Empire XI: MLS Expansion A Tale of Two Brands

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BY CHRISTIAN ARAOS
Staff Writer

It is a Tale of Two Cities; a tale of two expansion teams and two expansion models united by the same concept: branding.

Miami and Orlando will likely both be home to MLS teams in the future, but the power of their branding and how it is used to get there bears as much importance as other criteria used when evaluating potential expansion teams in the league.

Orlando City’s brand is not totally organic, but it does provide the impetus for the idea it is selling. The team–only created in 2010 when Phil Rawlins bought the Austin Aztecs and moved them–built its following through its short, but successful, stint in USL Pro. The team has won two USL Championships in three years and has seen attendance figures increase each year.

The main words you will hear — and probably already have heard — are ‘building into something.’ The idea is that Orlando’s success now will continue to gather momentum like a snowball rolling down a hill. Of course, Orlando’s path is one already frequented by several teams, most notably the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers.

That idea of building a team and building a brand is something Orlando City is already playing up as evidenced by their infamous #BuiltNotBought tweet. Although the idea for Orlando is hilariously based on a falsehood, it still resonates amongst Orlando City’s, the Sounders, the Timbers and even the New York Cosmos’ fanbase. Each team and its fans have a hipsterish belief about them involving their grassroots efforts to build a team from the lower leagues, join MLS and enjoy being the apple of everyone’s eyes.

While this is the more successful and ‘nobel’ model, it is also a model that is becoming dated. If the Cosmos ever join MLS, they would likely be the last of these teams to follow this path to the league. While the Cosmos are a potential exception, the other teams mentioned all come from television markets outside the Top 10. They are in a small enough city to build themselves up and attract enough attention from the local media and populous to allow teams to gain a foothold and grow from there.

In essence, these teams are the provincial teams of Europe. They are able to sustain themselves on building a local following that is solid enough for them to be successful but with limited growth.

That is where Miami and New York City FC come into play.

While Miami is not a Top 10 television market, it is a big enough city to house an MLS team, differentiating them from Orlando or any of the smaller teams currently playing in the league. And, well, New York is New York. Both of these cities are not suited for the organic model of expansion. Instead, they can thrive from what amounts to the ‘bought’ model of expansion.

The main reason why a team cannot be ‘built’ in Miami is impatience. There are simply better things to do than to watch a team build itself into a contender. Fans will want to watch a contender but not a hopeful contender. That’s why Miami fans and Southern fans unfairly get a bad rap; they simply have more options to spend their money than on a team who may or may not eventually be good.

Where does that leave the expansion team in Miami? As a destination team. What better person to market a destination team than David Beckham; one of the most recognized soccer players in the world. Beckham and the brand he created as part of being a world-class player/fashion icon/one-half of a globally recognized power-couple has the appeal to attract big-name players and investors to his club. That is the primary route he will have to take in order to draw an audience and gain revenue.

In short, Beckham needs to create Miami Heat FC.

For NYCFC, the challenge is not an impatient fanbase, but a diluted and untapped one. The Cosmos are not big enough to gain a foothold in New York City and the Red Bull fans will take pride in their New Jersey roots — so long as it provides solace for the team’s inability to become New York’s team. NYCFC can, in effect, win the Five Boroughs. But the Five Boroughs provide a unique challenge for the team in that the diversity market they target is already married to the game elsewhere. The same immigrant communities that NYCFC, the Red Bulls and Cosmos all believe would want to watch local soccer watch soccer from their native lands.

While the foreign leagues present a challenge to NYCFC, the market that exists is perfect for an established brand like City to tap into. Manchester City have rapidly become a globally known club with intentions now on sustaining the growth it has achieved. In New York it can achieve both. NYCFC is a destination club with enough local talent to be very successful in MLS. The City brand helps in this effect because it’s effectively training wheels for NYCFC.

Now before you turn that into a mock chant, do note that the more assistance a club has in its nascent stages, the better which helps keep the team from burning out.

Empire XI

1. Timmy Chandler tore his meniscus during FC Nurnberg’s 2–0 loss to Bayern Munich on Saturday and is expected to be out 8-10 weeks. That rules him out of the USMNT’s friendly against Ukraine and, since the proposed US-Mexico friendly is not on a FIFA date, likely unable to feature for the US before the time comes on May 13 to name a preliminary roster for the World Cup.

2. Despite his injury, it would be worth the risk for Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann to name Chandler on that provisional roster. Barring any setbacks, Chandler would be fully fit and able to play in as many as six games before the end of the season on May 10. If he plays just as well as he did before his injury, then why not call him up? It’s not like the US has an abundance of options at right back.

3. The main answer would be integration. Chandler has not played for the national team since last February and may be out of sync with the rest of the defense. Also, there is a working theory that Chandler was a key figure in the US’ squad issues as reported by Brian Straus last March. Of course, this theory has not been proven or disproven but it is a theory that exists backed up by the fact that Chandler has not been called in to the national team since that game and that report. Reality is, Chandler was either out-of-form or injured.

4. After playing 120 minutes in Fulham’s 1–0 loss to Sheffield United last Wednesday, Clint Dempsey was not included in the 18-man roster for Fulham’s 2–2 draw with Manchester United on Sunday. Don’t read into this too much. Dempsey was one of several Fulham players, including captain Brede Hangeland to have been rotated out of the matchday roster by Manager Rene Meulensteen. He should be involved for their next game at home against Liverpool this Wednesday, if it gets played.

5. Julio Cesar’s loan to Toronto FC still remains unfinalized for the moment. The Queens Park Rangers and Brazilian number one needs the playing time but Toronto FC need to make sure the finances are in line. Toronto is already looking to offload Mattias Laba just to return to their maximum of three designated players (Gilberto, Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe). Obviously, none of those three players are leaving Toronto either so it is up to TFC and QPR to work out an agreement on how much of Cesar’s wages will TFC play.

6. Before conspiracy theories arise, note that this is normal practice around the world. Some loans are done for free (like this one) and some have both the loaner club and loanee club paying a portion of the player’s wages (like this one). It’s the same manner of business that allows for lower league clubs to be able to bring on a couple of top-flight players while not bankrupting themselves.

7. Toronto’s DP solution will be solved in the next few months and it is not completely connected to the Cesar loan. Toronto’s International spot allocation was filled up until last Friday when the club and Jonas Elmer mutually agreed to terminate Elmer’s contract. Elmer only made three appearances with the club after joining from Swiss Second Division side FC Winterthur last August.

8. If and when this signing is finalized, Toronto is going to be as competitive as any team in the Eastern Conference. However, we are all well-aware that talent does not generate success. The onus is on Head Coach Ryan Nelson to get the most out of a team capable of doing a lot which puts a distortion on Nelson as a coach. If the team is successful, it will be because of the players. If the team is not, it will be because of Nelson. It’s untenable position to be in and one where the most likely conclusions made are subjective.

9. When it became public that NYCFC would take four Manchester City players on loan, the conspiracy theory arose that this will be the beginning of City, with the help of MLS, rewriting the game and therefore dominating it. That won’t be the case. Head Coach Jason Kreis said he is looking more at younger players to take on loan than their more established, veteran counterpoints. It is likely that these players would not be designated players considering NYCFC previously stating its intentions to use the DP spots for bigger signings. This combination will likely take up seven of NYCFC’s eight initial international spots. Now add to that the fact that other top-flight teams will always have interest in Manchester City’s young players and it is very probable that NYCFC will not see the best young talent Manchester City has to offer making this partnership more about building roster depth at NYCFC than anything else.

10. It would be exceptionist to claim that City are somehow enjoying an unfair advantage by using this partnership. Consider that four other MLS teams, New York Red Bulls, DC United, Colorado Rapids and Chivas USA, have a principle or minority owner that owns a stake in a second soccer team outside of MLS. Of those four, only Chivas USA have actively attempted to create a formal partnership between the clubs owned. Say what you will about Chivas USA but the point remains: creating a partnership between the various clubs that an owner has is simply good business.

11. The only caveat to the partnership idea–and it is not a caveat that applies only to the Manchester City/NYCFC roster partnership–is the salary. As mentioned above, it is common for teams to split the wage bill on a player or have either loaner or loanee club pay the total salary. The question that will need to be addressed is how will a loan player’s salary be viewed in regards to MLS salary rules. It is a little bit of a stretch to develop a theory in which Manchester City could circumvent salary rules but the matter is something that could be clarified by the league once the bridge is reached.


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  • Kevin

    “Red bull fans will take pride in their New Jersey roots- so long is it provides solace for the tram’s inability to become new york’s team.” -Araos
    There are millions of people IN New Jersey who don’t care about being new york’s anything. And with a diluted fan base within New York, red bull would do well to acknowledge that untapped demographic.

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