Commercialization Versus Pragmatism: A Discussion

nyc tomek

Seasoned Supporter
Mar 23, 2014
I know the following will probably get TL;DR'd but:

From the moment the club was announced as the lovechild of the gigantic brands New York Yankees and Manchester City, I've been especially curious about the conflict between commercialism (or commercialization) and pragmatism that will manifest itself with respect to the club and playing staff. What exactly does this mean?

Let me note as a sort of preface that our club, NYCFC, is in the most enviable position imaginable. We have a clean slate in terms of roster composition, which is reason enough to be optimistic. We can and indeed must capitalize on the advantages conferred on us by geography.

On the flipside, as history and what we can glean from other New York teams has shown, there is a certain amount of peril that comes with the territory of having your roots in the biggest city in the world. It all stems from pressure, in my estimation. The pressure to succeed instantly on the pitch for fear of not being able to attract the fans is almost tangible. This rigid reality is something management has to contend with from the start.

This line of thinking creates an interesting dichotomy which I will expound upon.

Let us first analyze some of the positives of being based in New York.

Our location alone allows us to enjoy the sort of flexibility most teams would kill for. This is why having a clear vision and plan of attack as it relates to the roster is paramount to the success of this club. Do we want to focus on creating a star-laden roster? Do we go for lesser-known, often younger, players from less glamorous leagues, who still have a point to prove? This is a luxury not afforded to most teams. With all due respect to the likes of Real Salt Lake, David Beckham was never going to be interested in plying his trade there. We have the option of building the squad the way we see fit, whereas most teams are forced into being almost subservient to teams such as LA Galaxy and, dare I say it, New York Red Bulls.

Our links with the deep pockets of both Manchester City and the Yankees prevent such concerns from ever cropping up. If anything, our ability to take players on loan from our "parent club" will be a big boon for us. We could easily attract players of the absolute highest quality and pay their wage packets.

Such players, and the club itself, stand to benefit tremendously from a financial perspective, if the marketing potential is properly tapped into. World class players know they could improve their brand and name recognition by playing here. The possibilities for endorsement deals and the like are virtually endless.
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Part II:

This carries with it an intrinsic danger.

Focusing on signing players with reputation or who are well known and thus likely to garner media attention and put "asses in the seats", while an understandable strategy from a business standpoint, could have an ultimately detrimental impact on the club's success where it matters most - the league table.

Such a commercially driven mentality often leads to staggering dysfunction and failure. The best teams, those that are successful and endearing to the fanbase, are those which are developed organically, insofar as this can be done. It is often the case, from what I have seen in my lifetime as a fan of New York sports, that being based in this city somehow seems to prevent or preclude our management teams from being able to recognize or at least put this into practice.

Take, for example, the New York Red Bulls, our closest rivals. The single biggest reason underlying their lack of success was the lack of a clear and overarching strategy from the club. Sure as anything, once the offseason rolled around, you could always count on a massive amount of turnover. Mass exoduses from and streams of new signings were common place. Now, in a capped league, a certain amount of variation from year to year is inevitable. However, there exists an upper limit at which turnover becomes excessive, unhealthy, and symptomatic of a deeper problem.

Players must be given ample time to gel and furthermore, staff must be explicit about the way it wants said players to play, identifying the right players, ones capable of playing the desired style and fitting the ethos of the club, whatever it may be.

Before you can have any tangible success, you first have to get the team as a whole pulling in the same direction on the pitch, which is difficult to do, and surely easier when the team is built organically, pragmatically, rather than with commercial interests at the forefront of operating policy.

Case in point, Mike Petke was perceived to be a panacea, finally ending the Red Bulls', considering the resources at their disposal, comical streak of trophyless futility by bringing home last season's Supporters Shield. The Bulls tripped at the first hurdle, falling at the hands of the unfashionable Houston Dynamo.

Why did this happen? As important a reason as any is that Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear has laid a rock solid foundation for his team. He has painstainkingly built his side, the core of which has now been playing together for several seasons. Above all, he has created an identity for his club. Under Kinnear, you always know what you can expect from the Dynamo. His teams are always going to be well drilled defensively and thrive from set pieces, while at the same time more than holding their own in the possession game. They will never wow you with flair, but they are a model of consistency and execution.

It is no coincidence, then, that they were able to overcome the Red Bulls, who, though they are the right track, are still some way off the standards set by the likes of Houston in this regard.

In MLS, the formula success isn't as simple as, "Just get the biggest names, therefore the best players you can and the rest will surely follow. I mean just look at the LA Galaxy and their success, right?"

Let me just say, for every Robbie Keane, there is a Rafa Marquez.

The Red Bulls clearly did not due their due diligence and did not properly assess Rafa Marquez's character prior to unveiling him as a marquee signing. Anyone who knew the player before his arrival on these shores could have told you the Red Bulls were courting disaster. When he criticized his own teammates as not being on his level in an outburst that effectively sounded his death knell in MLS, it was predictable to everyone but the Red Bull executives who signed him.
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Part III:

MLS is a completely different beast to any other league in the world and its unique characteristics defy comparison. Players from abroad often underestimate the physical nature of the league and, frankly speaking, the level of commitment needed to be successful here. You can't just expect to waltz in and expect to light up the league by virtue of your resume. Travel can be grueling. The sheer size of this country ensures that. Temperatures can be extreme. Pitches can be in abominable condition, not to mention not even real grass! The horror of it all.

Because of this, it becomes even more important to not only sign a player for the right reasons, but also the sign the right type of player in particular. Issues such as "how much tread is left on those tires?" are important when it comes to potential signings, but even more pivotal is what is between the player's ears. How much do they know about the league? To what extent do they know what they are getting into? Do they want to succeed here or just collect a pension? Are they the type who will moan and be like a noxious gas in the changing room when things aren't going well or their expectations aren't quite being met?

Relating this all back to the club and the crux of the matter, this is where I, and I'm trying to be as objective as possible here, believe NYCFC to be in stellar hands. Jason Kreis is as close to a managerial savant as you will find in this league. He is precocious and he knows the ingredients necessary to create a winning recipe in MLS.

He has a clearly defined preferred method of playing with his diamond setup. Although being exposed to new tactical ideas while in Manchester learning from the staff there is a certainty and indeed a benefit, you have to believe he will persist with his tactics, with what he's comfortable with, and what has proven to be successful in the MLS environment.

Kreis' experience with Real Salt Lake, crafting them into a perennial MLS Cup contender, has shown to me that this man has a keen eye not only for players, but for the type of players. That is why I believe that, working in tandem with Reyna, they will be able to avoid many pitfalls that would otherwise come with working in our big market.

I am not advocating that NYCFC shun the prospect of signing any well-known players who would sell shirts. I know the importance of being a commercial success and that it could have long-term benefits for the club and league off the field. We would be doing ourselves and the league a disservice by not trying to tap into the untapped potential of our market.

The key is balance. Starting from a tactical framework, building a core and then augmenting that core with the right players to put it over the top. Kreis knows this all too well. One needs only to look at the likes of Morales and Beckerman, who were the lynchpins of his successful RSL sides, to realize this.

I have faith that when it comes time to make a decision, Kreis' prior experience and Reyna's knowledge of the conditions of MLS will allow them to stand up to the corporate types pining for a signing for all the wrong reasons. I want to believe that management is pragmatic enough to reap the benefits of playing in New York, while resisting the temptation and pressure to throw cash at a problem.

Essentially, I want to believe that instead of being the team that signs Juninho or Marquez, we will be the team that signs a player cut more from the cloth of Morales or Valeri as a DP.

That is why, as it stands right now, and a lot can change before now and then depending on who is purported to be available, Mikkel Diskerud is top of my wishlist. With a side of John Guidetti to boot.

What do you think about all this? I have to say, I'd be a lot more concerned about the direction of the club if it wasn't already in the capable hands of Kreis.
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In all seriousness, I did read this, and you make excellent points. I agree with everything you wrote. The balance is key, though I expect it to be weighted towards commercial success at the beginning, with an unknown fanbase and a team trying to prove itself. However, if NYCFC realize that the best way to gain fans is to win, we should see a good amount of pragmatism in building the squad.

As an aside, I think the site should have a "blog/article" section for longer posts like this. Prominently displayed on the home page, of course.
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Just about everything you say makes total sense.
I have a feeling that this club will have one thing in mind, success from the beginning.
With that being said I think with the minds we have at the helm they will be very practical about it.
A lot of people are expecting BIG name signings at just about every position. I think that what the club will be looking for is sustainability. Creating a lineup that will last and that they can build.
What I would like is a strong veteran presence as our captain and a solid striker that we can surround with youth and speed. Take a look at MCFC. Vincent Kompany is a LEGEND, one of the best CB's in the world and the voice of the team because he plays his heart out and gives it EVERYTHING on the pitch. As far as our strikers are concerned, just about all of them from Dzeko and Jovetic to Aguero can score at any moment. They're surrounded by young tacticians. That's what I'd like to see with NYCFC, explosiveness!
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In all seriousness, I did read this, and you make excellent points. I agree with everything you wrote. The balance is key, though I expect it to be weighted towards commercial success at the beginning, with an unknown fanbase and a team trying to prove itself. However, if NYCFC realize that the best way to gain fans is to win, we should see a good amount of pragmatism in building the squad.

As an aside, I think the site should have a "blog/article" section for longer posts like this. Prominently displayed on the home page, of course.

It's in the works! Trust me, have to wait till the custom design is done before i can do much with add-ons.
Your posts aren't too long. Its not twitter which is a very good thing but this is different. One of the first things I commented on was posts often being too short and consisting of one or two sentences. Already that's starting to happen so hopefully that character limit is still being looked at. Not saying write essays but at least 4 or 5 sentences on overall average is good.

Yes the rigid reality of pressure is something club officials have to contend with. It isn't something the fans have to contend with. Its something that should be embraced there's few things more tedious than people constantly complaining about the media. The only thing that should matter at this club are 2 things. 1. Is the club successful and operating to the peak of its potential? 2. Are the fans happy? The majority of fans complain about the media when their own club are involved. This club could set a new trend by not complaining.

As an example of just how big the NY media is look at WWE. A company that operated in the North East and went national from the early 80's. Now some of that was media manipulation (on a largely uncovered business in mainstream especially at that time) but it worked. Its harder to manipulate the media now with technological advances but its not essentially being about manipulation. It about NEVER being low key and having a virtually perfect marketing plan. For outsiders to call the people involved with this club "Chivas USA" is an insult (though its unfair to call Chivas a joke while they undergo their transition period) and should be disregarded without acknowledgement. Its about as stupid as comparing Emile Heskey to Leo Messi.

As for stars nobody can expect a star laden roster anyway. People who expect that aren't aware of how the ML operates at the moment. The club has indicated there will be three DP's and all of them should be big. Should they all be commercially friendly? For instance Gareth Barry and James Milner (two main players to have been linked) are both respected players but are they going to command immense media attention? Are they going to be the face of NYCFC? The club needs at least one explosive personality as a DP and that might be risky with some names. Personally I hope the club make an approach for Balotelli if the slightest opportunity came up. As crazy as that might sound if you don't ask you don't get. He's not corporate friendly but imagine the publicity someone like that would get. The media attention would be invaluable especially in NY. Is he a Kreis type? Maybe not but good managers should have faith in themselves that they can control difficult personalities. The club picked New York for countless reasons it would be unwise not to exploit that with at least 1 sensational signing. It might not be bigger than the Beckham signing but he was corporate friendly. A bit of danger is a good thing sometimes its not going to see the whole club self destruct. On the downside there's star players who are arrogant and have no sense of charm at all. That's the worst thing people can forgive likes of Balotelli and Ibrahimovic for their faults because they have that "cult of personality" about them. Look at Cantona with Man United the man was an absolute lunatic (and a violent thug) but it succeeded.

As for desired style its no secret that the club wants to play a certain way. Its one of the whole points of Kreis spending so much time in Manchester. There should be an ethos on youth maybe no more than 2 players over 30 and NONE over 35. Especially not an old goalkeeper. The player I think would be most vital from a team standpoint wouldn't be a defender, striker or midfielder. Would a world class striker be needed or would a very good striker be enough to succeed? The player that could be most important would be a midfielder with creative and physical attributes. Basically a total machine who has virtually everything and barely any weaknesses. That won't be easy to find but that's the kind of inspiration that's needed.

Kreis has already said he's looking at young players on loan from MCFC. There won't be stupid suggestions like borrowing Aguero for 2 games. The key is will they be designated and there's the foreign issue as well. If someone from the MCFC academy is already lauded as world class then its almost a guarantee they will be designated. If a young player comes and is out of his depth (or more likely just struggles in some other way) they can be kept in reserve or returned. It should be seen as a great resource to take from that other MLS clubs don't have right now. As time goes on and the league structure changes this will probably lessen anyway and there won't be as much need to borrow from MCFC.

As for the Yankees is that relationship as solid as it seems? Or are there problems below the surface with the trademark issue recently for instance? Are they just a political means and likely to sell their stake in the future? One thing is for sure with ownership. MCFC are in this for the long haul sovereign wealth is a great guarantee in financing. This isn't Red Bull where any change within the corporation could completely change that club overnight. I know which owners I'm betting will be around longest.
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Que vadis NYCFC in other words.. What path will we take

It might be a bit simplistic but I think that the top brass will subscribe to the "If it ain´t broke.." philosophy, so if something was a success in places like Barcelona, Manchester or yeah, Rutgers they will try to recreate it at NYCFC
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In terms of team building I feel that there will be a view of winning the first season of their own stadium. That is not to say they won't be successful and put out a top product but will possibly be developing players enough that the core or the team will be in top form for the first season in the new stadium. If it happens before great.
Secondly I would like to point out in concerns to tactical approach that MCFC made a point upon the hiring of pelligrini that they wanted all teams associated with them to play the same style of football. Focusing on sustainability and self supplying. Instead of delving into the market to sign the best players and only signing those who enhanced that style of play. How attached is NYCFC going to be to the philosophies of MCFC and the sheik?
As for the Yankees is that relationship as solid as it seems? Or are there problems below the surface with the trademark issue recently for instance?

I wouldn't get mad at the Yankees for the TM issue. Although we might not know what exactly the issue is, in trademark law any kind of dilution of the TM may lead to loss of the TM. The Yankees may be 100% committed to NYCFC and still not be willing to risk that kind of legal damage to such a valuable mark. Moreover, it seems like they didn't actually change the design (not that we've heard, anyway) so my guess is that they just wanted some more to verify that it didn't actually cause any kind of dilution and it required more research than they initially thought.
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The majority of stories I heard said that the issue was that the original NYC logo in the very centre was done in the Yankees exact script. If that were the case then there definitely was a change - to the Gotham font. Not that it matters much, of course.
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Thanks for all the replies, I shall be replying to some points as soon as I get a moment to do so.