The Search for Mutuality, in Manchester and New York – 3rd April 2014
When Manchester City and Chelsea met in New York at the end of last season, one could be forgiven for taking little notice. The world was busy delivering its postmortem on a pulsating Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, leaving minimal room to debate such an inconsequential exhibition. But the frenetic encounter was seminal in planting a soccer seed deep in the Bronx, with 39,000 fans displaying passion, knowledge and hunger for the game. A cast of global superstars roamed the hallowed turf of Yankee Stadium; it’s iconic white facade looking down on a football match for just the third time in forty years. The near future will see much more football in New York, with an exciting partnership spawning the 20th Major League Soccer franchise in the heart of a thriving sports market.
City, who emerged victorious from the post-season clash, are main protagonists in finally bringing football to New York. They’ve teamed with the historic New York Yankees to create and nurture a top class club which will be mutually beneficial. New York City FC, the collective brainchild of two pre-eminent global sports teams, will benefit from the status, acumen and managerial experience of both organisations. It hopes to attract star players and strike a blue riband rivalry with the New Jersey-based New York Red Bulls. The expansion club, owned primarily by Manchester City in an 80/20 split, will attempt to carve out its own niche in a congested New York sports scene shared with thirteen other professional teams. Whilst proposals are reviewed for a purpose-built facility in the Bronx or Flushing, City FC will likely begin play at Yankee Stadium next March, bringing excitement to fans starved of football.
Why now? Why would two universal sports teams willingly inject themselves into the delicate political process of bringing Major League Soccer to central New York? Essentially, the economic and egotistical benefits are just too profound to ignore. In joining forces with the New York Yankees, we see Manchester City expanding it’s commercial and emotional reach in a US market increasingly liberal towards football. Ferran Soriano, the former Barcelona chief presently tasked with choreographing City’s international growth, saw a unique opportunity to learn from the Yankees, a past master of sporting dominance. “In the Yankees, we have found the absolute best partner for developing a world-class sports organisation and a winning team,” proclaimed Soriano. “It will carry the New York City Football Club name with pride.”
He has struck gold. City will benefit immensely from this relationship. A proportion of revenue generated by the off-shoot MLS team will trickle through to Manchester, further helping the club comply with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations after excessive spending in recent years. The extensive efforts to grow City from burgeoning force to global giant will be boosted by association with the Yankees, who will provide diplomatic power in New York and international gravitas. New York City FC may even become a de facto feeder club for the nascent Manchester empire.
Conversely, the Yankees appear motivated by mere altruism. Yes, a fraction of MLS revenue will contribute towards the organisation’s luxury tax bill, but the Bronx Bombers are genuinely committed to improving the community which they so dominate. If that means adding a soccer club to enrich the lives of local denizens, so be it. Hal Steinbrenner, the son of behemoth Yankee owner George, has embraced the City project throughout. “We are pleased to be associated with this move by MLS to enhance the opportunity for New York soccer fans to enjoy high-level play in their own city,” said Steinbrenner, who inherited the Yankee dynasty upon his father’s death in 2010. “We look forward to the opportunity to work with Manchester City to create something very special for the soccer fans of New York.”
What about the baseball fans of Manchester? How are we, here in Britain, going to benefit from this relationship of showcase mutuality? Sure, it’s great that more Americans will enjoy local football, but British baseball fans rarely benefit from similarly ambitious projects. In this fledgling association between New York and Manchester, it appears that the Yankees are giving a lot without receiving significant reward. Steinbrenner is providing a venue in which this team will play; a wealth of bureaucratic muscle to smooth it’s progression from pipe dream to reality; and funds for new players and club personnel. Surely, the Yankees deserve to reap some benefit from this scenario. Manchester City are garnering a tremendous advantage by working with New York, not least in way of revenue. If true mutuality is to be served here, they should help the Yankees host games at the Etihad Stadium; help the Yankees build an academy where British children stay active and dream of playing big league ball; help the Yankees grow their brand across Europe. Ultimately, if the efforts of New York in accommodating City idealism are truly reciprocated, baseball should become more visible throughout the United Kingdom. We should see a strong domestic league and grassroots investment. We should see visits from Yankee players and coaching envoys. We should see increased determination to grow America’s game in Britain just like Britain’s game will flourish in America.
How feasible are these aspirations? Will the Yankees strive for the assistance of Manchester City in developing their own international projects? Can we expect a surge in British exposure to baseball as a by-product of this high-profile relationship? Well, maybe. Randy Levine, the sagacious Yankees President, has warmed to the idea of playing requite baseball games in Manchester. “The idea has come up through Major League Baseball about us maybe coming over to play,” said Levine of possible baseball growth in Britain. “I don’t think they have actually said it yet, but we’d love to play at the Etihad Stadium.”
We, the baseball public of Great Britain, would love to see it happen.
I’m sure some kind of deal can be agreed, perhaps incorporating Fenway Sports Group, which owns both Liverpool FC and the Boston Red Sox. City and Liverpool have already agreed to play in the International Champions Cup event at Yankee Stadium this summer. It may appear pompous, but extrapolating such ties to encompass baseball would benefit all concerned: City and Liverpool perhaps playing a two-game exhibition series at Fenway and Yankee Stadium whilst Boston and New York do the same at Anfield and the Etihad.
Not only would this generate revenue, publicity and new audiences for all four teams, but, in bringing it’s premier rivalry to British shores, Major League Baseball would stride toward a pivotal crossroads in it’s mission to grow the sport internationally. In watching the two most iconic baseball teams anywhere, British fans would be treated to the very best this fine sport has to offer. It would provide an ideal barometer of widespread fan interest in the United Kingdom, acting almost as a make-or-break awakening for the sport. After all, if we can’t get excited for a Red Sox-Yankees game, it’s highly unlikely that baseball will take root within the mainstream.
The only way to find the answers and make progress on such an issue is to break convention and try something new. It may be an epochal adventure in the evolving narrative of modern baseball.
The possibilities are endless, on both sides of the Atlantic. Manchester City regularly play before 40,000 fans in America; the Yankees could do the same here in Britain, selling shirts and winning admirers along the way. Manchester City always seem to integrate the American thirst for soccer into their complex pre-season plans; the Yankees could do the same, rewarding hardcore baseball boosters and teaching a new generation. Manchester City have been brave and bold in expanding their global outreach; the Yankees could do the same, recapturing the Steinbrenner spirit by slathering the tentacles of a once-great empire over new, untapped land.
If they determine to really make a difference, there may be no stopping Manchester City and the New York Yankees.
My only hope is that this deal is more mutual than mutually exclusive.