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Ben Hayes - Charlton Athletic programme

Globalizing through franchise expansion


Globalization has affected football in many ways, not always ways that fans like.   In England today, fans are demonstrating at what they see as excessively high ticket prices at Premier League matches with clubs having made an overall profit for the first time in 15 years.  A global labour market has certainly emerged and there has been foreign direct investment in clubs.

What football has lacked is a multinational company operating in different countries.  The network arrangements involving Charlton Athletic and Watford are pale imitations.   However, Abu Dhabi-controlled City Football Group (CFG) owns Manchester City and Melbourne City in Australia.

It has now opened an 'expansion franchise' in Major League Soccer in the United States in the form of New York City FC.   It is seen as a way to expand the Manchester City brand by having teams in other countries that share characteristics with the English club.   For example, New York City play in an identical kit to Manchester City's sky blue and they will eventually receive Frank Lampard as a player.

CFG hopes that it can bring the expertise it has derived from running Manchester City to the United States where soccer as a spectator sport still lags behind baseball, American football, basketball and even ice hockey.

For now the team is playing in the Yankee Stadium and some fans feel that playing in a baseball stadium makes the pitch look a little crooked.   The New York Yankees own 20 per cent of the franchise.  It is intended to build a dedicated stadium.

More than 40,000 tickets were sold for the opening match against New England Revolution with at least 15,000 belonging to new season ticket holders.   Season ticket buyers tend to be young professionals in their late twenties or early thirties.  Fans began to gather on the Babe Ruth Plaza hours before the match buying replica shirts and scarves in the club shop.   Concession stands sold $15 dollar cans of lager.

That's a lot for a can of beer, but at least you could drink it during the game, standing in the bleachers behind the goals.   There are also a number of supporter organisations, including the club-backed Third Rail and the supposedly independent Heart of Oak.   The latter requires members to fill in a questionnaire and supply three references, leading one fan to ask on Twitter if they wanted a BA in Supporterdom.

The crowd reflected the ethnic diversity of New York and it is evident that for some newcomers it is  a way of identifying with the city.

The president of the club is Tom Glick, until recently the commercial and marketing officer at Manchester City,   He told the Financial Times that the club was not in a hurry to make a profit: 'We're absolutely convinced of the growth opportunity over the next 10, 20, 30 years.   The important thing is to build a club and connect with the fanbase.'