In roughly 10 months, New York City Football Club will play its first game in Major League Soccer. As we learned last month, they will play their first home games in Yankee Stadium, a less than ideal home. Nevertheless, they reportedly sold more than 1,000 season ticket deposits the first day that they were available. But since then, news has slowed. And the club keeps tweeting that the first 3,000 people to buy season ticket deposits will become founding members of the club.
This tells you that NYCFC haven’t yet sold 3,000 season ticket deposits. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, a story yesterday stated that their MLS expansion team has already sold 3,637 such season ticket deposits, with people pledging to buy more than 10,000 season tickets. What can we make of the fact that Atlanta, which doesn’t begin play until 2017, has sold significantly more season ticket deposits than NYCFC?
Option 1. NYCFC is a bad idea that won’t work.
Maybe New York City wasn’t clamoring for a team in the five boroughs after all. Perhaps the city is wholly content with the Red Bulls playing across the river in New Jersey and the NASL’s Cosmos playing on Long Island, and NYCFC would have to somehow invent new soccer fans in order to get a fanbase. Don Garber was wasting his time trying to bring a second MLS team to the area; it already has a perfectly good one. If this is the case, it paints an ugly picture of New York as a soccer city. Shouldn’t the biggest city in the country be able to produce more than an MLS team with average attendance?
Option 1b: NYCFC is a bad brand that won’t work.
This supposes that there are New York City soccer fans who aren’t served by the Red Bulls or Cosmos, but can’t stomach the idea of supporting a Manchester City side-project. When Chivas started an MLS team, they at least were a fairly popular Mexican club; City are mocked for buying titles and aren’t half as popular on this side of the Atlantic as Manchester United. The Premier League is currently more popular than MLS, and perhaps Premier League loyalties come first. So NYC needs a second team, but one with an identity more its own.
Option 2: Yankee Stadium is not a good place to watch soccer.
This bodes a little better for NYCFC’s hopes. Sure, people will pay through the nose for a poor view of Ronaldo in a friendly, and sure, people are excited about the new MLS team, but season tickets to Yankee Stadium for soccer? No can do. NYCFC will struggle to sell the many seats in Yankee Stadium that don’t provide a good viewing experience, but should they get a new stadium, all will be better.
Option 3: Pricing is important
Atlanta and NYCFC aren’t selling the same thing. For $50, Atlanta will let you reserve up to eight season tickets. Also, they will refund your money if you change your mind between now and 2017. NYCFC is requiring payment on each of the seats you want to reserve: $30 per seat in the supporters’ section, $50 per seat for standard seating, and $200 per premium seat. These are non-refundable payments New Yorkers are used to things being more expensive, but they’ll exercise caution for now
Option 4: Timing is important
Atlanta allowed people to place deposits the same day Don Garber announced the expansion. That’s the moment when hype was at its peak. NYCFC spent a year before announcing where it would play, and only then let people put down money on tickets. The Yankee Stadium announcement may even have had a deflating effect on ticket sales. In theory, though, this will pick up before the team begins play.
Option 5: Atlanta is the exception, not the rule.
At 10,000 season tickets, Atlanta would be in the top half of MLS if they began today. I don’t remember past expansions that well, perhaps this is an average pace that merely looks bad in the shadow of Atlanta’s success. Does anyone know how Orlando’s deposit sales are going?
Personally, I tend to think the answer here is 3, with bits of 2. Yankee Stadium is not ideal for soccer, which is leading potential season ticket buyers to hold off on buying until they get a better idea as to what they’re purchasing. Deposits don’t come with a seating map telling you what you’re getting.
I’m an optimist; I believe NYCFC will work out in the long run. But after initial excitement and solid branding, having to play in Yankee Stadium is a definite misstep. We’ll see what happens when tickets actually go on sale. For now, the panic button is best left in its case.