The Hartford and the Belmont Dilemma

IMAGE, COSMOSSTADIUM.COM

NYCFC logoThe force of nature and the interests of the New York Yankees combined to force New York City FC to move a home game to Hartford, Conn., and it’s likely they will conspire again. It has made the need for a stadium more apparent than ever, but as the club considers the opportunity to bid on a plot of land near Belmont Park, it runs the risk of alienating its fans.

Architects and lobbyists associated with NYCFC visited the Belmont site Aug. 17 and the club has until Sept. 28 to submit a bid to the Empire State Development Corporation. The plot of land is one of the largest and cheapest available to the club but comes with a caveat: it’s outside New York City limits. Some at the club and within the fanbase dismiss this concern, but to others it’s more than semantics and inconvenient geography, but one of logistics and identity.

Should NYCFC bid for and win the right to develop the two parcels of land south of Belmont Park, it will be closer to establishing a permanent presence within the New York market independent from the Yankees and their interests. They would be able to vie for and host club and national team friendlies as well as World Cup qualifiers for the United States men’s and women’s national teams. Additionally, City Football Group can actively pursue fielding a National Women’s Soccer League franchise.

Much of these positives were uttered by the New York Cosmos when they submitted their bid to develop the same plot of land. They were unable to convince the ESD to move forward with their proposal prompting Erik Stover, the club’s chief operating officer, to lament corruption in Albany. Stover, broadly speaking, has a point and should City enter the RFP (request for proposal), it will have to navigate this process as well. A person familiar with the Cosmos’ bid, however, said that City is better suited to navigate this process and successfully land the state’s approval. The perks of being owned by the Yankees and Abu Dhabi.

According to the RFP, the state wants the land to be developed in a way that will couple well with Belmont Park and lead to the Long Island Railroad station to be used more regularly with sports and entertainment specifically mentioned. That has led to the New York Islanders, with the backing of the Oak View Group, to signal that it will submit a bid. Like NYCFC, the Islanders need an own arena because their stay at the Barclays Center is threatening their viability in the New York market. With the Barclays Center, Madison Square Garden, Prudential Center and Nassau Coliseum all within 20 miles of Belmont — arena fatigue is a factor. One, significant enough that it would open the door for NYCFC.

“It’s their’s if they want it,” the source said.

City has been tight-lipped about its stadium search throughout the process. Sporting director Claudio Reyna, who has no role in the process, has been the chief spokesman often delivering a different version of the same statement: Nothing to report. Club president Jon Patricof has recently taken up the reins but it’s been the same words coming from a different mouth. They will remain tight-lipped about whether they will submit a bid for Belmont or other venues citing a need to protect their chances of success.

But if City was to bid for Belmont, it would be known to all and the club would have to open itself up more to turn the fanbase into political clout. If only its fanbase were fully on board.

Stover and others described the site as the ideal for a large soccer stadium, but many New York City supporters disagree. Being outside the city limits makes the stadium accessible only by LIRR or car, a sticking point for fans living inside the city or whom aren’t served by the railroad and rely on the subway to get to games. Equally as important to them is that by playing outside of New York City, the New York City in New York City FC becomes meaningless.

The completion of the East Side Access project in 2023 will make it possible for individuals riding into Grand Central Terminal to transfer to the LIRR without needing to go to Penn Station, making a potential trip to Belmont easier for fans in Manhattan, the Bronx, Westchester and Connecticut. Still there are fans who would rather stay with the status quo at Yankee Stadium. That would, at the least, ensure City play within the five boroughs. For these fans, that detail has justified their support and will continue to do so.

When the move to Hartford was announced, City projected confidence that it would be able to manage the backlash it would receive and be successfully at drawing crowds for the game. Tickets for the Sept. 23 game against the Houston Dynamo went on sale on Wednesday, so we’ll know if that was the case soon. A successful day at the gate and the club would be more confident in its ability to draw support for any decisions it takes about where it plays.

Even if it means building a stadium at Belmont.

Notes

City will be without Mikey Lopez and Ethan White for the next month. The club said on Tuesday that Lopez sustained a foot sprain during Friday night’s game against the New York Red Bulls and is out three-to-four weeks. White left the game with an injured calf and tests showed that he is out four weeks. … As it stands, there are only 17 players available for next week’s game, including all three goalkeepers. Lopez, White, Ronald Matarrita and Maxime Chanot are injured. As is Miguel Camargo, who was already placed on the season-ending injury list. David Villa, Rodney Wallace, Alex Ring and Yangel Herrera are all on international duty. James Sands, if he is with the club, will likely be included in the game day squad out of necessity. … According reports from Slovenia, right back Andraz Struna is set to join NYCFC on trial. Struna spent the beginning of the year with Hearts in Scotland but opted against signing a new contract. He had pursued opportunities to sign with teams in Britain during the summer but was unable to secure a deal. Now he will reportedly sign a contract through the end of the season with NYCFC. The club has one international spot open.