As fans of Brazil, Spain and team U.S.A. flood the various taverns of the five boroughs of New York City, they should expect to see representatives from another soccer team that barely even exists.
New York City FC, which doesn’t play a game until next March, is out in force as the2014 World Cup gets underway looking to capitalize on soccer fever and hopefully convert some die hard baseball, basketball and American football fans to Major League Soccer (MLS).
Representatives from New York City FC (the FC stands for ‘football club’) are hitting 50 New York bars over the next month promoting the team, which as of now only has two players signed and no permanent stadium (they’ll play at Yankee Stadium over the next few years). It’s part of an aggressive push by the new franchise that began last September and includes promotions at Yankee games (the Yankees own a stake in the team, as does Manchester City), and heavy doses of digital and social media.
Team officials note that their task is about as tough as it gets: starting a new sports team in New York City, where season tickets to NFL games are passed down to family members and baseball stars likeDerek Jeter are revered. Plus, there are lots of other things to do in town. Not to mention that the MLS, and soccer in general, are still under the radar in the U.S.
“It’s the most difficult market in that it’s very saturated,” said Tim Pernetti, chief business officer, New York City FC. “You can go to the beach, to Broadway shows, there are a million things you can do here.”
So where do you start? Go after the growing legions of young people who are fans of thePremier League (arguably soccer’s top European league)? Transplanted Europeans and South Americans who are huge football/futbol fans? Kids? All of the above, said Mr. Pernetti. But the focus is on youth, as the league sees an opportunity with 12 to 17 year olds who have grown up with soccer being top of mind. “That’s the audience that is really important to us,” he said. “The league is still young. Kids are a key part of the audience, and they help bring the parents.” In fact, New York City FC has forged ties with several youth leagues.
Mr. Pernetti’s team has also focused heavily on the Web—particularly in cultivating fan clubs and advocates. In fact, New York City FC enlisted fans to help choose its logo. Plus, he’s set an aggressive goal: “we want to be the most followed club in the league,” he said. The team is currently ranked fifth in terms of social media fandom–not bad considering it hasn’t started playing yet.
Still, New Yorkers are known for being a tough sell. The MLS already has a team based in New Jersey, the Red Bulls, which have built a decent following but haven’t exactly taken the city by storm.
What the Red Bulls don’t have is a connection to the Yankees, which New York City FC should leverage as much as possible, according to Brian Cristiano, CEO/Creative Director, Bold Worldwide, which specializes in sports marketing. “The Yankees connection is paramount,” he said. “On the one hand, this is a tough task. But FC has a built in audience [in the Yankees]. The Yankees are the highest profile team. They can really piggy back on the Yankee fan base.”
Plus, FC has access to Yankee players, the baseball team’s existing marketing channels, and the Yankees-owned Yes Network. “These are things new teams don’t usually have,” said Mr. Cristiano. “The Red Bulls don’t have that. And the one thing the Red Bulls do not have is location. Being in New York City is massive.”
The city locale is crucial, agreed Patrick McCarthy, owner of Nevada Smith’s, a popular soccer bar in Manhattan. “The fact that you’re going to be able to hop on a train and go to a soccer game, I think it’s going to be a great success. Its very accessible,” Mr. McCarthy said. Simply because it’s in New York City, this is a home run. There’s oceans of people ready for this. Are you kidding me?
Mr. McCarthy did have one warning for FC. Don’t push the Manchester City connection. “That would be a big mistake.”
Mr. Pernetti agrees, knowing that fans of other global soccer teams, like Manchester United, won’t be drawn to a team that feels like Manchester City West. But for now, his marketing team is focusing on educating the marketplace, most of which doesn’t know Man U or Man City.
“We’re using the World Cup now, but we need to be constant,” he said. Part of that constancy will be billboards in Times Square, and press blitzes whenever the team signs a new players, like the recent move to sign David Villa, a top player from Spain.
Stars will be key to winning over New York fans, said Shaka Hislop, a former MLS player who’s now doing commentary on the World Cup for ESPN. “For the young emerging fan base, there’s a huge appetite for the sport at its highest level,” he said. “If you bring top players you can capture the imagination of fans in New York.”
On that note, New York City FC is also planning marketing presence during upcoming soccer matches in New York and outreach to fan groups. “This is the City’s team. We need to get relevant and stay relevant. We think visibility is very high, and there’s never been a better time for this,” said Mr. Pernetti. “There’s a fever pitch for soccer in the U.S.
By MIKE SHIELDS