Published January 13, 2015
Major League Soccer continues to grow, and the activity in the Pacific Northwest can be viewed as a microcosm for the recent success in America's top flight.
Seattle Sounders FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC and the Portland Timbers all have come into the league since 2009 and become model franchises. Consistent sellouts have led to each club receiving as much publicity surrounding the atmosphere at their respective home stadiums as they garner for their play on the pitch.
A large part of what helped these clubs become instantaneous hits in MLS was the history they each brought into the league. The Sounders, Whitecaps and Timbers were woven into the fabric of North American soccer through their stints in the North American Soccer League in the 1970s and '80s, and they each had a vested interest from nostalgic fans that dates back several decades.
With MLS plotting a second New York franchise to rival Red Bull New York for some time, it widely was expected that the New York Cosmos, North America's most glamorous and arguably most successful soccer franchise, would fill that void.
But the league's discussions with the Cosmos stalled, and MLS Commissioner Don Garber kick-started the expansion vehicle on Tuesday by announcing the next team would be named New York City Football Club.
It was not a tremendous surprise as several outlets had leaked the news of Manchester City purchasing the rights to the impending New York expansion side, but what came at a great shock was the involvement of the New York Yankees, who joined the English Premier League giants in acquiring the rights.
Under normal circumstances, this would seem like a match made in heaven. It seems logical to pair the footballing expertise and vast fortunes of Manchester City with the Yankees' exalted brand equity and in-depth knowledge of the metropolitan New York marketplace.
"Obviously, we're here. We have a network," Yankees president Randy Levine said in a teleconference on Tuesday. "We haven't even gotten into it, but maybe New York City Football Club (will be) on the YES Network. We know how to operate a franchise in this area. We know how to market and gain sponsors - I'm sure there will be an opportunity between Manchester City's sponsors and supporters, and ours, to possibly do some cross-pollination.
"I think it's great. But Manchester City has the same philosophy as us. This is about the sport, it's about putting (together) a championship-quality soccer team for the fans of New York."
But what if the team is not successful in the early stages? An expansion team only gets one shot a first impression, unless, of course, it involves a brand that has a high level of equity.
That is why the trend of re-introducing expansion sides with past identities has been so successful for MLS in recent years. The DNA of the Timbers, Whitecaps and Sounders is woven heavily into the people of Portland, Vancouver and Seattle, respectively.
The same could have been said of the Cosmos and New York, had discussions between the club and MLS not fallen apart.
Instead, New York City Football Club will be starting from scratch in terms of developing a fan base and assembling a roster. But should the team flounder early on like Toronto FC, then the seats at the club's impending stadium (details of which have yet to be finalized) quickly will turn vacant.
New York City FC has the potential to succeed and become a soccer power in MLS. But the expansion plan in place is simply a gamble given how successful the blueprint laid out by clubs in the Pacific Northwest has been.