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?