Major League Soccer’s (MLS) latest addition, New York City FC (NYCFC), played their first home match in club history in Yankee Stadium on March 15, 2015. An exciting first step for the club, there has been great debate on the team’s relationship with the Yankees and on being an unwelcomed guest in their stadium. Before jumping to any conclusions about NYCFC’s temporary home, it is best to get a comprehensive look at playing soccer in the baseball stadium using a SWOT analysis.
The New York Yankees are one of the most celebrated sports teams in sporting history, and are the fourth most valuable sports franchise according to Forbes’ 2014 list. The infrastructure of the Yankees is top class and will likely solve any issues regarding the field or the stadium quickly. The organization certainly knows a thing or two about the fan experience. Their recently built stadium will be able to accommodate NYCFC’s demands in regards to merchandise, concessions and ticketing.
The Yankees may understand the fan experience, but not the soccer fan experience. The stadium is still not conducive for the die-hard soccer supporters. NYCFC has accounted for this weakness by offering first choice of seating to supporters’ organizations. Still, fans will not be able to feel the closeness that soccer-specific stadiums offer teams around the world. Supporters of NYCFC were upset with their club in February when the Yankees released a list of items forbidden in the stadium, including megaphones, flags, and smoke machines, each staples among the soccer supporter culture.
The league has found a way to work out a schedule that does not interfere with the baseball schedule. Not even NYCFC will disagree that the Yankees come first in this arrangement. NYCFC will play their penultimate home game on September 19th before playing three away games at the end of the season to accommodate for the possibility that the Yankees will make the playoffs and have to play home games throughout October.
The club only plans to sell 27,528 tickets for regular season matches but the stadium’s capacity is obviously much larger, exemplified by their home opener attendance, playing in front of a crowd of 43,507. The crowd is likely to decrease the rest of the season, but there is great opportunity for NYCFC to fill the stadium the same way that Seattle Sounders fill CenturyLink Field.
It is also no secret that MLS is looking to target younger audiences. In an ESPN poll last year, MLS equaled the popularity of Major League Baseball among 12-to 17-year-olds. Playing in Yankee stadium could be helpful in targeting the younger demographic living in New York City. Location and transportation makes Yankee Stadium a desirable place for NYCFC to play. Subways run regularly to the stadium which should attract the young, local population.
The mainstream sports media in New York City appear more interested in covering the repercussions of having soccer played in a baseball stadium than the actual soccer team that is playing. Yankees players have not been shy about voicing their opinions about having soccer played on their outfield. Some feel this sort of drama is nothing more than a talking point. Other reliable sources claim there is a very real possibility NYCFC could be playing in a different stadium by 2016.
Baseball is a sport with a constantly changing schedule. Rained out games lead to make up games which likely means games will be played closer to when NYCFC is scheduled to play and less time to prepare the field. Soccer is no different in their scheduling. Successful teams play more games. If a team wins in the Open Cup they could play another home game in the tournament. If NYCFC is going to be as successful as their sister club Manchester City FC, they will earn a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. This means more home games that must be scheduled around the Yankee’s season.
There are few strengths but great opportunities for NYCFC to play in Yankee Stadium. The weaknesses and threats are larger obstacles for NYCFC and the Yankees to overcome. There are far more questions than answers right now in how successful NYCFC will be in their first home ground. The club and its supporters are guests in their neighbor’s house, for the time being, and all will try to make the best of the situation until the can get into a home they can call their own.