European clubs want to take Manhattan
Uncertainty among New York's local teams
6 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