How New York City Football Club Is Building Its Brand One Fan at a Time

Our Q&A with the soccer franchise president

Can Tom Glick put soccer fans and sponsors in a New York state of mind? He's giving it his best shot as president of Major League Soccer's New York City FC.

Backed by English Premier League club Manchester City FC and Major League Baseball's New York Yankees, the team made its debut in March and plays home games at Yankee Stadium. Glick, president of the New York club and former vp of marketing and team business development with the NBA, CMO of the New Jersey Nets and marketing chief of Manchester City, talks about soccer's future in the Big Apple.

Adweek: Does it help American soccer to have another team playing in the media capital of the world?
Glick: Yes, definitely. There are an estimated 2 million soccer fans in New York. There are more soccer fans here than in any other city in the U.S. There was a long-standing passion for soccer that needed to be better served. We wanted to give birth to a new club for New Yorkers, to build it with New Yorkers. It also helps the other club in town [the New York Red Bulls, which play home games in Harrison, N.J.]. Creating a rivalry is good for both clubs, it's good for Major League Soccer, and it's good for the continued elevation of soccer in the U.S.

Building a team with New Yorkers, how does that work?
We have a digital program called City Voice, which is a real-time opportunity for us to get instant feedback and opinions from our supporters.

Can you give us an example?
Our fans inspired what the ingredients of our logo should be. Then we put a celebrated New York artist, Rafael Esquer, on the case, and he came up with a couple of designs that fit that inspiration. Of course, the fans were able to vote. There was a resounding call for one of the two—it got about 80 percent of the vote.

Is City Voice also a data-collection device to help target sponsor messages?
Yes, it does allow us to do data collection, but that's secondary. The core purpose is to facilitate a dialogue and serve as a listening device.

What other marketing have you done?
One of the positioning statements we've used is: "Welcome to the Club." This is significant because we're not only building a team, we're also building a club. This is a family. It's something we want our fans to feel a sense of belonging to.

What's the media mix?
A big part of the marketing mix is television and digital. We have a young, well-educated, tech-savvy, high-earning season ticket base.

The typical season ticket holder is in their mid-20s to early 30s. They're professional, well-educated, working in Manhattan. For two out of three, they have not had a season ticket and do not have a season ticket to another sport. They are affiliating for the first time. They've grown up with the sport, and they're passionate about the sport. We've sold 17,000 season tickets so far. Our goal was 17,000—and we're not even halfway through the season.

How about sponsorships?
We have great sponsors like Etihad Airways, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, the Tri-State Ford Dealers, Heineken. Heineken is looking for that 21-to-34 demo, and they are huge believers in soccer. They've taken a big position with New York City Football Club. They're also the official beer of Major League Soccer. We've been doing a lot of co-branding on Heineken's trucks. At our very first game in Orlando [against Orlando City SC, the league's other 2015 expansion team], we had a massive viewing party, which Heineken threw. We have about 30 pub partners around the area doing viewing parties with Heineken, with fans congregating and watching home and away matches either on [NYCFC broadcast partner] YES Network or on [MLS partners] ESPN, Fox Sports or [Univision's] UniMás, depending on who has the game.

What about Etihad Airways? It's the team's jersey sponsor. What else have you done with them?
We had a launch party at the Boathouse in Central Park with Etihad. That's the first big thing that we've done. We'll be working with them around tourism—for New Yorkers traveling West to East, as well as for people from around the world coming to New York on Etihad. We'll also be working on targeted business-class promotions.

Are you looking to play exhibitions overseas? Maybe visit Manchester City FC and do some co-marketing?
There's a lot of star power on our team. We have David Villa, Frank Lampard and we have U.S. National Team player Mix Diskerud. New York City, as it should, has some big stars. This will give us the currency and the relevance to play games in different parts of the world.

You're planning to build your own stadium. Where does that stand?
It will need to be in one of the five boroughs, it needs to be centrally located, and it needs to have great public transportation. We're looking at lots and lots of sites. But we're not in a hurry. Yankee Stadium really is a great first home. The experience there is excellent. It's easy to get to. It's a venue with real gravitas. It's iconic around the world.

What's the timetable?
We're hopeful of being open in the first five years.

Since New Yorkers always demand a winner, do you have a timetable for when NYCFC will be an MLS Cup contender?
Expansion brings challenges in assembling a team from scratch, and getting the team to play well together. We've had a slow start. We're still very focused on being in the playoffs this year. That requires a top-six finish. We're within striking distance. We think we'd be capable of winning the MLS Cup within our first few seasons. 

Would you be a Cup contender in time for the new stadium?

This story first appeared in the July 6 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.