New York City FC’s victory over Nashville SC last Saturday represented a valuable three points gained over a conference rival. But it also held extra off-field significance as it marked NYCFC’s return to Citi Field and the borough of Queens for the first time since the big stadium announcement in November.
Being back at Citi Field means watching NYCFC play steps away from the site of their eventual permanent home across the street, once the massive Willets Point redevelopment project is complete in 2027. This first 2023 game back in Queens stands out as a milestone, even if it’s a small one. The match was another symbolic way to mark what will be a years-long transition for NYCFC as it eventually leaves the Bronx behind in favor of full-time residency in the World’s Borough.
The club itself appears to have embraced this early season “homestand” in Queens as a jumping-off point for numerous Willets Point stadium-adjacent activities.
The day before the match with Nashville, NYCFC announced the selection of architecture firm HOK to design the new stadium, getting fans dreaming of their own Queens version of St. Louis’s CITYPARK or Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The team also organized a Fan Fest directly outside Citi Field’s entrance hours before kickoff vs. Nashville, an event that featured a pep rally of sorts featuring a supporters group march and brief speeches about the stadium project via bullhorn from NYCFC CEO Brad Sims and City Council member Francisco Moya.
The pre-match speeches outside Citi Field from Sims and Moya were just the beginning of the Willets Point stadium hype that night. Before the game, the two were joined on the field by New York Mayor Eric Adams and City Football Group chairman Marty Edelman.
The Fan Fest pep rally, in-stadium replaying of that “Welcome Home” stadium announcement video from November, and on-field speeches from Adams, Moya, and Edelman amounted mostly to cheerleading on behalf of NYCFC’s stadium. No new ground or news was broken on the stadium front, but the show put on by the team and its local political allies ahead of the Citi Field “home opener” was still significant.
Mayor Adams being in attendance and continuing to offer full-throated support of NYCFC and the stadium plan felt significant, as the mayor’s voice would seem crucial in helping the Willets Point plan wind its way through the city bureaucracy toward approval.
The same goes for Moya, who represents the district in which the stadium will rise, and who has consistently been a vocal supporter of bringing professional soccer to Queens. Moya was banging the MLS-to-Queens drum as far back as 2012, and having him now in place as a tenured member of the City Council with direct involvement in the complex process that’s required to turn NYCFC’s stadium into a reality also has to be considered a net positive for NYCFC.
Moya seems all-in on making this stadium plan work to a degree unmatched by any other NYC elected officials during the years-long search NYCFC conducted for its forever home. CFG bigwig Edelman made a point of singling out Mayor Adams as being a particularly important champion of the NYCFC stadium dream. With Adams and Moya still out there publicly stumping for the $780 million privately-funded megaproject, NYCFC and its supporters have to feel confident the stadium remains on track, despite there still being a long way to go toward its full, final approval.
In fact, regardless of recent incorrect claims about work on the stadium site and “floor plan” that you might have seen on Twitter, the stadium’s public review and approval process is only just beginning. It’s not even expected to really ramp up until this fall. The “public scoping meeting” is now behind us, environmental impact statements are presumably in progress, and full completion of the critical “ULURP” process, and hopefully final approval of the Willets Point land’s use, isn’t expected until Spring 2024.
Thus far, resistance to and criticism of the Willets Point project has been minimal, and has not seemed to dent the project’s chances. It was therefore a savvy move by all parties–the politicians, NYCFC executives, and all their respective public relations advisors and experts to build more pro-Willets Point stadium momentum right as NYCFC returns to Queens for the first time in 2023.
Savvy, too, was NYCFC’s decision to use this week as the moment to begin surveying season ticket holders about their preferences and priorities for their Willets Point home. It’s yet another direct way the club has drummed up fresh interest, excitement, and discussion about a stadium that remains far closer to the starting line than the finish line.
Getting supporters thinking about things like seat pricing, concessions, and stadium design keeps the proverbial ball rolling forward for the NYCFC stadium, even as the wait goes on for what’s set to be a number of long years. NYCFC’s victorious on-field return to Citi Field was relatively ho-hum by MLS standards, yet held extra meaning as another important step forward for the deepening relationship between NYCFC and Queens.