Major League Soccer had grown from ten teams in 2004 to nineteen in 2012 before not adding a new franchise to the league for the first time since that growth period began. With an uneven number of teams and a rapidly growing market for soccer in the United States, the league is now all but set to enter the largest city in the United States.
Commissioner Don Garber and the league are hoping to have a tentative deal done within four to six weeks to add an expansion team into the New York borough of Queens, according to the Associated Press. A new three-hundred million dollar stadium would be constructed in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, located near Citi Field, home of the New York Mets of Major League Baseball. The stadium would be completely financed by the league, which operates under a single-entity structure. An expansion fee of one hundred million dollars would be paid by the prospective owner of the franchise, making for a net expenditure of just over ten-and-a-half million dollars per existing franchise.
While the New York Cosmos brand brings with it much fanfare and history, they will likely not be the team joining the league after the revived club opted to join the Division II North American Soccer League. It was reported over the off-season that the owners of Manchester City FC of the Barclays Premier League were the front-runners to acquire the new franchise. The league has already experimented with having a team owned by and branded after a larger club with Chivas USA playing in suburban Los Angeles to little avail, though the struggles of the Chivas USA franchise are due more to poor ownership and a lack of appeal to fans of Mexican teams besides the Chivas. Neither of these should be a problem should Manchester City get the rights to New York City FC as they would name it, for the Manchester City ownership group has shown a strong willingness to spend large sums of money to make the team competitive and the name “City” is generic enough that it would not come off as a marketing ploy for the club from England.
In addition to the stadium and expansion fee, the potential deal would also entail an agreement with the New York Mets for use of Citi Field parking.
The most glaring issue would seem to be the affect the new rival would have on the New York Red Bulls fan base, attracting more fans from the city itself, leaving the Red Bulls with a competitive disadvantage in attracting fans. Fortunately, the league’s single entity structure solves this problem, for all teams equally split both profits and losses. So while it may hurt the Red Bulls at the gate, the side from Harrison, New Jersey would still be on approximately equal financial footing, while the long-term gains and the formation of a rivalry that comes from placing a franchise in the heart of New York City outweigh any lost growth potential the Red Bulls may experience.
The addition of the second New York franchise would likely not occur until the 2015 season, but when it does occur, it will almost certainly require a realignment in the league for it would create a scenario in which there are eleven Eastern Conference teams as opposed to just nine in the west. The simplest solution would be to simply move the Houston Dynamo back to the Western Conference, but with conference sizes reaching ten, the league will have to a make a decision about whether or not it wants to operate like an American sports league or a European soccer league with divisions to limit the number of teams placed with one another, or leaving it more wide open with just two tables (European leagues operate under just one). The New York expansion would provide a perfect time for the league to divide each conference in two based on closer geographic alignment, helping to spur regional rivalries and lessen travel.
Should the New York expansion be made official as expected, the league could be done expanded for a few years, though Orlando City is clearly next in line as of now and Miami is making a good push to make its return to the league after the contraction of both Florida franchises before the 2002 season.