The long-term mission of New York City FC’s leadership team is an ambitious one.
Brad Sims, now in his second year as CEO, and his staff see a greater goal than building a championship-caliber club. Instead, the audacious vision is to make New York among the world capitals of soccer, with NYCFC the local club at its center.
But the club first must solve a few pressing challenges, including those it has dealt with since the first ball was kicked six years ago — finding a permanent home in New York and cutting through the noise in a saturated sports landscape.
“It’s a blessing and curse, the New York market,” Sims told Newsday on Tuesday. “As it stands for us we're one of the smaller fishes in the huge pond, and so you have to find ways to really cut through the clutter.”
In Sims’ first year with NYCFC, the club had its best season on the field, finishing the MLS regular season atop the Eastern Conference and sealing its first berth in the CONCACAF Champions League before a first-round MLS Cup playoff exit.
But attendance at Yankee Stadium was down more than nine percent in 2019, and the promise of a home ground City fans can call their own remains undelivered. The club’s nomadic nature has led it to schedule a series of MLS home matches at Citi Field in 2020 to optimize the schedule for competition. NYCFC also was forced to set its Champions League home debut later this month at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, home of the rival Red Bulls.
A New York Times report last week said the club is close to a deal with the city to build a home ground in the Bronx near Yankee Stadium. Sims would not comment on specifics of the potential deal, but he’s optimistic. Either way, Sims doesn’t believe a stadium is a magic key to the club breaking through in the market.
“There’s definitely more that we can and will be doing here and now,” Sims said. “Something that I've been challenging our team on is, how are we being thought leaders? How are we being innovators in the space? How are we challenging ourselves to do things differently?”
Sims said he saw plenty of ambition among the club’s staff to grow American soccer when he joined a year ago, as well as a desire to raise the club’s profile among the professional teams in the city. NYCFC’s data and analytics show the area already is full of soccer fans, and that number continues to grow.
“The amount of soccer fans in the New York area has continued on a steady incline over the past few years and we get data on a monthly basis on all this,” Sims said.
The challenge for the club is turning those soccer fans into NYCFC fans.
“We're talking about millions of soccer fans in our drawing area and so for us partly is how do we connect more with people who already have an affinity toward soccer? And they might be people who are Man City fans or Real Madrid fans or Juventus fans, wherever, but we can be their hometown club, too. There's a big, big opportunity for us.”
Given the crowded local sports market, Sims said traditional means won’t be enough for City to reach its goals.
“It's hard. You can't just say, ‘Oh, we're going to go buy every billboard in town' or 'We're going to do just mass marketing,' it's just not realistic or cost effective to do that in this market,” said Sims. “So you have to do things that are going to be more viral or things like that to cut through that clutter.”
Sims said the club's 24-hour game held in Rockefeller Plaza each year has been a big success in raising brand awareness, and similar outreach events are being planned. He also said the team is making a concerted effort to involve celebrities and influencers with NYCFC.
“There are a lot of people that have passion for soccer that are out there that come from different blocks, they might be musicians or entertainers or YouTube stars or whatever it is that have these huge followings, but they also have a passion for soccer,” Sims said. “And so, we have them come out here and be able to experience that and then be able to get that message out to their audience helps us market to a broader base.”
Ultimately, Sims believes the club needs to get fans to just one game to sell them on the experience, crediting NYCFC supporters for creating a unique atmosphere. The club believes that's first step in making New York City a global soccer stage.
“That's the thing that captures people,” Sims said. “You come in and you start seeing a group of, a couple thousand people behind the goal standing and jumping and chanting and cheering and waving flags and banging drums and doing all kinds of things, that's not something you see at baseball games or basketball games. That's the eye-opening moment.”