Less than three months remain until the start of the 2015 Major League Soccer (MLS) season. One of the league’s most intriguing story lines for the upcoming season is (and will continue to be) how its two newest clubs will operate on the field and behind closed doors.
Orlando City SC (OCSC) and New York City FC (NYCFC) are the league’s newest clubs and have been working tirelessly over the past year in preparation for the challenge of the MLS season. Both teams have drawn media attention in their own right (for better or for worse) and until first kick for these teams on March 8th, the only things on which they can be measured so far is their performance behind the scenes and off the field.
With the MLS SuperDraft approaching, both teams are still piecing together their rosters for gameday. In the meantime, these clubs are busy adding sponsors and partnerships, advertising their brand, and building stadiums. This is how OCSC and NYCFC stack up in a business sense.
Both clubs have signed two Designated Players (DP) which will be the center pieces of the teams off the field, though NYCFC has already encountered issues with Frank Lampard when Manchester City FC (MCFC), their club affiliate in Europe, decided to keep him on loan until May, despite earlier reports that he would be available for opening day in MLS in March. Both Lampard and David Villa provide an incredible reach for the average fan. OCSC have a similar DP in Kaka and while most will be forgiven for not knowing much or anything about Bryan Rochez, being only 20 years old with 6 national team caps for Honduras and 29 league goals in his two senior team seasons, he will certainly be well known among Honduran fans.
Both teams maintain strong European club ties. It is no secret that NYCFC is affiliated with MCFC, in fact the NYCFC kits mimic the MCFC kits in almost every way, including their sponsor with the only difference being the manufacturer. MLS’ partnership with Adidas has caused NYCFC to have an Adidas logo on its kit instead of Nike like their cousins in the UK. However, fewer have noted OCSC’s affiliation with Portuguese powerhouse Benfica, from which the club recently signed two players from its youth ranks as part of their affiliation.
The sponsors and partnerships that each team has made over the past year indicate very different strategies for these clubs. NYCFC has used the power of their ownership group to acquire more international sponsors, including Nissan, Modell’s, and Adidas. OCSC on the other hand has looked to build local partnerships the same way that clubs like Sporting Kansas City have recently done. For example, their jersey is sponsored by Orlando Health, a local sponsor. While they have acquired recognizable partners such as Subway and Panasonic, they have paid more attention to their local market in partnerships with Grand Bohemian Hotels, FAIRWINDS Credit Union, and Wecando Print.
NYCFC has made a huge splash in the TV market, signing a long term agreement with YES Network. The club will also broadcast their matches on English language radio on sports radio’s WFAN, something that the New York Red Bulls have been unable to do in their twenty year history in the market.
Still, NYCFC have a few major gaps to fill, including whether the club will launch its own USL PRO side in 2016. In the meantime, OCSC will launch Louisville FC in the void left by their promotion to MLS. NYCFC will play in Yankee Stadium for the foreseeable future, with their search for a soccer specific stadium still in progress. OCSC will play in the Citrus Bowl for one season before their 2016 debut in their downtown soccer stadium, under construction now.
Both clubs have made great strides in preparing for their MLS debuts. Orlando City has chosen to have more local flavor and make connections behind the scenes while NYCFC has focused on international branding. There is still plenty of work to be done before March 8th. Welcome to MLS Next.