A recent survey of New York City FC season ticket holders regarding the club’s planned Willets Point soccer stadium included a question gauging fan interest in that stadium also hosting a women’s team.
The survey looks to be the club’s first attempt to get direct fan feedback on the future NYCFC stadium since the Willets Point project was announced in November. Questions in the survey were largely focused on things like stadium amenities and ticket pricing, so the inclusion of a direct question about a women’s team stands out.
The survey asked respondents to share “their attitude towards a new NYCFC-affiliated women’s pro team,” with answer options ranging from Very Positive to Very Negative. The survey made it clear that all its questions were “for research purposes only,” and any NYCFC-adjacent women’s team is likely still as many years away as the Willets Point stadium, if not more.
The survey question, though, arrives not long after NYCFC CEO Brad Sims, in a February interview with Hudson River Blue managing editor Oliver Strand, said of a potential NYCFC-affiliated women’s team, “It’s something that we want, that we plan to have.”
Talk of a new New York City-based, NYCFC-linked women’s team has swirled since City Football Group brought NYCFC to life in 2015. That’s in part because it aligns with what CFG has done at its other clubs across the globe. Manchester City’s women’s team has long been one of England’s best and fully came under the CFG umbrella in 2014, while Australia’s Melbourne City FC successfully launched a women’s team in 2015, to name just two examples.
NYCFC women’s team speculation also persists because Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, while doing an interview with Manchester City FC TV back in 2016, outright said of a women’s team “I think you’ll see us potentially doing that in New York at some point, and potentially with any club we’re involved with.” You can see Al Mubarak’s somewhat ancient but still relevant comments starting at minute 3:05 of this video.
Brad Sims similarly pointed to the strong CFG track record in women’s club soccer in that same February interview with HRB, while also saying “I think there’s demand for women to play in our big stadium, but to be able to do that, you have to do it right, you have to launch the team right. You have to give yourself the proper runway to sell and monetize, and there’s a level of urgency to figure that out.”
Launching a successful professional women’s team in the New York area is not a new concept for the National Women’s Soccer League. In fact, they’ve just attempted to pull off a version of it with NJ/NY Gotham FC. Gotham took that name only back in April 2021 — the team is the latest incarnation of Sky Blue FC, which happen to be the longest-running professional women’s club in America.
The NWSL and Gotham, whose ownership group is now led by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and his wife Tammy, have attempted an ambitious rebrand of Sky Blue and relocated the team’s matches from the campus of Rutgers University to Red Bull Arena in part to try to widen the club’s appeal in the New York City market.
How, then, would NYCFC’s interest in bringing the women’s game to their new Willets Point stadium align with the interests of the NWSL and Gotham FC?
NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman was asked about the prospect of welcoming “NY2” to the league in a May 2022 interview with Newsday, with Berman saying of a second New York club “I guess, time will tell…it will be interesting to see, and even sort of anecdotally without having formally started the process, to receive the inbounds of where there’s interest. So, we’ll have to see how it unfolds.”
There’s no doubt the NWSL is currently in growth mode, with expansion fees rising and big-name investors flocking to the league. A new expansion team in the Bay Area was only just announced, and will join the league in 2024 after paying a $53 million expansion fee.
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Years of evidence points in the direction of NYCFC and its ownership group entering women’s soccer in some form once the Willets Point soccer stadium becomes a reality. Huge questions, though, remain as to how that team will come to be.
Will NYCFC team up with the existing franchise currently playing over in New Jersey, finding it more logical and lucrative to become involved with Gotham perhaps as partners/investors/co-owners? When the club were still Sky Blue FC, the then-owners of the franchise reportedly turned down an opportunity to merge with the Red Bulls, so it’s not a given such an MLS-NWSL partnership would successfully come together.
Co-ownership has also not been CFG’s preferred style elsewhere around the globe. If starting fresh with an expansion side is the CFG preference, how will that work for NWSL? Yes, bringing a second pro women’s soccer team to the New York market would generate buzz and create another Hudson River Derby–but would it eat too much into Gotham’s market for both clubs to thrive? Gotham are still relatively new to calling Red Bull Arena home, but were next-to-last in average home attendance during the 2022 NWSL season.
All speculation over a potential NYCFC women’s team, and the future of professional women’s soccer in the NYC area, remains premature and speculative. Years remain before the Willets Point stadium is built and open for matches. This latest direct query to NYCFC ticket-holders about a women’s team, though, adds to a breadcrumb trail that’s been years in the making, and one that may eventually lead to a professional women’s team based within New York City.