Man City, N.Y. Yankees team up to own 20th MLS club

Posted by Roger Bennett

AP PhotosManchester City and the New York Yankees entered into a $100 million deal to own New York City Football Club (NYCFC), the 20th franchise in Major League Soccer (MLS.)

In ground-breaking news that fuses two global sports brands and continues the ongoing growth of soccer in the United States, a $100M deal was announced this morning that partners Manchester City, the English Premier League's 2011-12 Champions, with the New York Yankees, Major League Baseball powerhouse, as owners of New York City Football Club (NYCFC), the 20th franchise in Major League Soccer (MLS.)

The club expects to begin playing in 2015.

MLS commissioner Don Garber called the moment a "transformational one for soccer in America," claiming: "The fact that we have a Premier League champion and a 27-time World Series Champion will give the league the credibility around the world that the signing of David Beckham did."

While Manchester City's interest in acquiring a MLS team has long been rumored, the minority ownership position taken by Yankees has come as a surprise. According to Yankees president Randy Levine, the relationship was forged through their concessions and marketing company, Legends Management, which operates at the Etihad. "We are the New York Yankees, we require special people to partner with and we learned that Manchester City are just that."

The Yankees expect to be active participants in operations. As Levine explained, "from The Boss George Steinbrenner on down, we have been big soccer fans in this organization." Though the baseball team had a joint marketing agreement with Manchester United as recently as 2009, it is City they will formally partner with. "They know how to run a soccer club, we know our way around New York it is a win-win."

Manchester City will be the new club's majority owners. Their position has been taken up by the club itself, not Abu Dhabi owner Sheik Mansour as had been widely reported. It stands as a powerful indicator that in the ongoing football arms race, the thirst for unconventional revenue streams and creative brand exposure will compel major teams to execute ever bolder global strategies.

The deal began when Manchester City's CEO Ferran Soriano was back at Barcelona eight years ago. Soriano is now City's CEO and explained the synergies. "We are here to develop a fantastic football product which will use our strength, knowledge and extended scouting network all over the world." He added: "Obviously there is the commercial opportunity for New York City FC and Manchester City and we have great players in our academies... it is only natural some of these players might be playing in New York."

For MLS, the partnership with two global giants will broaden the league's global profile in its 18th year. Commissioner Don Garber was effusive. "This market has 19 million people in the region and is soccer hungry. With the Red Bulls here, we have the opportunity for a rival -- a derby, if you will -- that will break through the clutter of sports teams in this market and will work on the local, national and global levels."

That the announcement was made during Manchester City's post-season American tour was not coincidental. Further announcements are expected, including a lucrative new jersey deal with Nike, before the club take on Chelsea in two exhibition games. The first is a sold-out affair in St. Louis on Thursday night; the second, symbolically, on Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

New York City FC expect to play in an interim home until a permanent stadium is built. The owners are committed to constructing a stadium and will take up negotiations with the city. Whether their focus now shifts from the 13-acre plot of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens remains to be seen. Ferran Soriano explained: "We are very aware of the Queens negotiation. This is not about finding a stadium. This is about finding a home that will be successful from a commercial, and soccer perspective as well as a community perspective."

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