#360business: NYCFC is the latest step in creating a global football giant

Steve Brenner 10:48 17/11/2014
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New colours: David Villa helps unveil the NYCFC in New York last week.

When Manchester City football club was initially formed in 1880 in the name of St Mark’s church , they didn’t have countless riches to call upon. Far from it.

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Fast forward to 2014 though and with the creation of the latest arm of the City Football Group in New York moving ever closer to kicking a first ball in anger, there surely cannot be a newly created sporting franchise which has been blessed with the kind of financial and structural support NYCFC are armed with.

Simply being involved in top level sport these days, let alone actually trying to be competitive, is a rich man’s game. Rags to riches stories, sadly, belong in the past.

Naturally, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, has made all this possible.

The incredible £1.2bn (Dh6.9bn) investment in City over the last six years has created a rock solid platform which allows everything else to flourish.

The NYCFC fans who attended a typically glitzy, loud kit launch in New York last Thursday probably don’t realise just how lucky they are.  

To have wealthy owners is one thing. Having the ability to call on the amount of football knowledge and expertise from not only the English Premier League champions but also strong footholds in Australia and now Japan (Sheikh Mansour bought a stake in Japanese J-League club Yokohama F-Marinos in May) really does set them apart.

Only PSG – thanks to their deal with Qatar Tourist Authority worth $262m (Dh962m) per year until 2016 – come close to replicating it.

Certainly, compared to Thierry Henry’s New York Red Bulls, their resources are on another level. 

The fact they are also the only side to be actually based in one of the five boroughs – Red Bulls play in New Jersey – is one marketing angle to be trumpeted from the rooftops.

Yet while most of the whoops of excitement were reserved for the revelation of the strip David Villa and Frank Lampard will wear from next March , the most eye-catching announcement, from a business point of view, was the recruitment of Etihad Airways as the club’s principal and founding partners.

Of course, the Abu Dhabi-based airline have enjoyed a fruitful relationship with Manchester City since 2011 so their involvement in New York was a no-brainer – for both the team and the company.

With new routes to San Francisco and Dallas set to open by the end of this year, Etihad are eager to make waves in the US market.

A £350m (Dh1.3bn), 10-year partnership deal has served City well and although the figure of the new five-year contract in the Big Apple was not revealed, sources insist it’s a ‘multi-million pound agreement.’

The jaw-dropping cash injection in Manchester was queried by UEFA when the regulations for Financial Fair Play were brought in last year yet City sources wasted no time in telling Sport360° they were never worried about any investigation.

They were vindicated in May when it was revealed the investment was judged as potentially under the value it should have been.

James Hogan, the Australian CEO of Etihad Airways, has spent over $100bn (Dh367bn) on aircraft. He is a man who knows the value of planning for the future and expanding brands.  

Becoming involved in NYCFC is a welcome extension to a powerful-looking sporting portfolio which already has F1 and cricket as lucrative mainstays.

He said: “What we are taking advantage of are strong brands in respective markets .

"In terms of Manchester City, that has been a strong partnership for us because in the early days it has helped building our profile not only in the UK and pan European markets but also on a global scale.

"They have been winning and doing well so the awareness is much stronger.

"When you look at all the sports we are involved with – whether it be hurling in Ireland, the ECB in cricket, it is all about finding the right property to help build the brand.

“But as with Manchester City we are helping to take sport into the community – we have done that with rugby, soccer – the UAE have built pitches.

"We see in America, somewhere we are not that well known, it is a great property for us to be involved with.

"Also with the MLS, it all comes together very nicely.

"We have looked at getting into the US sports market before but it’s all about being involved at the right time.

“We have just started operating to LA, twice a day into New York, next month we are opening routes into San Francisco and Dallas so it made sense to find a property we can use with our master association with Manchester City.

"Having a global presence is so important.

"We can link the relationships so that means there is strong awareness in Melbourne, Manchester and now in America.

"We link everything up, so as they develop their global brand we continue to develop ours. It complements us well.”

With a football-specific stadium still a long way from being created, NYCFC’s home will be at Yankee’s stadium in the Bronx for the next three years at least.

Not ideal yet with 10,000 season ticket sales already in the bag, a core support has already been created.

Huge inroads into community projects have also been made. 

The creation of the City soccer schools in Harlem has been a huge success while training programmes such as Saturday Night Lights and Safe Places to Play are directed at children in low income communities who are given chances they wouldn’t ordinarily have been given. 

The advantage of their tie-in with the New York Yankees – arguably one of the most famous and iconic sporting brands on the planet – should not be underestimated, especially when it comes to negotiating commercial deals.

“The Yankees relationship doesn’t get mentioned enough, “ stressed NYCFC Chief Business Officer Tim Pernetti.

“There are two important commercial elements to our business.

"No1 – the Yankees are in the market.

"They have existing partnerships which have been around forever and our relationship with them gives us a seat at the table and helps us have real discussions and put deals on the table.

“The other side is, being part of a global group like City football, we can access global relationships by selling assets all over the world.

"Not everyone has that. We have assets in New York, Melbourne, Manchester, Japan.

"That helps us have very different conversations.

“If you look at the trends right now, sporting organisations are starting to try and put more clubs under one roof.

"It gives you more assets to sell in more parts of the world. I think you will start seeing more and more of that.

"The difference with us is that we are the only global football organisation and we are spreading that across every continent.

“The way the model was built for NYCFC gives us the ability to make it successful. Running independent franchises in certain sports can be difficult.

"In terms of New York, because there is such a massive audience for soccer, because it is such a diverse market, there is a huge appetite to have a team and when you put together everything we have in our stable – including the Yankees – it gives us a real advantage on the commercial side of the business.

"Our ownership in Abu Dhabi are very supportive of everything we are doing.”

And how key that is. After all, without them none of this would be happening in the first place.

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