Making major league room
Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
The home where pinstripes reign has rolled out a new welcome mat – and it reads “Goal!”
Starting in 2015 at Yankee Stadium, the words “Play ball” won’t automatically mean keeping a home run count.
On Mon., Apr. 21st, the New York Yankees announced that the stadium will host the 2015 inaugural season of the New York City Football Club (NYC FC), the city’s first Major League Soccer (MLS) team.
The stadium is not a permanent home, as the expansion team’s leadership continues to search for just the right venue in the five boroughs, but the temporary installation at one of the most prominent sports venues in the world is expected to boost NYCFC’s profile.
“The beauty of building a franchise is that the fans are excited. People in New York are pumped up that this thing is coming.[It’s] like this is a movie premiere in New York City,” said NYCFC Chief Business Officer Tim Pernetti at Monday’s press conference. “It’s coming in 2015. We’re going to feed off that excitement and build at the same time.”
Pernetti did not discuss the proposal to build a soccer stadium adjacent to the stadium, which had been criticized by local residents, and did not directly engage on questions regarding ongoing talks with the city or potential tax breaks.
But he insisted that the search for a permanent home continues.
“It’s been no secret that our plans all along are to do a deal to build a soccer-specific stadium within the five boroughs,” said Pernetti. “We are continuing to do that. We’re conducting the same thorough search and developing our plans. Our goal is to be in a soccer-specific building as soon as possible. We’re going to take our time to get it right.”
While there had been reports that the NYCFC’s time at the stadium might last for as long as three years, Yankees President Randy Levine said no such timeline had been established.
“There’s no timetable. There’s been dialogue, we’re looking at sites,” he said. “If not New York City, then other sites. I never rule out anything.”
He said the arrangement “will last until it doesn’t last.”
Converting the field for soccer games would require approximately three days, to extract the entire pitching mound and then put it back into place for baseball games.
For the soccer games, the stadium’s capacity will be reduced from 49,642 to 33,444 seats, and the pitch itself will be 110 by 70 yards, the minimum required by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
But no need for fans to be concerned about how fielding goals might interfere with Grand Slams, said the Yankees’ Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost, who insisted that hosting NYCFC at Yankee Stadium would not be a hindrance.
“We have no concern about the placement of the pitch on the field,” said Trost, noting that the Stadium has already proven a multi-faceted venue suited for everything from hockey games to musical concerts.
“Yankee Stadium is not only the most iconic venue on the market, it’s also the most accessible venue,” agreed Pernetti. “You name it, they’ve done it.”
The Yankees leadership promised that NYCFC would be as successful as its own franchise.
“This is going to be a championship franchise, because that’s the way we do it,” said Levine, who is also a board member of NYCFC.
His anticipation was met by the excitement of another enthusiast.
Thirteen-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion Mariano Rivera retired from the Yankees last year, but on Monday, he promised he would be a regular fixture at NYCFC games as the franchise’s first season ticket holder.
“I used to be a closer, but now I’m a starter,” he joked.
Rivera recalled that as a young boy in his native Panama, it was soccer that he longed to play.
“Soccer is my number one game, but baseball got in between,” laughed the Cy Young winner.
He also vouched for his old home turf.
“There is no place better for the NYC FC team,” he said. “You’ve come to the right place.”
Some of the team’s newest fans are youth involved in South Bronx United, a youth program that trains youth to play soccer and provides academic tutoring. South Bronx United serves 600 children between the ages of 4 and 19. The program is one of eight that will be sponsored by NYCFC. Students play at Macombs Dam Park, right across the street from Yankee Stadium.
“We’re excited that there will be soccer,” said Andrew So, the program’s Executive Director.
So was sixth grader Amaris.
“I’m so excited!”she echoed.
To learn more about NYCFC, visit www.nycfc.com.