Leaked Emails Reveal CFG Doubts, Strategies on Stadium

flushing meadow

NYCFC logoA cache of email exchanges among members of the City Football Group reveal their doubts and strategies in the weeks ahead of the team’s launch in May 2013.

The emails are part of a trove of messages belonging to the United Arab Emirates‘ Ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, were released by the hacker collective GlobalLeaks in early June. According to one of the emails, Al Otaiba offers his office’s assistance to CFG as it weighs whether to pursue building a stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Al Otaiba previously confirmed to news outlets that the emails released by the collective were his.

The emails released show a discussion among Al Otaiba and the CFG board members Martin Edelman, Simon Pearce and Ferran Soriano in May 2013 over whether picking up the effort to build a stadium in the park was the best option for the club. Pearce explains that there was mounting opposition to the effort to use parkland for a stadium and that opposition was beginning to focus on the team’s ties to Abu Dhabi, which he said would jeopardize the reputation of the Emirate and the UAE.

Pearce said in a subsequent email that Soriano was aware of the political challenges that would come with attempting to use parkland for a stadium during an election year. Soriano said it would be best for the team to spend “3+ years” playing in a rented facility before pushing to build a stadium. Al Otaiba agreed acknowledging that the “fastest and safest approach” was necessary.

Also included in the emails was a full set of discussion points weighing the pros and cons of launching a franchise and pushing for the stadium at Flushing Meadows. Pearce acknowledges that the UAE’s views on sexual orientation, women’s rights and Israel could be problematic. He adds that ownership was already under growing scrutiny and becoming more known for its politics than their roles with CFG. In addition, Pearce is critical of Major League Soccer for showing “disappointing” amounts of “political capacity/competence/proactivity” during the stadium push. He also points out the disorganized support for the stadium and opposition to the project from the United States Tennis Association and New York Mets.

Pearce ultimately lays out four options for CFG: Commit to buying into MLS and pursuing a stadium at Flushing Meadows, which he said would have brought sustained attacks on ownership that would have distracted from the team; buy in to MLS and reconsider a stadium site while mothballing the proposal for Flushing Meadows and allow the club to build a presence in New York City; a suspended purchase that would put the onus back on MLS for pursuing a stadium, but delay CFG’s overall plans; or to walk away from the project altogether.

Before NYCFC joined the league, MLS, on its own announced plans to build a stadium in the park, hoping to lay the groundwork for the City Group to join the league. But met with opposition it eventually dropped the effort.

CFG ultimately decided on buying into the league and setting up an agreement with the New York Yankees. As NYCFC’s third season of play continues, the club has established a working relationship with the mayor’s office and a sizable presence in the City through community outreach and marketing. Their stadium pursuit continues.

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