MLS expansion team NYCFC, which starts play in 2015, will play at least three seasons in Yankee Stadium. But if New York City won't build them a soccer-specific stadium by then, well, who knows where they might end up? The arena blackmail game seems to play out faster than ever these days.
Yankee Stadium's not a terrible place to watch soccer. The sight lines are excellent (save for from behind home plate, where the artist's rendering above inexplicably chose to depict the scene). But even setting aside the ugliness of soccer being played in a two-thirds-empty stadium, it'll be a logistical and scheduling nightmare. MLS season overlaps with MLB's, and officials estimate it'll take about three days to convert the stadium from baseball to soccer and vice versa.
Sites in Queens and the Bronx for a soccer-specific stadium have been floated, but found little support. No one's happy with this arrangement, especially not the Yankees, who own 20 percent of NYCFC. (Manchester City's owners control the rest.) Yankees President Randy Levine had this to say at yesterday's press conference:
"This is here, until there's another venue," Levine said. "The Yankees are the primary tenant. The schedule revolves around the Yankees. There's no timetable. There's been dialogue, we're looking at sites. If not New York City, then other sites. I never rule out anything. But I'm one voice."
This is tame, as far as "build it or we're peaceing out to Westchester" threats go. But the main selling point of the franchise has always been that New York City would finally, geographically and spiritually, have a team of its own, contrasted with the Red Bulls in nearby-but-minimally-convenient Harrison, N.J. That's why the first "C" is in the name. (That and brand synergy with Man City.)
Levine's comments are more significant because they represent something unique and pernicious in MLS's new expansion strategy. Rather than require cities to have soccer-specific stadiums before being granted teams, it now works the other way around. Of the four teams in this round of MLS expansion, Atlanta (the new Falcons stadium), NYCFC (Yankee Stadium), and Miami (???) are being birthed with only vague promises of homes to call their own.
It's brilliant, really. It's a lot harder for owners to obtain hundreds of millions in subsidies and tax breaks for a stadium when the team in question is purely theoretical. But give a city an actual team to love and cherish and call their own, and then threaten to move them beyond the city limits? When you've already got the carrot, the stick stings worse.