NEW YORK — Brad Sims has been the president and CEO of the New York City Football Club for nearly 14 months and nothing he has experienced thus far compares to the last several days.
First, NYCFC fans quickly denounced the club’s plans to use Red Bull Arena, the home venue of NYCFC’s biggest rival, to host Costa Rican club San Carlos in the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League later this month. In a joint statement from five NYCFC supporters’ groups, actions suggested in response include in-stadium protests or an outright boycott of the game.
Second, a New York Times story broke the news that a soccer-specific stadium deal for NYCFC is closer than ever, and a site had been lined up near the team’s current usual home venue, Yankee Stadium.
Pro Soccer USA’s Glenn Crooks talked Sims exclusively for a one-on-one interview at the clubs’ New York City offices Tuesday. Sims detailed the difficulties of securing a CCL home venue in the five boroughs and kept expectations in check for a new NYCFC stadium, emphasizing that although significant progress has been made, no deal is signed for a soccer-specific stadium.
Pro Soccer USA: Can you explain why neither Yankee Stadium nor Citi Field were available for the February 26 CCL match?
Brad Sims: Being part of the CCL means that we have to play home games in February and that’s a challenge for us because Yankee Stadium is not available in February for events – not just this February, but any February. That’s also the case for Citi Field. These baseball venues are winterized. We still tried, but it was off the table which meant we had to look elsewhere.
PSUSA: Why did the match ultimately end up at Red Bull Arena?
BS: We vetted numerous other venues in the five boroughs that we thought were good options. Ultimately, we thought that we had a good shot after we were given feedback on each of the venues as to what needed to happen for those to be approved. We felt that we did everything that we needed to do for approval and yet at the end of the day they still were not approved [by Concacaf].
PSUSA: Can you disclose some of the shortcomings?
BS: Your entire interview would only be answering that one question, because it’s a very long list.
PSUSA: Was stadium capacity an issue with any of the proposed venues?
BS: No, we were fine with those. But there are many, many, many rules and regulations and we ultimately felt that we addressed them appropriately. We went through seven or eight different deadlines and [Concacaf] delayed and we felt like they were working with us to get to the solution that we wanted to get to. It got to the point where we were told that the only approved venue that was within reasonable distance to New York City would be Red Bull Arena.
PSUSA: Was it just Concacaf that was involved or was MLS also part of the home field decision?
BS: Both Concacaf and MLS were involved in the process.
PSUSA: If New York City advances, the club has indicated that either Yankee Stadium or Citi Field would be available for subsequent rounds pending Concacaf approval. Do you know if one or both of those facilities has been approved?
BS: As it currently stands, neither have been approved. They have been vetted and we have our list of things that need to be addressed for them to be approved.
PSUSA: Your MLS home opener is March 14 and the quarterfinal legs of the CCL are March 10-12 and March 17-19. The Yankees home opener is not until April 2 so wouldn’t your regular home be available pending approval?
BS: The Yankees were aiming at getting the stadium ready by the 14th which has its own challenges and is earlier than they would prefer. The challenges that exist in February for both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field still exists in early March.
PSUSA: The supporters’ groups put out a joint statement on Saturday condemning the match at Red Bull Arena. What stood out to me is they are evaluating options that include boycotts, in-stadium demonstrations and protests at RBA. How do you address that?
BS: I understand and appreciate their frustrations and we are equally frustrated with the process. We would definitely prefer to be playing within the five boroughs we did everything that we humanly possibly could. Having said that, I think the fans are happy that we are playing Champions League football. We’re in the most prestigious tournament that there is in our region.
PSUSA: So, despite some of the negative feedback, you sense that there is a lot of support?
BS: I know our fans are going to support us. It’s a matter of are they going to support us by being in the stands of Red Bull Arena or by being in a pub in Manhattan watching it with friends or at home watching it on the stream? Ultimately, they want us to win that match. The frustration is all coming from a place of passion. And we’re going to continue to have these many challenges until we have our own home.
PSUSA: The 6 pm ET kickoff is a dilemma, too. You are going to have supporters from the city who want to be at the match, but can’t get out of work and to the game in time.
BS: At the very last minute we were told there were other venues approved, but they were much farther away including in other states and in other regions which goes back to what I was saying about a reasonable distance. And kickoff times are driven by the Concacaf’s television partners.
PSUSA: You said these challenges will continue until you have your own home. The NY Times reported the club is close to a deal just blocks from Yankee Stadium. Is that accurate?
BS: It is safe to say that we are proud that the Bronx has been our home for five seasons. We love playing in the Bronx — that’s our home and we feel that’s the best place for a permanent home to be. We think that this is a transformative project for the community for the region.
PSUSA: In the Times report, Jorge Madruga, the CEO of one of your partners on the project, MADD Equities, referenced the Yankees releasing thousands of parking spots to enable the completion of the project. He said, “that’s what made this deal happen.” I think that quote caused a lot of the commotion.
BS: To be clear, there is no deal. I think what Jorge was referencing there was a signed term sheet, which is different from a signed contract. For us at NYCFC we were not a signatory to that term sheet. We’ll see where it goes from here, but we’re excited about the progress and from what we seen about the overall project. We think it’s something that is extremely positive for the South Bronx.