Not In My Back Yard

esclogoTim Hall’s view from 101

MLS commissioner Don Garber said in the past week that an announcement on the next Major League Soccer expansion side could come by the end of May. 

Presumably such an announcement would be the works: location of the team, ownership, name, start date, etc. Rumors and reports, should you choose to believe any of them, indicate that a deal is all but done for the team – what would be the 20th in MLS – to be called New York City F.C., play its games in a new stadium to be built in Queens, begin play in the 2016 season, and be owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, owner of Manchester City and probably a difficult guy to buy monogrammed handkerchiefs for.

I’ve done my best to stay quiet on the concept of “NY2” as it has been called over the years because there wasn’t a whole bunch to talk about. Sure, the Internet would invariably get worked up every few months or so when a new unsubstantiated piece of news would come along – namely, the machinations of the people that own the ‘Cosmos’ name – but those all ended up being red herrings. This, however, seems to have some legs (again, if you choose to believe certain corners of the British media), so there’s really no sense in avoiding it any longer.

This is a bad idea for many reasons.

It’s a bad idea because there’s already a team in the area that has its own difficulties filling their stadium for home games or getting reported in the media by anything more than glorified interns. Don Garber might argue that having a local rivalry like they do in every other sport in New York will solve that problem. He should probably explain that to the ownership of the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League. After the initial media splash, it would fade back to irrelevance in the local media psyche.

It’s a bad idea because the stadium would have to be built on parkland, which, if you’re unfamiliar with how cities work, doesn’t just spring up out of nowhere. Don Garber could counter that the league and the city are working together to replace that parkland and give us other platitudes, but, really, that oasis of green grass in the world’s greatest city is going bye-bye for good in all likelihood. Sheikh Al Nahyan will probably have to pay a fine for it disappearing, but he’s worth billions of dollars. A few paltry million to make the city planning board shut up is a pittance.

“But jobs!” I can hear Don Garber’s mouth screaming from between two ears that are nearly perpendicular to the side of his head. “A new stadium would create thousands of jobs!” This is a selling point they always trot out in press conferences about building new stadiums. The truth is something else. Yes, a new stadium would give construction workers something to do for a while, but this is New York City. Something is always being constructed or renovated, and with all due respect to people working in construction, you rarely hear them crying poverty for lack of work in these parts. There are no assurances that any of the build team be locals to begin with. Case in point: Red Bull Arena, which was designed by Rossetti Architects from that famous New Jersey neighborhood called Los Angeles.

And have you ever stopped and thought about how many people it takes to actually run an MLS team? Technical staff, ticketing, marketing, it’s really not that many on a day-to-day basis, and there’s a line of would-be interns out the door to take up the lower level positions. As far as security and concessions, sure, jobs created but, those are one day a week part-time jobs.

Then there’s the fact that a quarter of the US in the Southeast don’t have a team to root for, a fear Mr. Garber will attempt to assuage by promises of further expansion. Fine, more teams, but where are these new players going to come from? Aren’t you risking watering down the product? And if you believe that this will give more opportunities for playing time for young American players on the rise, you need only look to the most recent expansion team in Montreal, whose roster reads more like United Nations roll call than homegrown talent.

And it will invariably be a feeder club for Manchester City, and Don Garber has some weird fetish for a team within city limits so he’s missing the forest for the trees, and, as the Red Bull experiment has shown, one organization having many clubs around the world leads to a stunted growth for all. And there’s myriad other reasons this is a bad idea that the commissioner will try to wave away should the right people ask the right questions.

But then there’s this: Sheikh Al Nahyan has his fingers in many pies. Citeh, obviously. Oil concerns, part ownership of Virgin Atlantic and Sky News Arabia, horse racer, owner of a number of other sporting interests, and so on. But also in that “Most Interesting Man in the World” CV is his position as Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates. He’s part of the ruling family of the UAE and the President’s half-brother.

You know, the United Arab Emirates. Where homosexuality and even cross-dressing are acts punishable by imprisonment, deportation, chemical castration or even execution.

Here, all of Don Garber’s excuses fail. The league pushes a mantra of “Don’t Cross The Line” about snuffing out problems like racism, sexism and homophobia in MLS stands which, outside a few morons which exist everywhere, is a problem that doesn’t really exist. And yet, when a man shows up with hundreds of millions of dollars to start a team, all of a sudden we’re supposed to forget that he tacitly endorses taking homosexuals and putting them in front of a firing squad?

Mr. Garber, this is your chance. In light of David Testo and Robbie Rogers and most recently basketballer Jason Collins, this is a chance for you, and by extension the league, to take the stand you ask the fans to take. Come out and say “We’ve had negotiations, but after review, based on the human rights record of the United Arab Emirates, it doesn’t make sense for MLS to get into bed with Sheikh Al Nahyan.”

Well, don’t literally “come out.” And definitely don’t say anything about getting into bed with the man. Wouldn’t want you to face a firing squad.


Saturday May 4: New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew – Red Bulls are on a win streak, Crew just had their scoreboard catch fire. New York is awesome, Ohio is flyover country. Deal with it, Ohio! Join the Empire Supporters Club at The Football Factory at Legends (6 W 33rd St. Manhattan) to laugh at Ohio meth addicts.