One of Major League Soccer’s (MLS) newest expansion clubs, New York City FC (NYCFC), officially unveiled its club’s first badge on Thursday, March 20th. Expecting to enter MLS in 2015, NYCFC, partially owned by Barclay’s Premier League super-club Manchester City, enters the league on the ground floor. In the past year, the club has named front office personnel including Sporting Director Claudio Reyna, Chief Business officer Tim Pernetti, and their first head coach in Jason Kreis. Orlando City SC, the second team to enter the league in 2015, have much less work to do since they already have an infrastructure in place from their four years spent playing in USL PRO, America’s third division soccer league. NYCFC has more work ahead of them as they search for a place to build a soccer stadium in New York, while competing with the well-established New York Red Bulls, a club that will have nineteen seasons of history behind them by the time NYCFC enter MLS.
The front office of NYCFC has involved its fans by asking them to vote for the team’s badge through the club’s official website. Allowing for fans to decide on the aesthetic aspects of a sports team is not a new marketing strategy and has been replicated in all American sports leagues and other sports leagues around the world.
According to Sporting Director Claudio Reyna,
Given the significance of a Club’s badge and what it means for a team’s identity, it was important for us to have our fans included from the beginning—a commitment that we’ve made from the start.
While NYCFC’s official website states, “The colors navy blue, white and orange are drawn from the New York City flag,” it says nothing about the dominant light blue. The light blue color on the badge clearly reflects NYCFC’s affiliation with Manchester City. Perhaps in a bow to another successful franchise, the overlapping letters resemble the New York Yankees overlapping “N” and “Y”. The most popular Major League Baseball team is also a chief investor in NYCFC. The club has chosen to highlight these sports teams and build off of the brand of the Yankees and Manchester City. Outsiders may assume that this would alienate potential fans who strongly dislike Manchester City or the New York Yankees. However, NYCFC most likely lost these fans from the club’s inception when Manchester City and the Yankees were announced as investors in the club. Predictably, the club would have more to gain by paying tribute to their investor groups in their badge instead of creating a more original badge in an effort to change the minds of potential fans that dislike their investors.
NYCFC have been quietly building their organization, offering limited information to the public and making it difficult to evaluate their progress. What can be determined thus far is that, in terms of marketing, the club appears to be the antithesis of Chivas USA. MLS has learned its lesson in that just because a brand works in one country does not mean it will work in the United States. Fans had a hard time identifying with the Mexican Chivas brand, despite placing the team in a region where many identify with Liga MX’s successful sister club, Chivas de Guadalajara. NYCFC is trying to keep a balance in the public’s eye between being identified as “Manchester City USA” and a club that has its own original identity.
NYCFC are doing more than simply allowing fans to vote for the badge. The organization has given fans the opportunity to create their very own badge using a one of a kind badge creator tool through their official website. Fans can choose from twelve different shapes, a multitude of styles and colors, and even upload their own photos to make an authentic badge that resembles many other soccer badges from around the world. All badges created by fans will be shrunk down to a pixel size that comprises up the club’s official badge. Fans have the opportunity to view the badge digitally and zoom in to find all the badges created by fans. This offers fans a place in NYCFC history and provides incentive for fans to follow the new team when they begin play in 2015.
The club also is paying homage to its fans, something that many other MLS teams have done on team jerseys. The New York Red Bulls placed the name of 600 season ticket holders on the fabric of each player’s number in an exhibition with Tottenham in 2012. Colorado followed suit in 2013 when they printed every season ticket holder’s name on the club’s home jersey.
NYCFC has learned from the marketing failures and successes of other MLS franchises. The club certainly makes the public known of their affiliation with successful teams from around the world while still maintaining their own identity. The club has invited fans to become part of the club and its history from day one. However, success for NYCFC is still no guarantee. The team will slowly continue to build their brand behind closed doors, anxious for 2015 to begin.