Sheikh Mansour's motives are unclear
7 May ~ The "Champions Collide" International Soccer Series begins in New York's Yankee Stadium on May 25. It features Manchester City v Chelsea and Spain v Republic of Ireland. But, if you believe the rumours, the match between the Premier League clubs won't be like any other exhibition game. Manchester City may use this opportunity to fanfare their expensive new project in the US – a 20th MLS team, a second franchise in the New York area and a club that many believe will be humbly named New York City FC.
MLS commissioner Don Garber has been fixated on having a second club in the region (the existing New York Red Bulls play in New Jersey) for many years now. There have been two major sticking points – building a home stadium in the highly competitive world of New York real estate and a bidder willing to pay the $100 million (£64m) that MLS want for the franchise.
In 2012 the league spent $1.7m – the most spent by any company – on lobbying the City of New York in support of its plans for a $300m, 25,000-seat stadium in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens. These plans are still being considered by the city council. The idea has the support of outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg, who sees it as one of several "legacy projects" that he wants completed before he leaves office in December. Interestingly, when the nine mayoral candidates were recently asked if they were "solidly for the stadium" not one of them raised a hand. There are also legitimate concerns from residents and environmental groups about building on the oft-neglected but much-loved park that is full of relics from the 1964 New York World's Fair.
Many assumed that the returning New York Cosmos, and their Saudi Arabian owners also with presumably deep pockets, would take the second New York franchise. Instead the Cosmos are starting in the second-tier NASL this August. And so it appears that Sheikh Mansour and Manchester City are stepping into the breach. As long ago as November 2012, the Telegraph's Paul Kelso reported Manchester City's interest in an MLS club and Bloomberg claimed that Mansour was close to a deal in December. According to the New York Times in April, Mansour is now in "final negotiations" to buy the franchise.
Then, on April 24, Garber said that he was "hopeful to make an announcement on [an] expansion team in New York within next 4-6 weeks" and Dan Courtemanche, MLS executive vice president of communications, confirmed the timeline with Jonathan Tannenwald of Philly.com. Four to six weeks is exactly the time that City are in the US – they also play Chelsea in St Louis on May 23.
Yet, assuming this all happens as expected, there are still no clues as to what Sheikh Mansour would want from, or how he would use, a New York football club that would start play in 2016. With a strict MLS salary cap in place he couldn't propel "New York City" to League titles with vast sums of cash, like he has with his team in Manchester. Perhaps the appeal is a positive PR splash for Abu Dhabi in the US, gaining another vanity vehicle or an ideal opportunity to make new business and political connections. Maybe the New York club will end up feeding young players back to Manchester. Will the new team play in sky-blue? This shared branding has failed in MLS with Chivas USA and Guadalajara, and could alienate fans of other English teams.
Some US football supporters see this interest in the sport in their country as nothing but positive, as proof that it is finally arriving on the global scene. They also argue that the huge $250m Premier League rights deal signed by NBC in April can only help the growth of the game. This arrangement, where the network will somehow screen every league match in 2013-14 across channels and apps, may well improve the awareness of football in the US. But if these new fans choose only to watch the shiny Premier League product that is pumped straight into their homes, the effect on MLS could be highly detrimental. As most British supporters could warn US fans, by welcoming the Premier League and Manchester City with open arms, there's a distinct possibility the American game has just invited an overstuffed and highly marketed cuckoo into their nest. Ed Upright