New York City FC is Not a ‘Farm Team’

Contrary to common perception, NYCFC is not, in reality, a “farm team”, and City Football Group has plenty of incentive to make sure of that
by Nick Chavez   |   Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Yesterday, my friend and colleague Rafael Noboa y Rivera of SB Nation’s NYCFC-focused blog Hudson River Blue made the argument that NYCFC is definitively, and nothing more, than a Manchester City FC “farm team” or “developmental squad.”

I’d like to dedicate a couple words here to explain why I think that he is mistaken in this particular stance, and why these labels are inaccurate and far too simplistic. Some of Mr. Noboa’s most important premises from his piece linked above are quoted verbatim in italicized bold, and my rebuttals follow in normal print:

“New York City is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Manchester City.”

In fact, New York City FC and Manchester City FC are both wholly-owned subsidiaries of parent company City Football Group, which is owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan’s parent company Abu Dhabi United Group along with its new Chinese investors, as well as the New York Yankees minority stake in NYCFC. Since Manchester City does not equal City Football Group, that is factually not true.

“If you think that New York City is a team in its own right, able to make decisions utterly independent of CFG that benefit only itself, and not CFG or Manchester City, then you're just kidding yourself.”

CFG are NYCFC’s owners. Is there any club in the entire world that “makes decisions utterly independently” from its owners? CFG bought rights to the franchise, pays the bills, pays for the players, will pay for the future soccer-specific stadium, facilities, marketing, etc. It is their right to make the final decision regarding the operations of the clubs they own, whether people agree with them or not.

Are all, or even most, of CFG’s decisions made to benefit Manchester City? How much did paying Villa, Pirlo and Lampard the millions they pay these stars benefit Manchester City directly? Soriano himself already said NYCFC is losing money this year, spending more on players than there was revenue. How’s that benefit Manchester City? How much will spending 300-500 million dollars on a new soccer specific stadium in New York City help Man City? How much will spending the money they will be investing in building a state of the art training facility and expansive youth academies for New York City FC benefit Manchester City? The millions on marketing NYCFC (not Man City) in the NYC metro area (even going deep into Connecticut)? The millions they’ll be spending on players signings and salaries in the future?

For sure, some of these things can benefit Manchester City FC in several ways in the long run. But they clearly benefit NYCFC, MLS, as well as New York and US Soccer in general much more. Since both clubs are under the CFG umbrella, there is no reason why their operations shouldn’t be mutually-beneficial when possible. In the end, NYCFC and MLS will be getting the much better end of this deal.

“When I refer to New York City being a development squad on Twitter, that's what I'm talking about. That lack of independent agency.”

Again, CFG are NYCFC’s owners. No club front office or sporting department operates independently of its owners. Manchester City, Real Madrid, Chelsea and many other sports teams do not either.

“This is how (“farm team”) is defined in baseball:

In baseball, a "farm team" is a minor league team affiliated with a Major League Baseball (MLB) organization. Such minor league teams are under the control of the MLB organization through strict franchise rights.”

City Football Group is a global, international footballing operation that is “affiliated” with and operates within several distinct, top-flight (not “minor league”), professional leagues in England, the United States, Australia, Japan and now China. CFG also has training and scouting partnerships in Spain, Denmark, Ghana, Portugal, Ireland and the US. It is not run or owned by Manchester City.

Many of City Football Group’s professionals started in Manchester City and much of their operations and decision makers are based in their headquarters, and sometimes roles overlap. But as this very new and pioneering global project develops (only founded in 2014), it is unclear if even that will always be the case.

So, though certainly some of decisions will be made by those involved with Manchester City right now, it is incorrect to say that Manchester City itself reigns autonomous over all of CFG’s several sporting projects and that these teams are all, in fact, “farm teams.”

“New York City is a farm team.

They share a name (Manchester City/New York City). They share a sponsor (Etihad), colors (sky blue, navy, white), owner (CFG), players (Shay Facey, Angelino, Lampard). Heck, they even share coaches!”

“Manchester City” and “New York City” aren’t the same name, as everyone can plainly see. Using Mr. Noboa’s logic here, “Birmingham City”, “Stoke City”, “Orlando City” and “Sporting Kansas City” (and many more) also all “share” the same name.

NYCFC and Manchester City do share the sponsor Etihad, which makes sense since this company sponsors CFG, who pay the bills for both clubs.

When they “share” players - either by loan or outright signing - CFG pays the bills. Vieira is finishing up his job with Manchester City’s actual “developmental team”, the Elite Development Squad, with one eye on NYCFC until New York City begins being his sole focus beginning in January.

Being that these two clubs are owned by the same people, it makes sense that they would do business like that, especially as they seek to have a more unified, global identity in playing style and quality. And since all of CFG’s teams are clearly not yet at the same level quality-wise as Manchester City, they should all be striving to reach a similar standard of performance of the now perennial English Premier League Title contenders.

“Marwood said. "Like we do with all of our coaches, medical teams, scouting team, if you have good people you need to make sure you are developing them. They have to feel that there’s a future here for them.

"It was important for us that we could find the next development stage for Patrick and it was still as part of the group.”

CFG, like any other smart organization, wants to try to keep quality employees, employees they trust, in house and reward them for their good work.

Within their organization, they felt that Vieira would be an improvement upon Jason Kreis (a decision I disagreed with, but it is now done) at New York City FC, so they are giving him the opportunity to remain in their global organization, with a promotion to their “most important project” outside of world-renowned Manchester City itself.

CFG are giving their highly-esteemed manager the chance to coach first-team football in America’s top-flight, and try to develop “the City Way” (and, as Vieira indicated, overlook the development and expansion of NYCFC’s nascent academy system as well) in New York City.

Considering the vision of City Football Group, this all makes perfect sense and is, in theory, mutually beneficial to both clubs. CFG get to keep Patrick Vieira in their organization, and MLS and New York City get to have a manager that is considered by one of the biggest, wealthiest clubs in the world to have the real potential to be able to coach its first team one day. There are few jobs, if any, in football management more elite and desirable than that.

Any job is a “developmental stage” if the person has ambitions to move beyond his current position, and indeed does. And almost any coach and most players have ambitions of working in bigger leagues than MLS, since MLS is obviously a lower-tier league at the moment. However, Vieira coaching City is not guaranteed, and he will really need to prove himself with New York City FC if he truly wants to considered for any bigger job. If he doesn’t impress in MLS, why would any “bigger” Euro club be eager to give him an offer?

“CFG needs Vieira to learn how to manage a senior squad. They own a team that needs a manager. That team has no say in picking their own manager. By that light, how is New York City not a farm team? How is it not a development squad?”

CFG don’t need Vieira to do anything. They have Pellegrini, they can sign Guardiola, Mourinho, or any of the great coaches in the world if they really wanted to. If Vieira got abducted by Aliens, Manchester City would carry on just fine, though they’d probably be pretty sad about it.

Instead, CFG want Vieira to both develop professionally at NYCFC and they want NYCFC to benefit from his, in their eyes, considerable talents. It would be mutually beneficial, in their view. They might be right.

Now, to be sure, NYCFC is certainly serving a developmental function for CFG’s biggest club Man City in this case, and will likely sometimes function in that way in the future, especially when taking some EDS players on loan.

But, that doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, make NYCFC “nothing more than a ‘farm team’”, as was claimed by Mr. Noboa. NYCFC don’t just exist for Angelino, Facey, Johansen and Vieira (and others like them in the future). That’s just ridiculous. More on that later.

NYCFC may also benefitting from getting what may be a future EPL “Big Club” manager in MLS; A league in which someone like Vieira probably wouldn’t otherwise ever coach in the near future. Advantage NYCFC?

“New York City has to be a second banana to Manchester City. But, in time, (Some believe) that will change… MLS will therefore be an equal to the Premier League, and given New York City's pre-eminence in the world, CFG will have no choice but to push New York City ahead of Manchester City….

Ask yourself: how likely is that scenario? Be honest.

For starters, it assumes that CFG is looking 20, 30, 40 years into the future, and planning accordingly. No club does that.”

For one thing, CFG isn’t a “club”, it’s a global football organization investing in and running several clubs and academies. And Manchester City isn’t running all of these operations, CFG is.

When investing this kind of money (hundreds of millions which will eventually turn into billions), how could you not look forward 10-40 years and have a vision and strategy for this grandiose, ambitious project?

With the way that the popularity of this sport has grown Stateside, and how the younger generations have embraced the game in a passionate, grassroots manner never before seen, and the fact that this is, by far, the most popular and important sport in the world, how could this not weigh heavily on the Sheikh’s, Khaldoon’s and Soriano’s minds? How could they not make this massive effort, spend all of this money, and not try to see how far they can take it?

“What's CFG's incentive to treat New York City FC differently from Manchester City in the future, given the centrality of Manchester City FC to CFG?”

For me, this is a shocking thing to ask. CFG now own the only top-level franchise in New York City, playing the World’s game, in the World’s City. NYCFC is the only pro soccer team in a City of almost 9 million people, with a metro area population of over 20 million people. What incentive might they have to begin to put NYCFC in or near the same level as Manchester City, you ask!?

Well, if it’s all about dollars and cents, then there’s clearly a massive opportunity to make a lot of money. Soccer is growing in popularity every day. In 20 - 40 years, it is likely to be much more popular. In that time, MLS is also likely to be allowing to spend considerably more money, putting MLS up there competitively with the big 4 top Euro leagues, very potentially usurping some of them.

And you don’t need to get rid of the salary cap altogether, or implement promotion and relegation, or get rid of the playoffs to do that, by the way. In fact, none of those things are likely to happen. MLS just needs to be willing to spend comparably with the biggest leagues in the world, and MLS can certainly do that in the future as the game continues to grow and owners become further emboldened spend more. This is the United States of America and Canada. There are many big markets here and plenty of money to be made.

In short, CFG could have two (or more) massive clubs by then, instead of one, and all of the money that could make them. But it’s not all about dollars and cents. The Sheikh doesn’t need more money, and it’s clear that part of the reason he’s pumping so much money into CFG is because he’s a big fan of Football. And it’s apparent that his lieutenants Soriano and Khaldoon are also very passionate about the game, as well as most involved in CFG. It surely also would mean something to them to help establish and the build the team playing the most important sport in the world the most important City in the world. That would be some legacy.

It is stunning how many see Manchester City as the be-all-end-all of everything. Right now and probably for a while, yes, NYCFC will be second-fiddle to Manchester City in some ways, and part of that is because CFG are hamstrung by MLS’s strict rules. That said, I already demonstrated on Hudson River Blue how much CFG (and several other newer MLS owners) are pushing for more spending.

Why would CFG be pushing for more spending in MLS for a “farm team”? What’s the point? Why even build a new stadium in NYC? Why not just build a stadium in Westchester and let your coaches and players “develop” for the “mother club”, and why care who goes to watch them? Who cares how the team is viewed?

Why even bother attracting fans for “nothing but a farm team”? Why, in the world, would you spend $100 million on the franchise in the first place and look to be spending $300-500 million and more later on a new stadium, training facility, academy, DP’s, etc. and take on the massive political headache of trying to build all of that in New York City?

Why the hell bother doing all of that for “Nothing but a farm team” if you didn’t have big plans for it one day when MLS was ready to really compete with the big leagues? And why would a wealthy, ambitious, football-passionate organization like CFG only restrict themselves to having one great club when they can have two (or more)? That’s what makes no sense here.

This isn’t about “wishful thinking”. This is rational speculation about what football-loving businessmen looking to make money and leave an important legacy in the greatest City in the World might do with their considerable investment. They have plenty of incentive. Please.

“They didn't buy an MLS team in order to have that team supplant Manchester City; they did it in order to grab a valuable foothold in the American market.”

Nobody’s claiming CFG plans on having NYCFC “supplant” Man City, they would rarely face each other competitively besides a potential Club World Cup meeting. NYCFC don’t have to “supplant” Manchester City, and they’re part of the same family of clubs.

But, NYCFC and Manchester City could be two big clubs in two of the biggest leagues in the world one day. Why couldn’t they coexist? And why wouldn’t their mutual owner CFG want that? Big clubs are exciting and earn much more revenue than small clubs. Much more opportunity for big business and profit.

Are CFG the only football owners in the world not concerned with profits and earning revenue? Are they spending all of this money to have a club that remains at the current tier of MLS? It is nonsensical to assume that they would, in my opinion.

Via Twitter, Raf Noboa tweeted this on @HudsonRiverBlue, post-publication: NYCFC can't sign the players it wants to sign. It can't hire the coaches it wants. It can't hire the FO staff it wants. That's a farm team.”

NYCFC is hardly the first team that has overreaching owners or a board of directors that make personnel decisions the coach or players don’t agree with and frustrates the fans.

You need not look any further than the most successful club of all time, 10-Time European Champions Real Madrid. Successful Coach Vicente del Bosque was at odds with Club President Florentino Perez about bringing in David Beckham and selling Claude Makelele against del Bosque’s will, which led to his unceremonious departure. Perez did the same to Ancelotti when he decided to sell key player Di Maria, opting instead to make the splash purchase of the more marketable World Cup star James Rodriguez. He even fired the popular and successful Ancelotti against the players (including Cristiano’s!) wishes, further angering the players and fans.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich also forced Andriy Shevchenko on Mourinho against his wishes because the Russian owner was a fan of his and wanted him on his team. He also ended up being a massive, expensive flop at Chelsea.

So, these two huge clubs’ managers sometimes “couldn’t sign the players they want”, had players sold they didn’t want to sell, and coaches got fired and hired against popular will. And these aren’t the only teams in sports that this has happened to. Does that make them all “farm teams” too? Of course not.

What they have in common is that they are clubs with rich owners and administration that meddle too much in sporting affairs when they shouldn’t, often for marketing or vanity purposes.

Sometimes it ends up working out, sometimes it does not. While, I agree, this is usually not the best way to operate, it does not make these teams, nor NYCFC, “farm teams” to get unwanted signings and hirings because it's what the clubs’ owners wanted. This happens in sports, and CFG has the right to make these changes within the clubs they own, and the fans have the right to voice their displeasure if they disagree with the decisions.

My Final Thoughts:

So, denying that NYCFC is “a farm team” isn’t “wishful thinking”, nor irrational optimism. This is expecting the intelligent, visionary, football-passionate people running CFG to understand the golden opportunity they have here and the obvious potential New York City FC has to become a global powerhouse and iconic, profitable brand in world football, and for them to eventually capitalize on it.

All Major League Soccer has to do is considerably loosen the financial reins, and let CFG really flex as they’ve already proven they’re very willing to do. And I think eventually MLS will because it will one day be in its best interest to do so. Or MLS can spend the next 40-plus years of its existence only having a $4-8 million salary cap in a, by then, much more well-developed and globally-influenced soccer nation. What do you think is the more likely to happen?


Club Domestic:
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Real Madrid CF
This is the longest-running column focused on the only team representing the 5 Boroughs in world football: New York City FC. Long may its supporters continue to make history.