A raucous scene played out in a basement community room in the Bronx borough of New York City last week. A few hundred people – many of them Latinos – turned up for an open meeting to discuss a proposal to build a 28,000-seat soccer arena a few blocks away from Yankee Stadium.
The new Bronx stadium would serve as the home of the New York City Football City (NYC FC), an expansion team in Major League Soccer (MLS) scheduled to start playing in 2015. It is a joint venture between an English soccer club, Manchester City, and the New York Yankees — although Man City ponied up the lion’s share of the $100 million MLS fee and thereby holds a controlling interest in the team.
The proposal entails tearing down a parking lot owned by the city and moving an elevator parts company, but the questions at the meeting ran deeper.
“How is it going to benefit us in this neighborhood at all?” one resident asked, according to published reports. Another said, referring to the sweetheart deal that the Bronx Bombers from Mayor Bloomberg’s administration to build the new Yankee Stadium, “Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice...”
Yankee Stadium, by the way, is where NYC FC will play its home games in its first few seasons.
The prospective arena down the street would be funded, at least in part, by city bonds, which maybe doesn’t sit so well when the club’s owner is Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahayan, one of the richest men in the world.
Hence a rep for U.S. Congressman José Serrano (D-NY) stated outright, “The congressman will not support a stadium deal that includes any public subsidies whatsoever. That includes tax loopholes, that includes PILOTs [payments in lieu of taxes], that includes anything where the city of New York loses tax dollars to build a stadium.”
Welcome to New York City, post Mayor Mike. Newly elected mayor Bill de Blasio is publicly opposed to the new arena, which Man City CEO, Ferran Soriano, seems to be taking mostly in stride. “We’re looking for a home, not for a place to play,” he said at a press conference on Friday. “We have to be accepted and wanted by the community. This is why the first thing that we do is listen.”
This isn’t the first time that a site for the franchise’s arena has been shot down by strong community dissent. In early 2013, before Man City and the Yankees got involved, MLS’s efforts to get a Queens stadium deal fell apart.
More than any other major sports league operating in the U.S., MLS courts the population of recent immigrants in the country for its fan base. And, because of that, its franchises more often find themselves hoping to erect home stadiums in communities with high concentrations of immigrants.
In an aggressive expansion policy, MLS commissioner Don Garber has been pushing to get the league to 24 teams by 2020. In 2015, NYC FC and Orlando City Soccer Club (where voters approved stadium financing last fall) will begin to play.
It’s widely expected that early next month the league will confirm David Beckham as the co-owner of a Miami club – No. 22 in the league. It would seem that Atlanta, with the backing of Falcons owner Arthur Blank, has the inside track for the penultimate franchise.
As for club No. 24, there aren’t a lot of obvious options. The locations speculated about most often are San Antonio and Austin, but no likely ownership groups have come forward.
Officially, Garber has said that any potential franchise needs a financially strong ownership group and a deal in place for a downtown stadium. “The downtown formula has been working for us,” Garber told reporters in December. “It’s hard to imagine us going where we don’t have that scenario.”
On the other hand, there aren’t stadium bids in place yet for the New York or Miami franchises, and it’s hard to imagine picking cities where immigration is more important.
“I think MLS is deciding the franchises on a case-by-case basis,” Neil deMause told Fox News Latino. On his website, Field of Schemes, the ESPN “SportsCenter” columnist has been tracking the economics of stadium building in the U.S. since 1998, when he co-authored a book by that title with Joanna Cagan.
“The league’s overall strategy,” deMause suggested, “is to make money.”
“As a loss leader serving the purpose of a greater enterprise, New York is a better advertising springboard for Man City. In Miami, too, MLS has [Beckham] saying, ‘I want a team in this location,’” deMause said. “So the league can tell them, ‘The stadium financing is up to you to figure out.’”
MLS has made incursions into the southeast corner of the country before. The Tampa Bay Mutiny was one of the league’s founding teams in 1996. Two years later, the Miami Fusion F.C. joined in the first expansion.
The league contracted both teams in January 2002. The Fusion had lost $15 million in its four years of operation, and had asked the league to pay some of its costs.
And being recently burned by an outrageous publicly-funded stadium deal with baseball’s Marlins Park, Miami-area residents might prove a tough sell for Beckham and his fellow investors.
A handful of MLS clubs, like Chivas USA and the New York Red Bulls (who actually are based in Harrison, N.J.) are owned or operated by companies with international soccer connections. By and large, clubs in Europe and Latin America are more closely knit with the communities they represent, offering memberships and facilities and youth teams.
“The scene at Red Bull arena is starting to feel more like a community,” deMause stated. “But one reason the European model is successful is because those teams have decades of history behind them. Fifty years from now, maybe that will work here, but it isn’t going to happen overnight.”
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