An Open Letter to NYCFC, MLS, City Football Group, and All the MCFC Fans Who Are Asking “What’s all the fuss?”

NYCFC’s badge. (c) NYCFC

 

Dear all of the above:

I’m a relatively new soccer fan. For many Americans, soccer is that one sport that everyone’s played in gym class that we all have some very basic understanding of but no one really loves. I was always installed on defense, as I could not run fast enough nor kick hard enough to play midfield or forward. The closest I ever got to an actual pitch was playing Backyard Soccer on my computer, where I always had the opponent set to the easiest setting, ignored all passing and strategy, and always shot to score, damn everything else. Sure, MLS, you were around, but the Metrostars Red Bulls were never good enough to capture my attention. Plus, they play in New Jersey, and, unlike the other two professional sports teams that play in New Jersey, they never had much of a media following.

But then a few things happened that dared to change my views on what the world knows as the beautiful game.

First, NYCFC was announced as an 80-20 venture between Manchester City FC, one of the Premier League’s top sides, and the New York Yankees, the baseball team I have been rooting for since I was in second grade.

And second, the 2014 World Cup happened, and the US Men’s National Team went farther than they had ever gone before–and farther than anyone thought they would. It was about this tine that i thought, hey, I’ve already added hockey as a sport that I followed religiously. Why not soccer? Of course, MLS, this is exactly what you wanted to happen. You hoped that the success of the USMNT and the founding of two new clubs, one of which would actually be located in New York City, would foster a greater interest in soccer nationwide which would directly benefit MLS.

The founding of NYCFC was supposed to be the start of something new and great. The prospect of being a supporter of the first new professional sports team to start play in New York City proper was beyond exciting, especially a sports team that would have the financial backing of two of the wealthiest sports teams in the world. The founding of NYCFC was supposed to usher in a new era for Major League Soccer, one where MLS would rise to the level of the European leagues and not be seen as some minor league where has-beens and never-coulds go to pasture. And it seemed that you, City Football Group and MLS, were committed to this vision when they first signed Spanish star David Villa.

Then, you signed Frank Lampard, and the whole city went nuts.

Those who followed the Premier League were excited to see the Chelsea legend man the midfield for NYCFC. Those who didn’t, or were completely new to soccer–like me–were probably more excited at the name than what his signing meant for the club overall.

What followed was shot after shot of ticket-selling PR: Lampard was excited to be joining the New York club. Lampard was going to be signed to NYCFC (well, MLS, as MLS owns all of the contracts) and immediately loaned out to Manchester City until January in order to keep his fitness levels up. His face was plastered on every billboard. His name was screened onto the back of some of the first NYCFC jerseys–jerseys that looked suspiciously similar to MCFC’s, but no matter. We were going to be able to take part in something truly great in March, and Lampard and Villa would be the ones to lead the way.

And then, on New Year’s, everything blew up. And the whole city went nuts again.

First, you revealed that Lampard would be extending his stay at MCFC. An extension of the loan, we all thought. Was Lampard ditching his obligation to the New York side in order to chase one more year of Premier League glory? Understandably the fans were quite cross with that. Sure, there have been player scandals and league scandals in North American professional leagues before that have left a bad taste in the mouths of sports fans. Just look at the way Major League Baseball handled the 1994 strike or the entirety of the Steroid Era, any one of the NHL lockouts, or the Ray Rice domestic abuse incident and the ongoing saga on concussions and debilitating permanent player injuries in the NFL. Look at A-Rod and Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong.

But then it got worse.

When you announced the Lampard extension, there was not a single mention of a loan extension. It was finally revealed that Lampard had never signed with MLS but had signed a contract directly with Manchester City instead. In January, he would have been loaned to NYCFC–not the other way around as previously advertised.

In the meantime, through all this advertising with Lampard’s face on everything, you had managed to sell 11,000 season tickets, so many authentic short-sleeved jerseys that your online store sold out, and countless other items of merchandise. All sold under the perpetuated lie that Frank Lampard was signed to play in America and would arrive in time for the start of the season in March.

And this is the crux of the problem.

There are many MCFC fans out there who have taken to the internet–some with a more condescending tone than others–to try and mollify their American peers, saying “Calm down! With Lamps playing so well in the best football league in the world it’s no wonder he didn’t want to leave. You’ll have him soon enough, as soon as he finishes playing here. It’s not like you’ll never see him play for your side.”

MCFC fans, if you are one of the people saying anything remotely similar to this, you are missing the point, and missing it badly. The issue is not the fact that Lampard decided to stay in the Premier League for the rest of their season. This kind of thing happens every now and then in baseball, when a Japanese player on a Japanese team demands to be posted so he can play in America and face the toughest and best baseball players in the world. Could anyone blame Masahiro Tanaka or Hideki Matsui for wanting to come over? Of course, fans of their previous teams might be disappointed, but you can’t blame the player for wanting to play at a higher level. (This is, of course, ignoring the fact that the same owner usually does not own both teams in the negotiations, but that is neither here nor there.) If this were the only issue, I might have been angry for a few days, but then I would learn to live with it and await his arrival in July.

No, the point is that City Football Group, NYCFC, and MLS all lied to us for five straight months about the status of Frank Lampard, and used that lie to boost ticket and merchandise sales. And then, when the lie was exposed, no one did or said anything to apologize to the fans–or even to defend themselves, other than a few vaguely worded statements from the head coaches of both MCFC and NYCFC, one of which even implied that MCFC may try to keep Lampard for the next Premier League season as well. The silence has been deafening.

We have heard not a single apology. No damage control. No admissions along the lines of “we could have handled this better, but we didn’t.” And it appears the mud-slinging has already begun, with MLS accusing CFG of an “error in judgment” in handling the Lampard situation. A foolhardy statement to be sure, MLS, since you were complicit in the matter!

Even worse is the opinion that because NYCFC and MCFC are linked together, NYCFC will eventually get all of MCFC’s older stars and up-and-comers and become a force to be reckoned with in MLS, and somehow that makes everything okay. It doesn’t. It really doesn’t. What you are saying may not be false, but it does not change the fact that CFG and MLS have betrayed our trust in them without having even played a single match. Visions of future glory are, for now, just that–visions. And they certainly do not help assuage the feelings of hurt and anger of having your team parade falsehoods in front of everyone just to support the bottom line. Each one of their future moves, until all parties actually take steps to show some semblance of contrition, will be viewed with suspicion and apprehension because of this.

You know where sports leagues make a lot of their money? Two sources. First, the casual fan.The people who go to a game not just for the team but for the “whole experience.” The league can count on money from the die-hards year after year, but a good on-field product coupled with a good stadium experience can get the casual fans in the seats again and again. Second, the newcomer. Someone who has only a smattering of knowledge of the sport and goes to a game to check it out or because something great is supposed to be happening, with the league’s ultimate goal being to convert this newcomer into someone who comes back again and again.

In short, with regards to soccer, people like me.

So why? Why, CFG, would you risk ruining the relationship with your new fans by misleading them in matters like this and then making a fair bit of coin off of it? Did you really assume that Lampard would do so poorly that he would activate the break clause in his contract and come over to MLS? Why did you not plan for the event that he would actually do well and want to stay, as has actually happened? The fan-club relationship is built on trust. Why would you break that trust when you haven’t even played a single match in New York?

Why, MLS, were you entirely complicit in these illicit affairs? You said that the addition of NYCFC would usher in a new era for the league–would you have been comfortable with that new era being built on a lie, even if no one ever found out besides yourself and CFG? Don’t you know that all this bad publicity might scare those casual fans and newcomers away from the league, leaving you in exactly the same situation as you were in before–or worse? Didn’t you consider that in the event that this lie were to be revealed, as it was, that it could potentially hurt the league’s growth and would definitely hurt the league’s status?

We are the fans and we want answers. But we have not gotten them, and we are angry.

There is an NYCFC scarf hanging from my door right now. Granted, I did not buy the scarf because of Lampard or even Villa–I had bought it right when the team was founded–but it would have been one of my tools whenever I would have watched the team play. I had seriously considered purchasing a Lampard NYCFC jersey, but did not, and am now much better for it.

NYCFC, however, are still my club. Perhaps I will buy two jerseys in the future. A black away kit with David Villa’s name on it, because he is actually on the team. And a blue home kit with the number 8, but with the word “Missing” taped over the player name.

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