I know, I know. It’s modern football at its utmost: a newly cashed in British team ‘rolling out its brand” to the MLS. Everything old fashioned football purists are against. But I’ll tell you what, it’s a great experience and there’s absolutely loads British football could learn from the Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, New York.
Let’s get the football out of the way first. The standard’s not great. It’s athletic and hard working but there were so few skills on show that when something exciting did happen the crowd went absolutely ballistic. Put someone who can beat a man in there like Aaron Lennon or Nahki Wells and they’d think it was Christmas every Sunday.
It was great to see Pirlo, although he looked a little like he was playing in a testimonial. “He is,” said my mate “his own.” He’d rarely have to break sweat and covered a lot of ground to be in the right positions, but it did look like the PE teacher playing with the kids when he had the ball. Same goes for David Villa, who didn’t look too troubled when scoring against Toronto in the game we watched.
It was 2-2 so there were plenty of goals and the game was competitive, Toronto and United States Soccer Team captain made sure of that, but at times it felt like we were watching a development league game.
If anything the sport seems just to be the magnet to get the fans into the game as customers. The retail and refuelling options were immense, as were the seats. The size of the States means ‘away fans’ isn’t a big thing, but despite that there was plenty of atmosphere. The punters genuinely felt like they were on a big day out and there was a real buzz around the crowd.
The biggest thing I noticed that would help British clubs financially is that all the merchandising shops were inside the ground. Each level had outlets the size of British high street shops, and there was a megastore in the main reception. This meant that the club were selling masses of swag at half time, and throughout the game people could pop away and pick up that souvenir scarf, shirt, hat, water bottle. It’s just basic common sense when you think about it.
The fans also had full access to all levels and sides of the ground. During the second half I went for a twenty minute walk around the upper tier and could see the pitch the whole time. On the one side of the concourse you had a full circle of catering, and on the other an open view of the pitch.
Every time I hear a club worrying about going bust I think back to my away experience at their ground and sure enough it usually involved 1000 Leeds fans being served by two kids as their stock runs out in minutes. The Yankee Stadium was like the cup final of catering. Just masses of it, including a cocktail bar. Alcohol was sold throughout the game. Obviously they have a different history to us but it was a genuine shock to see optics openly in use. And there were probably 20 different food outlets, some with more than one shopfront: hot dogs, popcorn, Philly Cheese Steak, Mexican, pizza, bacon on a stick, steak, burgers - it just went on and on. I’m not sure there was too much healthy food on offer, but basically you got fed, and how often can you say that at a game?
I sat in the ground listening to the announcer trumpeting subs in a fantastically over the top all American way and thought about the recent midweek away game at Brentford I’d attended. The outside of Griffin Park is cute and steeped in history, but inside there was nothing for the travelling fans but to thump out a beat on the old metal panels with their boots. Like cattle. And it’s like that most places you go.
NYCFC can't offer the cut and thrust or history of British football, but it felt nice, given the prices we’re charged anyway, to have a customer experience that felt like they actually valued our presence there. Having said that they’ll need to sort out their kit, it was impossible to buy my Arsenal supporting son what is essentially Man City merchandising.
Now read this....