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European clubs want to take Manhattan

Uncertainty among New York's local teams

icon bigapple6 October ~ It used to be that the big European clubs would only court the US market during pre-season, playing warm-up games against MLS opposition and other teams on the international junket. This has recently morphed into a year-round campaign. From recent events in New York City, Champions League clubs are now deliberately targeting US fans. Football continues to gather pace in America. But there’s a battle for followers raging between domestic and foreign clubs, and the Europeans are doing pretty well.

 Last week Barcelona held an event in a midtown Manhattan bar for the local supporters’ club. And the big names showed up. While Spanish snacks were served by barmaids with Barça shirts and strong Brooklyn accents, club president Sandro Rosell strolled in. His words to the media contained nothing unexpected but Rosell was quick to flatter the locals: “There is no getting away from the relevance of New York as a city. Some might even say that it’s the capital of the world, and so it’s nice to see such a numerous and active supporters’ club in this city.” The bar was packed with Barcelona fans who were also delighted to see Rafa Márquez, once of Barcelona and now at the New York Red Bulls.

Manchester United are not to be outdone. On Wednesday they announced a huge viewing party in New York for their match against Stoke City on October 20. Over 2,000 supporters will attend the event, hosted by the unlikely duo of Bryan Robson and Dion Dublin. Alex Ferguson was also quick to address America: “The challenge I have for those gathering in New York is to make as much noise as the 76,000 people who’ll be inside Old Trafford that day.”

The wealth and international atmosphere of America’s biggest city make New York an obvious place for a marketing push, but football’s place in the city is also a little confused. Despite a successful season so far, the New York Red Bulls have their problems. For an important home game against top of the league Sporting Kansas City, they got their lowest gate of the season – announced as 10,286 but in reality much lower. A much-improved crowd turned up for the next game but, in contrast with several West Coast teams, the Red Bulls have perennial disappointment with attendances.

Then, with only three games of the regular season remaining, the Red Bulls replaced general manager Erik Soler with former Monaco president Jérôme de Bontin, while Gérard Houllier will take responsibility for all sporting decisions. Whatever is happening behind the scenes, the timing of this shock decision is confusing, especially as it casts doubt over the position of head coach Hans Backe at a delicate time of the season. It has already been reported that Houllier is ready enquire about the availability of a well-known coach who has worked in the Premier League. Though Harry Redknapp may struggle working with a player draft and a salary cap.

Then there’s the New York Cosmos, who will begin playing in the lower-league NASL in 2013. Rumours continue that the Cosmos will join MLS sooner rather than later, but there’s still plenty to be worked out, not least a permanent stadium. There’s a gap to be exploited by the likes of Barcelona and Manchester United. US supporters are increasingly split between those who watch domestic teams and those who bask from afar in the perceived glamour of Europe. In New York, the latter group is getting a lot more opportunities to get closer to their ex-players and presidents in real life. Ed Upright

On the subject...

Comment on 06-10-2012 17:22:50 by George Burnage Shaw #717601
"“The challenge I have for those gathering in New York is to make as much noise as the 76,000 people who’ll be inside Old Trafford that day.”"

Shouldn't be too difficult.
Comment on 07-10-2012 11:02:47 by Benjm #717753
Then they'll take Berlin?

Comment on 07-10-2012 16:40:53 by Humus B. Chittenbee #717815
"US supporters are increasingly split between those who watch domestic teams and those who bask from afar in the perceived glamour of Europe."

Speaking as a town-member of one of those "West Coast teams" - I do not 'bask,' but there are two factors of why I do not attend home games and watch Europe on the TV: primarily because the level of play (for the foreseeable future) is significantly better in Europe and I also dislike attending live events (I can see and hear much better from the comfort of my own home.)
Comment on 08-10-2012 16:58:23 by kickstartkid #718071
I'm a season ticket holder at Sporting Kansas City and enjoy going there every chance I can. I will admit that MLS is a bit more difficult to enjoy on TV and I do watch a lot of European soccer, like CL & EPL as I would prefer to watch those competitions on TV over MLS for obvious reasons, but I don't get to watch too much TV these days. Also, I think comparing a matchday atmosphere to what you'd viewing on a flat screen in HD while plopped down on the couch with a mouthful of Funyuns is like comparing apples to oranges.

From a matchday standpoint, my team Sporting Kansas City is quite an exciting squad to watch. I'm lucky in that respect because when I witness teams like the New England Revs come to our place to play, I count my lucky stars that I don't have to watch them week in, week out. And, while Sporting tops the standings right now, there are really no legitimate superstars on the squad. This makes the MLS atmosphere that much more appealing to someone like me.

So, I tend to consider this last point the most when I read articles on WSC written by self assumed throwbacks from a golden era who seem to want to rekindle the purism of a simpler time, always bemoaning the state of the modern game with all its gloss and melodrama. (Who needs the Soaps anymore...right?) But, I can certainly understand what they mean, and in this respect, at least, I'm thankful I have the MLS and not the EPL.

Yeah, most of the players on Sporting don't make all that much money if you were to compare them to their counterparts in the NFL, MLB or NBA. And, most of them couldn't hack it in any of the leagues abroad, (though, a few of them have tried.) But, I do think that since it lacks the hype, there's more of a community feel to it, and Sporting certainly has enough local flavor since starters Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic both grew up in the area and played for prominent high school teams in Kansas City. Furthermore, Julio Cesar's son and my son go to the same school. I have seen him around there and have always wanted to ask him what playing for Benfica or Bolton Wanderers was like but usually I'm coming in and he's going out the door and the opportunity has not presented itself. Lastly, my son plays his league soccer games at the same spot where Sporting trains. Last Saturday morning I passed the golden bearded Kei Kamara on my way to the car to grab my coat and we nodded at each other as we went about our business. I guess my point is this: these players are more or less like me and you and since they don't carry the burden of 'star appeal' the MLS experience is a lot more attractive and 'real' when you compare it to the somewhat cartoonish quality of a bunch of New Yorkers geared up in Barca attire congregating together at a bar for some silly 'event'. I could go out to Livestrong Park on a Saturday evening, share something real with a few thousand people for 90 minutes, then go home and maybe read a book, listen to a record or make love to the wife. So, I could be wrong, but I'm assuming a lot of these Barca clones from the aforementioned article just can't wait to get back to the apartment to play a few hours of Barca vs. Barca on the Xbox before they tuck themselves in for the night in Barca sheets to dream Barca dreams. Nah, I'll go ahead and stick with MLS.
Comment on 08-10-2012 17:31:01 by Reed John #718080
Obviously if you're just watching it on TV and don't have any particular connection to the cities anyway, then the European games are better.

Everyone is welcome to their own opinion, of course, but I don't understand how anyone could prefer watching a match - any match - on TV to going to a live game. I'd rather watch the Penn State women's team play live than watch Barca play on TV. I like watching games on TV too, but as a supplement, rather than alternative to, the live experience. I watch some MLS on tv, but my overriding feeling during the whole game is "man, I wish I were there." Unfortunately, the closest MLS city to me is 3 hours away, but I make do.

MLS isn't really as bad as the Eurosnobs say it is anyway. And, as Kickstartkid says, there's an opportunity to feel a real connection with the club which is not available in any of the other US major sports and certainly not available to Americans who support Champions League teams half a world away.

For example, when Sebastian La Toux was traded from Philadelphia Union to Vancouver, the Philadelphia supporters held a going away party for him at a bar. Lots of fans came out as did the man himself and some other players. There is no other major sport in America where that would happen and I doubt it would happen in any of the top divisions in Europe.
Comment on 09-10-2012 20:35:06 by Doinbiznis #718618
At a Montreal Impact reserves game this summer, most of the first team, including Nesta were sitting a few feet away from the fans. Anyone who wanted could walk up to snap a picture or get a shirt signed.

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