New York City FC CEO Brad Sims knows many fans are unhappy with the club’s various stadium snafus, both in the short and long terms.
The club still is searching for a viable location for a permanent ground as its sixth season of play approaches, and it fell into another debacle this offseason as it looked for a suitable venue for its home debut in the CONCACAF Champions League later this month.
City reportedly is settling on Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, home of the rival Red Bulls, for the Feb. 26 match, and while Sims said no deal was done just yet for the game, he did make clear his exasperation with the entirety of NYCFC’s stadium situation at a fan event Thursday.
“It's been a very frustrating four months, I think, from the time we knew we were going to be in Champions League, we knew we needed to find a venue, or venues as it were,” Sims said.
Some fans’ frustration was on full display outside the event. Before Sims spoke inside Pele Soccer for a select group of supporters picked by a lottery, as well as corporate partners, a separate group of fans stood across 7th Avenue displaying a banner reading, “HOMELESS,” with an NYCFC logo serving as the second letter.
Those fans, some of whom are members of official supporters groups, said the Red Bull Arena rumors prompted their protest. Leo Heinert, who said he’s a season ticket holder and founding member, believes fans deserved better communication from the club on the matter.
“They haven't provided any information, they did it quietly,” Heinert said. “They haven't said a thing where the second leg is, they want to sell the tickets and then let us know that the second leg is going to be at Red Bull Arena. People are not happy with that. They don't communicate with us. It's not right. So right now that's a pressing issue that we're trying to address with the club, they should really communicate with us.”
Sims, who took over as CEO in January 2019, said he’s heard concerns about the club’s communication, but cited legal and contractual issues as the cause of any lack of information directly from the organization.
“The truth is, we cannot communicate things that aren't real and aren't materializing in things where contracts haven't been signed. So, we're not in a situation where we're going to break news to our fans, almost ever. And that's the reality,” Sims said. “And that's the reality, going back five years, that's reality today, and that will be the reality going forward. And unfortunately, it's kind of the world we live in, where we can't legally announce something until there's contracts signed by all the parties that are a part of that contract. And that's unfortunate, because people hear rumors and things leak out, and we can't really comment on it. I've probably already said more than I'm supposed to say today.”
Sims said the club has pursued a variety of options within the city, but simply hasn’t been able to find something suitable for the competition.
“Quite frankly, we felt that we had more than one viable venue and a suitable venue within the five boroughs. And we've been in a situation where we've been working hard to get a venue approved, a venue that we all would feel good about, that our club feels good about, that our fans feel good about, and we've not had any luck there, unfortunately. And I think that, as it stands at this moment, just for the record, we do not have a deal to play... we don't have a venue deal as it stands currently, at the moment, contrary to, you know, to the reports. We've been holding out every spot we possibly can. We've been trying to do everything we possibly can to find a venue that that we feel good about and will be approved by CONCACAF. And it's been a struggle, it's been unfortunate, it's been a struggle. It goes with the territory.”
The struggle securing a venue for the continental competition, in which City faces Costa Rican champion AD San Carlos in the Round of 16, has only put the larger stadium issues in the spotlight, Sims said. But he assured fans that finding a long term home remains a priority.
“Even when we thought it couldn't get any bigger than it is, it has been. We don't need any more urgency, we don't need any more urgency on my end or our team's. We have a team that works on this all day, every day and has been doing it all week, all month, all year. All we want to do — and trust me when I say this to everyone — there's nothing more that I'm going to be excited about than when I can share good news with everybody.”
While Red Bull Arena clearly isn’t Sims’ first choice, he seems resigned to the fact it’s his best option left.
"We feel that playing in the greater metropolitan area in a venue that is close enough distance for our fans to make it if they so choose is unfortunately the only scenario that we're probably left with at this point," Sims said. "And it's disappointing and I share and everybody's frustration here, ultimately if that ends up being the case."