By Tony Attwood
Few could have doubted when Manchester City were purchased and an awfully large amount of money was put in that they were going to turn football upside down.
We have seen bits and pieces of this adventure. The development of the area around their ground. The way their ground has been turned into a generic version of Etihad stadia the world over. Their clear statement that they think FFP is unreasonable, and the notion that they are ready to go to court to challenge it.
But that was only for starters for now they are ready to advance in the US as well. The owners of the club who are based in Abu Dhabi are bidding $100m to buy a New York Major League Soccer franchise.
Manchester City have been looking at partnering with football clubs in the United States, Mexico, China and other parts of Asia, although with the same vision in mind – to develop the brand. Within the “project” as it is known, the USA franchise is the next key move. Already Manchester C has fixed up to play Chelsea in the Yankee Stadium on 25 May. Now we see that this is going to be the time when Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan is going to announce the launch of their club in the States.
This will be a big project, and quite probably bigger than Manchester C. The New York team of Sheikh Mansour will start playing in the league in 2016 and the brand will hit New York in a way that it has not hit England, with part of the aim being overturn Manchester U’s selling power in the US. It is one thing to be able to do the deals in America as Manchester U do, but another to have a team playing in New York.
A New York franchise would also allow Manchester C to follow a model that Arsenal created way back in the 1930s – the nursery club. In Arsenal’s case it was Margate. Now it will be a New York team (although if the earnings are big enough it is possible that Manchester C will turn into the nursery team). It just shows how far the owners of Manchester C are prepared to go to transform football in their own image.
Manchester City have already been copying Arsenal’s model of football schools in America, and are reported to have had a couple of hundred thousand children attend their schools.
Of course the powers that be in the USA are very keen on seeing a major player in the Premier League come to America, and the move is likely to bring ever bigger crowds to MLS games. It would also bring in a rival to New York Red Bulls for whom Thierry Henry plays – but who despite their name play in New Jersey.
The move will also give Manchester U a run for its money in terms of sponsorship. It might raise the amount of money each company is willing to put into the franchise – but such situations also have a habit of making people back off and reflect on what they are buying into.
It is also possible that other teams will see how far they can push their presence overseas. The notion of a Chelsea team entering the MLS is not impossible to conceive – Chelsea certainly won’t want to be left behind.
But there is something else. Much of the money – about three quarters in fact – that accrues to English clubs from TV, comes from overseas. Supposing, just supposing, that people start to get more interested in one of the spin off leagues, rather than the Premier League. After all if Manchester C and Chelsea both purchase teams in MLS, then fans in the US who identify with these teams can in fact go and see them play live. One possible outcome would be that MLS would become more popular in the US than the Premier League – not least because it kicks off at a time convenient to the United States audience.
And here’s another point. By owning clubs in half a dozen countries Manchester C believe that they can overcome FFP by moving players about. A transfer of a player between two of their clubs could be at any price they want. Who is to say what the correct price is.
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