With rivalries and derbies such a mainstay in the global game, the MLS chief is excited about the potential the two New York franchises can bring to the table when they meet.After 18 years, Major League Soccer's plan to have two teams in New York has come to fruition.
When expansion New York City FC begins play in 2015 as MLS' 20th team, it will provide a natural, close-proximity rival for the New York Red Bulls and give the league an inter-city rivalry in the major market that it has yearned for since the league's inception.
"From the league's perspective, this was a project that we have as part of the original business plan in 1996. There was always a goal to have two teams in New York," MLS commissioner Don Garber said on a conference call with reporters. "We've worked on and off on this project for the last 18 years. It was part of the original configuration, it was certainly something the Red Bulls were very aware of when they purchased the MetroStars from AEG."
"We will work very closely with [Red Bulls general manager Jerome de Bontin] and the rest of his club to have this rivalry be something that adds enormous value to what we're all trying to achieve in this market, which is more interest, more popularity, more fans and more excitement.
"I'm convinced, having seen what happens in the Pacific Northwest and having witnessed live what's happened in Manchester and other cities around the world, that this can turn into something that will be very valuable and very exciting for all."
As of now, the Red Bulls' chief regional rivals are D.C. United (and more recently the Philadelphia Union), and Garber is hoping that a true derby along the lines of what the LA Galaxy have with Chivas USA (and what Manchester City has with Manchester United) can take things to new heights.
"In the early days pre-Pacific Northwest teams, and pre-Philadelphia and pre-Canadian clubs, the most exciting games Major League Soccer had were the Superclasico between Chivas USA and the Galaxy," Garber said. "Those events were sold out, exciting, high television ratings, and cut through some of the clutter in LA.
"I know that [two teams in the same city] can work. We've got to ensure that we learn from some of the mistakes we've made in the past and put together the right team, right management group and right marketing and promotion philosophy, and I'm absolutely convinced we'll get this right."
Despite the presence of NYC FC threatening the Red Bulls' fan base and operation as a premiere destination for foreign talent, the Red Bulls issued a statement Tuesday welcoming the addition of a second New York franchise.
“We are supportive of MLS expansion, as it illustrates the growing interest of soccer in North America," de Bontin said in a team-issued statement. "We also want to congratulate MLS and the league’s new ownership group, which is injecting additional resources to help develop our sport across the country. Today’s announcement is one of many steps in the exciting and challenging process of building a competitive MLS club.
"Our club’s energy is focused on winning a championship for the league’s most loyal and passionate fans, many of whom have steadfastly backed this organization and MLS since its inception and come from all over the tri-state area. We are committed to continue to build an organization that is the flagship club for Major League Soccer around the world and a club that soccer fans across the region can be proud to support.”