CHESTER, Pa. – My esteemed 700 Level colleague Steve Moore has already written a good breakdown of what Tuesday’s monumental announcement of a new expansion MLS franchise in New York City will mean for American soccer.
I’m just here to follow in his footsteps and provide a little actual reporting on the subject. And by actual reporting, I mean talking with Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz over a beer at a picnic outside PPL Park yesterday.
Sakiewicz is uniquely qualified to discuss the situation, given he was an MLS executive for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars/Red Bulls for a handful of years before coming to Philly. And, like almost everyone else, he’s very excited about what New York City Football Club will do for MLS and for the Union. (He was probably also happy to be drinking a cold one outside on a beautiful day.)
“I think the New York market is sensational,” he said. “I operated in that market for five years and I always knew it was capable of holding two MLS teams – because the Hudson River is a lot wider than it looks. There are tons of soccer fans there. It’s going to be great. And the best thing about it for us is now we have another team to dislike in New York.”
So does he hate them already?
“Absolutely,” he said with a laugh. “Why not? There’s a long history of Philly-New York rivalries and now we’ve got two of them.”
Some people have said the other one of Philly’s New York rivals – the Red Bulls – will now be in trouble trying to compete with the money and prestige New York City Football Club will immediately have, given they are owned by English Premier League giants Manchester City and the New York Freaking Yankees. But while acknowledging the club's challenges during their far-from-illustrious history (which includes a dwindling fan base, New Jersey locale and lack of any MLS championships), Sakiewicz believes the Red Bulls will benefit from a second New York team.
“It’s hard to break through the clutter in the [New York marketplace],” the Union CEO said. “We tried for five years and, listen, I thought we did a good pretty good job at Giants Stadium. We averaged like 18, 19,000 per game. But it’s still difficult in the stadium. Once I got the Red Bull Arena project in the ground, you would think they’d become more relevant. That hasn’t necessarily happened but they’ve made good strides. But I think having a rivalry club across the river to create a real deep engaged rivalry is going to create that much more noise in the marketplace and make it that much more relevant for two teams in the marketplace.”
Sakiewicz likes to talk about developing Red Bull Arena – and he has a lot to be proud of in that regard. It’s an absolutely gorgeous place to watch a soccer game, even if it is in Harrison, N.J. New York City FC, meanwhile, does not yet have a soccer-specific stadium to call its own. And while they say they’re working on it, Sakiewicz knows it can be a challenging process.
“I’m not as close to the negotiations as those guys are,” he said. “Obviously I’ve done my own. I got Red Bull Arena into the ground. It took me five years. It probably cost me 10 years off my life. But I’m sure they wouldn’t have made this announcement if they didn’t feel good about what their playing situation would be. And to have the Yankees involved in the ownership group is extraordinary.”
There is still time, of course, for the stadium situation to work itself out. The same can be said for other issues that will invariably pop up. But for someone that’s been an executive in MLS since the league’s inception, the expansion announcement is all about good news today and not future problems tomorrow.
“Listen, I remember going back to ’95 when we were sketching out plans for 10 markets we’d be in,” said Sakiewicz, who was the president of the now-defunct Tampa Bay Munity before working in New York and Philly. “We always talked about Philly from day one and that’s finally here. And we always talked about two teams in New York. And now 18 years later, here we go, we finally got it done.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com, CSNPhilly.com and The 700 Level. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.