New York is skillfully demonstrating how not to launch a new soccer team

Too good for America?
Too good for America?
Image: Reuters/Darren Staples
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New York City FC was supposed to be a new chapter for soccer in the US, and New York in particular—a powerhouse new Major League Soccer club owned by Manchester City and the New York Yankees that could give soccer in the US that glamour it’s been missing. Since it was announced last year, expectations have been raised further by NYCFC signing up Chelsea legend Frank Lampard and Spanish striker David Villa to help lead the new team.

Since August, Lampard has been playing for Manchester City, supposedly on loan from his new club (we’ll get to that in a minute) through Dec. 31, and then he would begin a pre-season in the Big Apple. On New Year’s Eve, though, NYCFC fans got deeply unwelcome news—Lampard will now extend his time at Man City to the end of the English season, meaning he will miss half of the debut season of his new club.

Just how angry are New York soccer fans? Very angry. 

Especially the 11,000 who already have signed up to be NYCFC debut-season ticket holders at Yankee Stadium. When NYCFC wished its Facebook fans a happy new year, almost all the replies concerned the lack of Lampard. Patrick Fin wrote: “Who do I speak with regarding a refund on 3 season tickets? Fraud in Factum.” Another commented: “Lol NYCFC you guys lost probably more than 50% of your fans now that lampard resigned.”

Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl said that NYCFC “might as well buy signs around Gotham showing Lampard, Man City chief executive Ferran Soriano and Man City owner Sheikh Mansour flipping the bird to New Yorkers.” The dismay also was making the rounds on Twitter this morning.

The Third Rail, the 1,500-member NYCFC independent supporters group—exactly the kind of people you need to grow a sports team that doesn’t yet exist—quickly denounced the move and said many fans were showing up for Lampard. “We support any course of action they take to voice their discontent over this decision,” it added.

The backlash will include a lot of lost revenue—some shops already are offering refunds for replica Lampard kits sold—and a lot of lost goodwill from nascent American soccer fans. It also will add to the feeling that the biggest foreign stars in the MLS would still rather be somewhere else. Essentially, the team’s owners are saying Lampard, at the age of 36, has turned out to be too good to be sent to the US.

In another bizarre twist, while Man City said at the time that Lampard’s move was a loan from NYCFC, it turns out that Lampard signed a short-term deal directly with Man City. (The original announcement on Man City’s website of the “loan” has been removed.)

So despite being marketed as such, Lampard never was a NYCFC player. And now NYCFC doesn’t even know when he will start playing for them.

Suddenly and swiftly, New York soccer fans have just learnt what it feels like to be at bottom of the food chain. As one wag points out: “In order for Lampard to play MLS season opener Man City would have to loan him to NYCFC.”