Thursday, April 17, 2014
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Manchester City takes lead to buy New York MLS expansion team, but there's no deal yet

I've talked with multiple sources and have been told that the owners of English Premier League powerhouse Manchester City are now once again in the lead to take hold of MLS' 20th franchise.

Manchester City takes lead to buy New York MLS expansion team, but there's no deal yet

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber has wanted to get a second team into the New York market for a long time. (Kathy Willens/AP file photo)
Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber has wanted to get a second team into the New York market for a long time. (Kathy Willens/AP file photo)

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber was in Toronto on Wednesday to meet with Canadian business leaders. He also attended Toronto FC's game against the Montréal Impact in the Amway Canadian Championship, Canada's equivalent of the U.S. Open Cup.

Garber spoke with reporters at halftime of the game, and made some significant headlines. He said that the league may be ready to make an announcement soon about adding a second team in the New York market:

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Given MLS' struggles thus far to nail down that franchise, there was quite a bit of speculation on Twitter that the attempt to bring a second team to the Big Apple - specifically, to a plot of land near Citi Field and the USTA National Tennis Center in Queens - had failed.

Was the dream dead? Would MLS now move on to other markets, such as Orlando?

Dan Courtemanche, MLS' executive vice president of communications, quickly took to Twitter to try to clarify matters:

That prompted this exchange between me and Courtemanche:

Courtemanche's remark sounded to me like confirmation that New York was back in front. So did this report out of Toronto:

Note how it doesn't say that there's not going to be a second team in New York. It only says what the ownership group won't be.

Well, I can take things a bit further.

I've talked with multiple sources and have been told that the owners of English Premier League powerhouse Manchester City are now once again in the lead to take hold of MLS' 20th franchise. 

You may recall that talk that City's interest in buying into MLS was initially reported back in November. The Telegraph's Paul Kelso first brought the news to light, and Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl reported the possibility of a $100 million expansion fee.

In December, Bloomberg reported that City's principal owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was "close" to a deal with MLS, and confirmed the expansion fee target of $100 million.

You may also recall that at around the same time, Empire of Soccer reported that MLS had filed a trademark registration for the name "New York City FC." Given Manchester City's involvement - not to mention the simple allure of such a name - it made sense.

So it's not necessarily news that City and MLS have been talking. It is news - and big news too - that talks have advanced this far.  

Garber wouldn't have publicly set a target date for a formal expansion announcement if there weren't such clear indications that a deal is close to being done.

I was told Wednesday that $100 million is still the expected expansion fee. That would more than double the previous high of $40 million that was paid by the owners in Vancouver, Portland and Montréal.

There is no deal in place yet - and that bears highlighting, given the sensitive nature of these things.

That alone represents significant progress. Up to now, Garber and the rest of MLS' front office have said very little about where things stand.

So, to put it all in one sentence: Manchester City is the leading candidate to operate MLS' 20th franchise, and would pay a $100 million expansion fee to take that team to a new stadium in Queens, N.Y.

Exactly when the team would begin playing in MLS isn't clear yet. Among other factors, the proposed stadium in Queens hasn't been approved yet by New York's city council.

(Though there are renderings that you can view here.)

This much is known, though: Manchester City will be in New York at the end of May to play a friendly against fellow Premier League power Chelsea at Yankee Stadium. There will be a lot of ears perked up to see if an announcement gets made at that time.

And if it does, you can be sure that a lot of people will take notice. Not only will it finally get MLS a team inside New York's city limits, but the announcement would also come just months before the start of the league's next round of negotiations for national television deals.

It's a fair bet that a second team in New York would look pretty attractive from a ratings perspective.

It will be fascinating to see where the story goes from here. Stay tuned.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, U.S. national teams and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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