09 June 2014

Add NYCFC to the List of New York City's Homeless....

 The proposed “New York City Football Club” (NYCFC) is quickly finding out what most native New Yorkers already know: housing is hard to find, and it ain’t cheap.

When Major League Soccer decided to go on an expansion binge last year, someone apparently decided that there was some sort of synergy in creating “local rivalries.”   Instead of attempting to locate teams in places like San Antonio (the 7th largest city in the entire United States, with a huge media market, a ready soccer-friendly Latino majority, and only a single professional sports team – the Spurs – of their own), the powers that be went for geographic "doubling up:" they announced new teams in Orlando and Miami (the latter partly owned by soccer great David Beckham), both in Florida, along with a new franchise in Atlanta (I have NO explanation for that one). But before those clubs came the announcement of a second club in the New York metro area, presumably to rival the existing New York Red Bulls.

Certainly, with over 8 million people, New York appears  big enough to host multiple professional sports teams: Mets & Yankees, Jets & Giants,  Nets & Knicks, and Rangers, Islanders & Devils  all come to mind.  

So why not a second MLS team?

Well, first of all, the existence of a team sure doesn’t guarantee its success.  As I write, the Mets are heading once again for a losing season, and can not claim more than 20% of the NY fan base, even on its stronghold of Long Island; The NY Islanders have lost money every year since 2001 and were listed by Wall Street 24/7 as one of the top 7 teams on the brink of financial collapse;  The Jets made it to the Superbowl…..once…..45 years ago.   I have to question the wisdom of launching a second MLS team in the same media market where one team, the Red Bulls, has just ‘emerged’ in their own right.  

But perhaps more importantly, one wonders if MLS just doesn’t “get” the real estate market in New York. New York stadiums need a critical mass of open land, direct transit service, and both neighbors and real estate developers who don’t mind.

In other words…..good luck.

When the NYCFC was first announced, there was a concerted effort to build a new stadium in Flushing Meadow Park in Queens.  That went over like a lead balloon, as local residents, having already lost green space due to the new construction of the Mets’ Citifield next to the existing Shea Stadium, opposed the move.  (New York is a place where neighbors call City Hall to complain about the neighbors patch of grass being too high – one can only imagine how a 30,000-seat stadium would fly.)  One suspects that the Mets, struggling to fill the seats in their new antiseptic stadium, may not have been too happy about a rival sports stadium either.

In the end, the NYCFC declared that they would be playing at Yankee Stadium, another huge concrete stadium built for anything except soccer. 

But even if the games could be played there, practices could not – and so NYCFC set out looking for a different piece of real estate to practice in, beginning January 2015.  In a reasonable good faith effort, NYCFC offered to fund a $10 million renovation of Manhattanville College’s gymnasium and soccer fields, in return for calling it their practice home. But Manhattanville College, in spite of its city-sounding name, is not in New York City: it is in Purchase, in Westchester County, squeezed between the wealthy enclaves of Scarsdale, NY and Greenwich, Connecticut.  The "Purchase Environmental Protective Association" and three residents filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court against the team and the college….a process which, even if unsuccessful, will drag out beyond the planned Jan 2015 practice dates.

It’s an old ploy used by anyone who wants to stop anything in New York: delay, harangue, file suit, raise issues of traffic and the environnment.  The New York Jet’s efforts to build a new stadium on the Hudson Railyards on the West side of Manhattan came to an end when political opposition arose; all that opposition, of course, was silent when realtors made a bundle as construction began on the current six, luxury high-rise condominiums instead.

The Jets and Giants share a stadium…in New Jersey.  The Red Bulls are located in nearby Harrison, NJ. The Nets and the Islanders share a home only because the city took an entire blue-collar working class neighborhood in Brooklyn by eminent domain and provided public subsidies to help politically-connected real estate mogul Bruce Ratner build what has now become the Barclay Center.

There are other pieces of land of course….Floyd Bennett Field (under National Park control and nowhere near public transit) and on Staten Island (little transit available and hey, you might as well be in New Jersey if you go to Staten Island….)

So, in spite of great intentions and the recent signing of Spain’s David Villa as its first star player, the NYCFC has neither its own home, nor a place to practice.

I understand San Antonio is lovely in January…..


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