We’ve heard you. And we wanted to address the themes and questions that we have been hearing this past week as we’ve been in close communication with fans and supporters. Our CEO, Brad Sims, sat down to answer these below.
Q: Why are we playing home games at Red Bull Arena?
Let me start by saying that we understand and hear your frustrations. Trust me, we share in these frustrations and are disappointed not to be playing every home game at Yankee Stadium. I really want to emphasize that, as a Club, we always do everything we possibly can to have our games at Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, a number of factors have made this impossible; scheduling conflicts have never been more complicated. For the sake of transparency, I would like to go into more granular detail about the contributing factors:
1)There are many complexities that go along with sharing a Stadium – especially during COVID-19. The pandemic is impacting both the MLS and MLB schedules in 2021; as you are aware, the MLS pushed back the start of the season to mid-April, while MLB has added additional off-days in the middle of homestands to have room for potential COVID impacted makeup games (MLS has built-in makeup windows this year, as well). From a scheduling standpoint, the first thing we do is strike out the Yankees’ 81 home games. Because we need 2-3 days (dependent on start times) on both the front end and back end of a NYCFC match to convert to/from a soccer pitch and ensure proper cleaning around COVID protocols, we had to rule out an additional 72 potential dates. We also are required to omit the entire month of October, and in to early November, due to mandated MLB playoff holds. That was another 34 dates. So, in total, there were 187 days that were unavailable to schedule home games at Yankee Stadium in 2021.
2)Next up, we have dates that are blocked by MLS due to FIFA breaks during the season – this year the big one is June 4-15 for the Gold Cup. Unfortunately for us, one of the Yankees longest road trips of the year is June 7-17, and because of this break, we were unable to schedule any home games during that long Yankee break.
3)To make things more complex, this season MLS has standardized playing windows for all teams to avoid fixture congestion throughout the season – this change is an attempt to ensure that all teams have a more equitable amount of time to rest between matches. By “standardized windows” I mean we are given a template that shows that “Match #1 is Friday April 16 or Saturday, April 17 or Sunday, April 18. Match #2 is Saturday, April 24 or Sunday, April 25.” And so on to Match #34. 2 or 3 days per window. We took the very limited Yankee Stadium available dates and cross-referenced them with the windows dictated by MLS – along with dates blacked out on MLS schedule for FIFA breaks, Gold Cup, Olympics, U.S. Open Cup, etc. – which left us with only 9/34 possible dates to play home games at Yankee Stadium. We had to find another solution.
From a competitive standpoint, Red Bull Arena does check a number of the boxes that we require. We believe we’re best positioned to win games when we have consistency of player routine – including playing on certain days of the week and the same amount of rest between matches. Winning must always be the priority and as we certainly proved last season, we believe that our team can and will win matches at Red Bull Arena.
Q: Why not play at Citi Field?
We know that Citi Field is another venue that works for us and we have had great experiences when we’ve played there in the past. Similar to the exercise I shared above with Yankee Stadium, right off the bat, Citi Field was not available for 161 dates due to MLB schedule. Then, we have to strike all the MLS and FIFA holds AND we remove the dates that ARE available at Yankee Stadium (since if both are available we would play at YS) and that reduces the potential dates even further. When it was all said and done, Citi Field was not available for any of eight dates that we were scheduled for at Red Bull Arena. And as I said above, we also didn’t want to play in more than two home venues for competitive reasons. We are not ruling out playing games at Citi Field in the future, but it was not a viable option for this season.
Q: Is it possible that we’ll have to play future home games at Red Bull Arena?
Yes, this is a possibility. As I mentioned above, we are dealing with extremely challenging scheduling circumstances at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. There were at least 187 dates unavailable at Yankee Stadium for us this season. There were at least 161 dates unavailable at Citi Field for us this season. There were only 17 dates unavailable at Red Bull Arena for us. An additional challenge is early season and late season matches. We anticipate being regular participants in the CONCACAF Champions League in the years to come. As we saw in 2020, these matches traditionally start in February, when both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are still in the “winterization” process, and unavailable. And then October is going to be an issue going forward. Both the Yankees and Mets are planning to be perennial playoff teams and World Series contenders. We will not be able to schedule home games in October at Yankee Stadium or Citi Field. Red Bull Arena has proven to be a good venue for us. From a competitive standpoint, we have had success at RBA.
Q: Aren’t there other venue options for us to play in the NYC area?
Unfortunately no. We spent the better part of five months exploring dozens of alternate venue options in late 2019/early 2020 for the CCL. Ultimately it was made clear to us that the only viable alternative venue in the greater NYC area to Yankee Stadium or Citi Field is Red Bull Arena. Due to MLS and CONCACAF guidelines, as well as requirements by broadcast partners, we really only have three viable venues for any MLS or CONCACAF home games. Theoretically, we have some flexibility with US Open Cup matches (and we played one USOC home match at St. Johns’ Belson Stadium in 2020).
Q: OK, back to RBA and the 2021 season. As a City Member, I cannot (or will not) attend any ’21 home games at RBA. Will I be charged for games at Red Bull Arena?
Let me be clear for City Members… all of our 2021 home matches at Red Bull Arena will be optional for all of you. No money will be deducted from your account for games you choose not to attend. All RBA matches are opt-in only. Moreover, limited capacity home games at Yankee Stadium will also be fully optional for City Members. Because this is a very fluid situation and health and safety guidelines are changing rapidly, we will be going on-sale with tickets on a month by month basis. All City Members will be able to choose the games you want to go to, choose your seats and price point you want; you have full flexibility. If you choose to opt-in and attend a match as a City Member, you will be debited against the money you already have on your account – but of course, not be charged anything further.
Q: Can I get a refund for the 2021 season?
Our process will be that at the end of the 2021 season, if Members have leftover (unused) money on account, that total will be automatically rolled over and applied to the 2022 season. At that point in the year, Members may instead choose to opt out of the 2022 season Membership and receive a refund for any unused funds on your account.
Q: Could any matches this season move back to Yankee Stadium?
Yes! The games scheduled for Red Bull Arena on Saturday, October 23 and Wednesday, October 27 could revert back to Yankee Stadium pending the postseason MLB schedule. While we consider the venues for these matches to be TBD, we announced them at RBA to provide as much transparency as possible and because we are certain RBA is available for these respective dates.
Q: For playoffs, will we be able to host home games at Yankee Stadium?
Yes! Any home playoff games will be in the South Bronx at Yankee Stadium. We are also excited to be hosting our Decision Day match at home in Yankee Stadium this year (Sunday, November 7th at 3:30pm vs. Philadelphia).
Q: Great news that we are back in an international competition this year with the Leagues Cup – where will those games be played?
We believe these matches (Quarterfinal week of August 9th, potential Semifinal week of September 13th) will be played at Yankee Stadium and we hope to be able to confirm this soon. The Leagues Cup is a tournament managed by MLS and Liga MX and we are working through final details with them right now. We’re really excited to play in this tournament and take part in an international competition for the second year in a row. Its where this Club and our fans deserve to be.
I think it’s important to note that even though our initial schedule release shows nine home games at Yankee Stadium and eight at Red Bull Arena, we will likely play at least one additional, and hopefully two, Leagues Cup match at Yankee Stadium. This would make the split 10/8 or 11/8. If we’re able to move the late October matches back to Yankee Stadium, we could be looking at a 12/6 or 13/6 split. Then when you add in potential home MLS playoff matches at Yankee Stadium, we could end up with as much as a 16/6 split in favor of home matches in the South Bronx.
Q: We really need our own Stadium – what’s the latest?
As we have always said about our Stadium project, we must ensure support from our community boards, community leaders, and local elected officials – and working with them to ensure that the project aligns with their goals and expectations is priority one. Without it, we will not be able to successfully move our project forward. We want to provide more clarity and manage expectations:
- The timing will be dictated by the public approval process. Once we have fully assembled the necessary parcels of land that process can begin.
- COVID did slow down the work to secure land, but that process has picked up significantly. More steps to go, but it is moving again in the right direction.
- Out of all the MLS Clubs, we operate in the most complex real estate environment in the country; things like land assembly and public approval process are far more complicated in NYC than any other MLS Club has ever had to deal with.
- Despite all of the obvious challenges we’ve faced and continue to face, City Football Group and NYCFC is fully committed to building and investing in NYC. NYCFC will ultimately spend significantly more for our Stadium than any other MLS ownership group has for theirs.
- From the time we enter the public approval process, we are plus or minus four years out from that point to Stadium opening, if everything goes as we hope.
Q: How do I get tickets for the home opener on April 24th at Yankee Stadium?
Next week, all City Members will receive an email from our COO/Chief Commercial Officer, Matt Goodman, with all the details for getting tickets to this match – including detailed videos and instructions on how to select your seats. City Members will get first priority through an exclusive Member Seat Selection from April 7-8. If any seats remain after this offer for City Members, we will go on-sale with tickets for the general fanbase on April 9th.
Q: What will games at Yankee Stadium look like this year? How many fans in attendance?
We’re really excited to have fans back in the building again, it’s going to make a huge difference for our team. At the moment we’re working closely with the Yankees and local government and health organizations. Obviously this is a situation that is constantly involving – thankfully for the better – and there is a real sense of optimism around the ability to safely return to live sport and major events. Yankee Stadium has been approved for 20% capacity for all events in April, including for our home opener on April 24th. We will send further details around this when we have the exact information, but fans in attendance for this first game will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours prior to kick off to be admitted into the Stadium. However, we certainly expect this situation to evolve throughout the season and will communicate any updates to you as soon as we have them.
One thing we are really committed to, is providing the same amazing NYCFC match day experience starting from the moment you arrive at the Stadium. Initially, attending a sporting event may be a little different than we have experienced in the past, but there is no reason it should be any less fun. I’m sure many of you, like me, can’t wait to be back in a Stadium again, cheering on our team alongside fellow NYCFC fans.
Q: It seems like the number of season ticket holders is decreasing – is this true?
The short answer to this is no; we are projecting to have a higher City Member base in 2021 than we did in 2019. To be fair, we are certainly down from where we were in our Inaugural Year in 2015. But we have started to turn the corner the past two years on our road to growing our base back up. To be transparent – and granular for a moment – we had 85% of our City Members renew from 2019 to 2020 and 93% of City Members elected to rollover and renew from 2020 to 2021. This is the most important driver of growing the overall fan base – keeping the Members that we have. And we couldn’t be more proud of the amazing support and loyalty from our City Members – it’s a diverse, passionate and incredibly soccer savvy group of fans that always brings their A-game to create an amazing home field advantage at our matches. THANK YOU CITY MEMBERS!!!
We understand and appreciate that the habits of sports fans are always changing; we are seeing this across all U.S. sports, not just soccer, and this is only amplified further in an intense City like New York which is the entertainment capital of the world. Fans want flexibility and this is something that we provide and are acutely focused on at NYCFC. Simply, we know not every fan will be able to attend every home game – especially when factoring in our current venue challenges. Our attendance at Yankee Stadium over the years has been very impressive and compares favorably to MLS averages. We strongly believe we are in a great place and are projecting growth every year moving forward as we head down the path to our own soccer-specific Stadium.
Q: What’s the status with player signings – are we signing more DPs?
Our Sporting Director, David Lee will be answering fan questions about Sporting topics in an in-depth ‘Ask David’ video in a few weeks and can address this in much more detail. In the meantime, I can touch on it briefly.
The transfer market for incoming signings across MLS has been uncharacteristically slow and proven to be extremely challenging for a multitude of reasons which was the subject of an article written by Jeff Rueter in The Athletic a few weeks ago where he spoke with various Sporting Directors across the league, including ours, about this topic.
However, it is certainly our intention to utilize all the roster mechanisms available to us, including our DP spots and the anticipated U22 Initiative, which we believe will allow teams to acquire high quality players at a young age. We will continue to improve the team both ahead of and throughout the season and hope to have some announcements for you very soon. We’re in the fortunate position of already having a very strong team. We have proven to be the most consistent squad in MLS – we have the most aggregate points in MLS over the last five years and, more recently, over just the past two seasons, LAFC is 1st with 104 points and we are 2nd with 103. We have both experienced players and exciting young talents, and the opportunity to further enhance the team which we will do in a smart and sustainable way.
Let me be clear, this Club is as ambitious as ever. It is our goal to win MLS Cup and to consistently compete for trophies and while our team will inevitably evolve throughout the coming weeks and months, it is and will be built with this ultimate goal in mind.
Keep a look out for your opportunity to ask David Lee your direct questions.
Q: Brad, what else would you like to share with NYCFC fans?
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.
Let me once again extend our deep appreciation for your support. From new COVID protocols, to health concerns, to multiple venues, we understand that 2021 comes with many challenges. But I am so proud of how our team continues to handle adversity – and optimistic knowing NYC will bounce back stronger than ever; it is our privilege to play our part in this recovery.
2021 will be a uniquely special year and we appreciate those who continue on this journey with us. I am proud to work for this Club. We want you to be proud to support it. We will continue to do everything in our power to earn your trust and support.