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Brad Sims: NYCFC will be the undisputed flagship team of MLS

The President and CEO of NYCFC talks about building a Cathedral of Soccer in Queens and what it will take to turn New York City in to a Big Club. Plus: Long-term plans for a new training campus, a stadium for NYCFC II, and a women’s team

He’s made good on his promises.
Photograph courtesy

Hudson River Blue spoke with New York City FC President and CEO Brad Sims at the club’s headquarters on the 30th floor of an office tower in Midtown Manhattan on February 28, 2023, but because of technical issues, this post is being published only today.

The conversation with Sims was a roundtable conducted with other journalists, and we’ve excerpted portions of the interview here. Please note that the responses have been edited for clarity.

Brad Sims on where NYCFC fits in the world of professional sports in New York City, and where soccer fits in the United States:

It’s the age-old question just about soccer in this country. How do we raise its profile? It’s not just NYCFC. How do we collectively raise the profile of the sport in this country? To me, it’s long-term, aspirational. We have a mission statement at the club here, it’s to build New York City into one of the soccer capitals of the world.

It’s not going to happen next year. It’s aspirational. I have introduced something that’s more of a short-term goal of the club that I think is very reasonable and attainable, and that’s to build NYCFC into the undisputed flagship team of Major League Soccer.

On building a stadium that will be a Cathedral of Soccer:

I think the stadium we build in New York City, within the Five Boroughs of New York City in Queens, is going to be a destination spot for the biggest clubs in over the world. When they come to the US they want to play in New York, and they want to play in a proper stadium. They can play in an NFL stadium, or in a baseball stadium, but if they want to play in a proper stadium, if you’re Barcelona, you’re Madrid, you’re Juventus, you’re Bayern, you’re Man City, and you want to play in a real soccer stadium in New York City, you’re going to want to play in our stadium. US Men’s National Team, US Women’s National Team, friendlies, competitive games, World Cup Qualifying, all of those kinds of games, we think we’re going to be the biggest and most attractive market.

That helps build New York City into one of the soccer capitals of the world by having a Cathedral of Soccer in the Five Boroughs.

On NYCFC becoming a Big Club:

The difference between owning and running your own facility and being a tenant – and this is from spending 15-plus years in the NBA – is night and day. There’s a difference with the control of the revenues, the ability to sell sponsorships, the food and beverage. It’s mostly revenue. We will be paying rent to the City, instead of to the Yankees or the Mets, and we’ll take on a lot more operational components in-house, but the revenues are drastic. Drastic.

That’s one piece of how you make a club big, you have a home.

You get one chance to launch a club, and you get one or maybe two chances over a long period of time to launch a building. It’s a chance for almost a rebrand, a relaunch of the entire franchise, who we are, what we’re about.

There are things we’ll be able to do in the news stadium that we can’t do now. Like fan rituals, pre-game things that we aren’t allowed to do, or we don’t have the space to set up. The fan experience will be so much better. Fans, I think, will be excited about coming to a Cathedral of Soccer in the Five Boroughs in New York City.

The draw right now to come to our games is to watch soccer. The draw at the new stadium will be going to be great soccer and having an unimagined and unrivaled fan experience in a Cathedral of Soccer in the City.

We’re looking at a capacity of 25,000, and so we’re expecting it to be jam-packed. How does that make us a Big Club? I don’t think it’s how many fans you have there, it’s what you feel when you’re there.

On Forbes valuing NYCFC at $800 million while reporting an operational loss of $11 million in 2022:

I know they say we lose money, but I think the article also shows that most teams do, and I think that’s OK. It’s a growth sport.

When I was working in NBA, I was in the league office as recently as 11 or 12 years ago, before a radical change in the collective bargaining agreement and before a massive change in the broadcast landscape. Two-thirds to three-quarters of NBA teams lost money.

You look at the trajectory that soccer is on in this country and where it’s going. Ownership is investing in the league. They’re playing the long game and that’s hugely important, because if we had owners who were not thinking long-term then I would question the ability to reach the heights and the dreams of the clubs. Everyone is playing the long game, they believe in the sport, and that’s why you see the valuations where they are. How can you have a team that loses $11 million be worth $800 million? It’s because of where it’s going, and betting on the future.

On the partnership between MLS and Apple TV:

I’m super-bullish on it. I watched the replay of our game just to watch the broadcast quality and I was super impressed. It lives up to Apple standards. It was slick, crisp, great broadcast quality.

I think it was widely reported that there were minimum requirements of teams from a content creation standpoint, which may have annoyed or frustrated some teams. To me, it was more like a kick in the pants.

Sports teams are now media companies, they’re content companies. Only 1% of fans that we have in our ecosystem that follow us on social media actually attend our games. The other 99% consume in other ways. They consume us on our social media channels, they consume us on our website, they consume us on our app, they consume you guys [the media] on podcasts and on the articles that are written and the analytics you guys are doing, that’s how the other 99% are consuming NYCFC. We need to lean into that. It’s a commercial opportunity to lean into that. The more content you can create, the more sticky your content is, the more people are staying on your channels they’re getting sponsor messages and we’re able to monetize that better. It all works symbiotically.

On building a new training campus for NYCFC, a stadium for NYCFC II, and launching a women’s team:

Obviously, building the stadium in Queens is priority number one, two, three, four. We have a process to go through. We’re not formally approved as everyone knows. We have a 12-18 month process, we’re looking forward to meaningful dialogues with community leaders, community boards, borough boards, and we’re so fortunate to have such great support from Mayor Adams, and Councilmember Moya, and Borough President Richards, and the list goes on and on.

But that’s not the only building we want to do, the only growing we want to do as a club. We talk about how we haven’t had a home for our first team, but we also have a second team that started to play last year in MLS NEXT Pro and we feel like we have a temporary home at St John’s – we have great partners at St John’s, we love the relationship we have there. There’s also the current home of our Academy.

We endeavor to have a campus where you can have a First Team, a Second Team, and an Academy all under the same roof. I won’t put a timeline on it because first and foremost is the stadium approval and moving forward with that, but something I think we need to elevate the club to the next level is having the right facilities from a player development standpoint.

We have a great facility in Orangeburg now for our Academy that was built in 2018, but it was built for one team. There’s one locker room, there are one-and-one-half pitches, everything there’s one of because it’s built for one team. We really need a space to be built for our First Team, Second Team, and all of our Academy teams together.

Another thing is women’s football. We’re bullish on women’s football, and we’ve been bullish on women’s football. We have one of the best women’s football teams in the world from a City Football Group standpoint with Manchester City Women, our team in Girona has a women’s team, Melbourne has a women’s team, Montevideo has a women’s team, and I’m probably missing some others. It’s something that’s core to who we are as a company. It’s something that we want, that we plan to have.

We also need to figure out what the long-term plan is for NYCFC II to play. I want them to be a commercially viable, stand-alone, marketable entity with a name that’s not NYCFC II, that is its own brand, which means playing somewhere in a facility that is appropriate for that level of play, 2,500 to 7,000 seats depending on that market, somewhere nearby but probably not in Queens if we have our First Team in Queens.

For women’s, I think there’s the demand for women to play in our big stadium. But to be able to do that you have to do it right you have to launch the team right. You have to give yourself the proper runway to sell and monetize, and to my standpoint there’s a level of urgency to figure that out. There’s a lot of stuff going on. We have to figure out the stadium for the first team. We have to figure out the stadium for the second team. We have figure out a training facility for everybody and a permanent home for our Academy. We have to figure out women’s football.

Everybody thinks that there’s just one thing, that we all have our eyes on the prize of the stadium, but there’s a lot more to come to ultimately fulfill the promise of New York City Football Club, and what we will be five years, eight years, ten years from now.