all these different cultural spots throughout New York. If it was Algeria versus someone, we were going down to Queens where there’s a huge Algerian faction. If it was Italy, we went down to Little Italy.

Skolnick was keen to emphasize that the most ‘Googled’ phrase in New York City for 2014 was ‘World Cup’. All throughout Manhattan and the other four boroughs, signs promising World Cup action at bars and restaurants littered the streets like American flags on the fourth of July. New York had officially succumbed to World Cup fever.

New York City FC itself has been quite active in the community since taking up residence at the world famous Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Club-sponsored programs have aimed to breathe new life into less fortunate communities, providing safe environments for kids to come out and experience the ‘beautiful game’ first-hand. On a more corporate level, the club has done an impressive job of marketing the team, building a strong rapport with potential ticket holders.

“We currently have over 11,000 season ticket holders,” said Skolnick. “We’ve priced ourselves very favorably to utilise the facilities and amenities of Yankee Stadium.

Season ticket holders can save 30% off the normal ticket price, with tickets running from $18 ‘Supporter Seats’ to our most premium seats in the ‘Legends Club,’ a two-story state of the art facility with all inclusive food and non-alcoholic drinks,” coming in at $175 a head.

Cultural diversity defines New York’s collective existence. The mélange of individuals that live in and travel to New York year-round should offer a strong sense of optimism for a club keen to fasten onto the international nature of the city.

Skolnick agreed, commenting: “For us to succeed we need to be successful on the corporate scale of things. Entertaining through sports tickets is a great way to cater to international clients, so we really fill in a niche market. It’s a huge benefit to us. Where a client may not understand baseball, here they’ll really appreciate the chance to go to a game with players they know and have enjoyed watching in the past, but still get to experience Yankee Stadium.”

This facet of the New York City FC organization stands out as a potential game changer. While the New York Red Bulls are relegated to playing across the Hudson River in Harrison, New Jersey, Yankee Stadium offers fans an iconic and historic ground in New York itself, with easy access from all five boroughs.

Skolnick remarked: “It has allowed us to reach a demographic that, if we were somewhere else, we might not have been able to get to.” Looking further down the road, the seeds for success seem firmly planted in the Bronx soil. Despite the hiccup of Frank Lampard’s extended loan stay at Manchester City, his imminent return should only bolster the club’s opportunity for growth in the metropolitan area. “We’re getting into a new generation,” said Skolnick, and with a club like New York City, we now have a team that you can raise your son with, where his greatest childhood memories might be of the club.”

As for overseas marketing, the club is poised to capitalise on the global brand of Manchester City FC. One day, the club would love to see New York City FC jerseys sprawled upon the backs of foreign supporters. “But is that our goal right now? No, that’s a goal much further down the line for this organization,” Skolnick concluded.

The future of the club, of football in New York, and of the MLS in general, seems brighter than ever. Can New York City FC ride the rising wave of ‘soccer’ madness in America?

Through grassroots marketing, reasonable ticket prices, international intrigue, well-established players, and of course, the pumping heart of New York itself, the answer would unequivocally appear to be ‘Yes.’

Photograph: Paul (Flickr)

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