For much of the spring, a groundswell of institutional support for a New York City-based Major League Soccer franchise has been growing. The primary owners were set to be Manchester City Football Club, and the team, owned by a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family, has had their eye on a piece of Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens. Now, the Yankees are involved as well, as a part-owners and powerful players on the New York City political scene, as they are joining with Manchester City to own part of MLS’ 20th franchise.
The Yankees will own approximately a quarter of the new soccer club, and as long as a stadium can be identified in time, the team will likely begin play during the 2015 MLS season. “We proudly welcome two of the most prestigious professional global sports organizations to Major League Soccer,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. “This is a transformational development that will elevate the league to new heights in this country. The New York area is home to more than 19 million people, and we look forward to an intense crosstown rivalry between New York City Football Club and the New York Red Bulls that will captivate this great city.”
For the Yankees and Manchester City, theirs is a marriage of political expediency as much as it is about economics. Soccer franchise ownership is hardly a high-reward investment, but the Yankees, through Legends Hospitality, already work with Manchester City. More importantly, though, the Yankees have deep-seated connections to the upper echelons of New York politics. Randy Levine and Lonn Trost will likely put their heads to see a stadium deal through during the final months of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term.
In fact, Yankees’ owner Hal Steinbrenner appointed Levine as his soccer guru in a statement this morning. “We are pleased to be associated with this major move by MLS to increase its presence in the New York market and to enhance the opportunity for New York soccer fans to enjoy high-level play in their own city. We look forward to the opportunity to work with Manchester City to create something very special for the soccer fans of New York — and to bringing another terrific team to this city for all sports fans to enjoy,” said Hal Steinbrenner, managing general partner of the New York Yankees. “Randy Levine, president of the New York Yankees, will be the point person in leading the effort to launch and establish the team on behalf of the organization.”
The real elephant in the room here though is the park land grab. New York City park advocates have been dismayed that MLS’ attention has turned to Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Already the subject of a planned expansion by the U.S. Open, this park area serves as a gathering point for many Queens communities, and plopping down a soccer stadium in the park would further limit scarce green space. The city has offered up land that’s a several miles and neighborhoods away, but the site pales in comparison with the current green expanse.
While MLS and Manchester City hope the Yanks’ involvement can push this project through to the finish line, parks advocates believe the team’s eventual lobbying efforts may serve as a wake-up call. “We hope this new deal once and for all puts to rest any further attempts to seize even more public parkland in Flushing Meadows Park,” Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, said to The Times. “The Yankees were given enough.”
No matter the outcome of the stadium debate, the Yanks are poised to delve deeper into the New York City sports landscape, and it seems likely that Yankee Stadium will host a soccer team for at least its first season of existence. I wonder what the Boss would say if he were still alive.