Brad Sims: “We’re working on alternate venues, which is nothing new to us.” (Photo courtesy of NYCFC)
By Michael Lewis
Whither New York City FC?
Let’s assume the MLS Is Back Tournament is a success without many more COVID-19 casualties like FC Dallas, which pulled out of the competition Monday.
Let’s assume the pandemic isn’t running wild through the United States.
And let’s assume that Major League Soccer decides to put together a much smaller season than expected after the tourney is completed on Aug. 11.
So, where does NYCFC play its home games?
The team calls Yankee Stadium home, when the Yankees are on the road.
Taking a good look at the Yankees’ truncated 60-game season, there doesn’t seem to be much room for NYCFC to play multiple games at the stadium when the baseball team is on a long road trip.
In fact, if MLS has to play without any crowds, would it be wise, from a financial, aesthetic and soccer standpoints to play at the ballpark.?
After all, the MLS Is Back tournament is being held at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla. without any fans. Since the games will be televised on ESPN and FOX platforms, teams don’t need fancy stadiums or fields. A pitch with decent advertising (hey, someone has to find a way to pay the bills) and the right size (which would be a huge improvement over Yankee Stadium) would be a giant outside TV studio.
In fact, NYCFC president Brad Sims said Monday that the team is exploring the possibility of playing its home games for the rest of the 2020 season in stadiums in the metropolitan area.
“We’re working on alternate venues, which is nothing new to us,” Sims said during a video conference call. “We’re getting a lot of experience in that space since I’ve been here. So, were working through that, a lot of moving parts in terms what will be able to have fans? If we are, what percent capacity would be allowed. That’s really a situation that is determined by local government authorities. So a lot of moving parts. We’re going through the process. We’re vetting out numerous venue options, trying to work with MLS.”
NYCFC has played playoff games at CitiField, home of the Mets, Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup matches at Fordham University.
“The league has been supportive of some of those initial thoughts, which I was pleased to hear,” he added later. “They’re getting creative. The stuff in Orlando, Wide Sport of Sports, is 17 pitches. So they’re creating virtual stadiums.”
Sims said he was anxious to see how game looks when Orlando City and Inter Miami kick off the tournament on Wednesday, before NYCFC plays its first match on Thursday at 9 a.m.
“Our thought was, ‘Hey, is there is something that makes sense for us to replicate that kind of situation in New York in our market? That may make sense, especially in a scenario where we are not allowed to have fans at games,” he said. “That might make a lot of sense. That then increased the potential number of venue options if you look at through that lens, whereas before where you can only look at it through who has infrastructure, who can hold x amount of fans, who has the broadcast positions a certain way.
“Now, the whole league is forced to look at how we do things differently and get more innovative. So that may give us more options that we wouldn’t have had in other seasons. More to come on that. We’re still kind of exploring it. We have to move quickly. If we’re playing in a championship game on Aug. 11 and we’re coming back to market soon after that, that’s only five, six weeks from now. We have to move quickly. I’ve got a team that is just 100 percent of the time on this one topic.”
Sims did not say which venues in the metropolitan area would be available if the club choose to play there, adding that the team did not receive any specific dates as to when the regular season would resume.
“There’s still a lot of things they’re working through and very challenging from a scheduling standpoint,” he said. “I don’t envy the schedule maker at MLS. Mostly me and all my counterparts are calling him all the time, tipping his ear with all sorts of things.”
The club president reminded the media there were outside factors as well — FIFA playing dates (September has been cancelled, but October still might be on, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the Concacaf Champions League and other confederation competitions.
“So, there’s a lot of question marks and it’s very fluid,” he added.