By Ridge Mahoney
The business of pro soccer in America is not just about soccer, and the stigma of soccer as a foreign invader to these shores isn’t accurate.
Though the joint venture by which Manchester City and the New York Yankees will operate an MLS team is unprecedented, soccer is a key component for many pro sports teams in their overall business structure. Many NFL teams host international matches in their stadiums, of course, but the affiliation with soccer goes further in some areas.
The startup of MLS in 1996 included teams owned by the Hunt and Kraft families, who are two of the longest-standing ownership entities in the NFL. The Seahawks and Sounders are a joint operation, and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank has spoken publicly several times about possibly housing an MLS team in a new stadium to be built for his football team. Before the Philadelphia Union moved into PPL Park three years ago, it played its opening games of the 2010 season at the home of the NFL Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field.
Yet melding operations of NFL and MLS teams hasn’t always worked. Before being sold by the Hunts, the Kansas City Wizards drew poorly at Arrowhead Stadium, home of the NFL Chiefs. The Revolution usually labors in a mostly empty Gillette Stadium.
According to New York Yankees president Randy Levine, Manchester City will focus on building the team, and the Yankees will handle the business end.
“They’ll be running all the soccer. We know our way around New York, how to get things done,” said Levine.
He will spearhead attempts to finalize a stadium project. In the interim, the working plan is to house NYCFC for its 2015 launch at Yankee Stadium, which hosts a Manchester City-Chelsea friendly on Saturday.
“Well, tentatively we are working on them playing at Yankee Stadium," Yankees part owner Hal Steinbrenner told the Yes Network on Wednesday. "We are working on that."
The old Yankee Stadium certainly saw its share of soccer; in addition to numerous exhibitions, the original NASL Cosmos played there in 1972 and 1976 before moving into the Meadowlands. Links between baseball and American pro soccer go all the way back to 1894, when owners of six National League baseball teams formed the American League of Professional Football to fill dates in their parks after the baseball season ended. The ALPF folded in less than a month.
Several owners of Major League Baseball teams invested in soccer when the old North American Soccer League and the United Soccer Association began operations in 1967, and for more than a decade, pro soccer games in baseball stadiums were common. The San Diego Sockers shared San Diego Stadium with both the NFL Chargers and MLB Padres for several years.
The Boston Beacons played at Fenway Park, which more recently hosted a Liverpool friendly last year and a Glasgow Celtic match in 2010. Though the configuration of football stadiums more closely approximated the dimensions of a soccer field, a lot of games were played on infield dirt and with baselines doubling as soccer goal lines or sidelines.
However the joint venture shakes out, the Manchester City-Yankees partnership is well financed. According to the Deloitte Money League listing of the richest soccer clubs, Manchester City generated revenues of 285.6 million euros ($369 million) in the 2011-12 season, an increase of 51 percent from the previous season. Forbes magazine values the Yankees at $2.3 billion, more than three times that of the average MLB team. The Yankees, according to Forbes, produced revenues of $471 million in 2012.
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