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May 21, 2013

N.Y. to get second MLS club in 2015

NEW YORK -- Manchester City and the New York Yankees have joined forces to establish a $100 million Major League Soccer team.

New York City Football Club will be the MLS's 20th team and is set to start playing from the 2015 season.

"This is not a marketing gimmick," City chief executive Ferran Soriano said in a conference call on Tuesday. "This is about developing a team that will play very good football and will have a chance to win."

City, which is owned by Sheik Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, will be the majority owner of the team.

"They'll be running all the soccer. We know our way around New York, how to get things done," said Yankees president Randy Levine, who will be the team's lead person in the launch.

The venture is being launched by City amid difficulties in England after the team failed to win a trophy in the 2012-13 season, leading to manager Roberto Mancini being fired.

Soriano said it wasn't a mistake to award Mancini a new five-year contract after City won the Premier League title in May 2012, ending the team's 44-year English title drought.

"We don't think we are under any instability," Soriano said.

"We are changing the manager as it happens in other clubs. We feel confident that we will have a good manager and a very good team next year. And I don't think anybody made a mistake on this. It's just, as normally as it happens in football, time to change for the good."

City is in need of new revenue streams to help comply with UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules, which are designed to curtail over-spending by wealthy owners and require clubs to eventually break even on football-related activities.

But heavy spending led to City losing 90 million pounds ($137 million) in the 2011-12 financial year with transfer fees since the club entered Abu Dhabi ownership in 2008 went beyond 580 million pounds ($880 million).

"This obviously has nothing to do with Financial Fair Play," Soriano said. "We are building a team in New York that will be sustainable and we will be investing here with the idea of recovering our investment and being a club that will be financially sustainable, the same way that our club in Manchester is becoming sustainable every year more, right?

"So we don't have any problem with the Financial Fair Play rules, and the New York team has nothing to do with it."

There is a chance the New York club will serve as a feeder team for City, while young players unable to break into the Premier League squad could be loaned the other way.

"I think naturally it will happen, that some Manchester players will end up playing in New York," Soriano said. "But the objective and the focus will be to try to find the right players for the New York team. The New York team is a team on its own."

The expansion fee for the new team is $100 million. The Yankees will be responsible for 25 to 30 percent of that, according to sources. The club will compete for attention, and dollars, with 10 other professional major sports teams in the New York market.

NYC FC will start play at an interim venue with one option being the New Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2009.

The venue hosted its first two football matches last year and is the site of a friendly on Saturday between City and Chelsea. The original Yankee Stadium was the home of the North American Soccer League's New York Cosmos in 1976.

The MLS has been negotiating with New York to build a stadium in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, near the home of the New York Mets.

"Flushing is still the preferred site," MLS commissioner Don Garber said.

However, some community groups have opposed using city parkland. The new owners will consider other sites.

"We are very aware of the Queens negotiation," Soriano said of the 13-acre plot of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park that has been previously discussed for a stadium. "This is not about finding a stadium. This is about finding a home that will be successful from a commercial, and soccer perspective as well as a community perspective."

Holly Leicht, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, said the Yankees' involvement "opens the door for the possibility there might be a serious discussion about relocating where the stadium will go."

For a soccer stadium to be built at Flushing Meadows, NYC FC would have to reach an agreement with the Mets to use Citi Field's parking lots. The Mets declined comment on the Yankees' deal.

"It seems to make sense with the Yankees involved that the doorstep of Citi Field would be less enticing perhaps than before," Leicht said.

Yankee Stadium is hosting Manchester City on Saturday for a friendly versus Chelsea FC. The Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund will also be shown on the big screen.

"Yankee Stadium is an option, as are many places," Levine said.

The new team is intended to spark a rivalry with the New York Red Bulls, who play in Harrison, New Jersey.

"The Red Bulls now will have a rival here in the market providing them with that derby-like competition that is such a driver of what makes football so successful around the world," said Garber, calling the addition of a second New York team a "big transformational event."

The Yankees have long been exploring football deals. A partnership with Manchester United was announced in 2001, but that turned into a now-expired licensing and broadcasting agreement in which the clubs sold each other's licensed goods and exchanged television programming. The Yankees' YES Network has broadcast Arsenal games on a delayed basis since October 2010.

Legends Hospitality, co-owned by the Yankees, Dallas Cowboys and Checketts Partners Investment Fund, takes over hospitality and catering at Manchester City's Etihad Stadium next season under a partnership with Jamie Oliver's Fabulous Feasts that was announced in January. Legends already has started work on premium seats sales.

Levine downplayed his verbal sparring with Garber four years ago, which followed the MLS commissioner's comments about empty premium seats at the new New York baseball stadiums. Levine said then "if he ever gets Major League Soccer into the same time zone as the Yankees, we might take him seriously."

"Don and I are old friends," Levine said Tuesday. "What's a little fun between friends?"

With the decision completed on team No. 20, MLS can turn attention to No. 21.

Former Los Angeles Galaxy star David Beckham, who plays his final game this weekend before retiring, has an option to buy an MLS expansion team at below cost. Miami appears to be a possible market.

"It's just premature," Garber said. "Clearly, we've got to finalize a long-term expansion plan for the league."

Information from reporters Darren Rovell, Roger Bennett and the Associated Press was used in this report.

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