13 March 2011

Lots of info and a picture starting to paint itself

Have you ever played Pictionary and when the person first starts drawing, it makes no sense, then over time it gets a bit more clear what they are trying to say?

Friday was a very big day for New York City expansion information. There were quotes positive about the Cosmos; the Wilpon family was thrown back into the thick of things; and there was even talk of other markets still being in the hunt. We tried to keep you updated as the day progressed, but now we take a deep breath and dissect it all.

Between the Grant Wahl's interview and the MLS conference call, there were many quotes in favor of what the Cosmos are doing. Garber even mentioned that feel confident the Cosmos have the financing in place to get everything done. However, citing lack of a stadium plan Garber feels the talks are "preliminary but positive"ck of a stadium plan Garber feels the talks are "preliminary but positive"

Nice to hear it publicly said that the league is talking to the Cosmos and things are positive but the biggest part of this news here is the fact that Garber feels the Cosmos have the financing. While yes, there are many factors in expansion, if you can privately fund the expansion fee and the stadium, you are in a very good spot.  And it’s confirmation that the Cosmos, are not simply a dog and pony soccer fashion show.

Garber also spoke of the Wilpon family still being interested in MLS and in both the Wahl interview and the conference call.  He mentioned that they have a "pretty good piece of land for a soccer stadium". While Garber clearly feels the Wilpons would be great MLS owners, he also says that he would consider linking the Wilpons up with other potential investors to get something done in New York.

Garber from today's call:

"There is no shortage of young financial guys who have played the game that have done very well lately that have expressed an interest in investing in M.L.S., particularly in New York, so we are bullish about the opportunity, whether that is with the Cosmos alone, whether that is partnering them with others and hopefully we will do it in a way that will capture some of the excitement of the past but probably more importantly provide us with a rival for the Red Bulls."

Now, we would like to take you back to January and another Grant Wahl interview with Cosmos Vice Chairman Terry Byrne::

"SI.com: For years MLS has been speaking with the Wilpon family, which owns the New York Mets, about being involved in a second New York-area soccer team and a soccer stadium. Do you see the Wilpons as competitors or potential partners?

Byrne: I think potential partners is the answer to that one. The commissioner has made it clear that they are interested in building the stadium and would be willing to partner with us in potentially building that stadium. I don't think they're competitors. [Kemsley] has had a couple meetings with them. The vision is ideally to work with them.

SI.com: How would that work?

Byrne: I think stadium-specific is the plan. That's where the partnership is: We'll bring the team and they'll bring the stadium, effectively. That's the ideal scenario."

So, while we don’t have anything definitive yet, the picture is getting clearer. 

You have Garber saying the Cosmos have the financing and that they have had positive discussions. He also says he is still fond of the Wilpon family, and would partner potential owners up. Curious that Garber did not mention that the Wilpons and Cosmos have spoken, as Terry Byrne mentioned in January. Garber also dropped a hint of a very possible location, which is not news as the parking lot of Citi Field has been the rumor for quote some time.

Finally, some folks have made a lot of the following Garber quote:  

“It’s possible that another market could jump in there,” adding “If that happens, we’ll just move our efforts and our plans in New York to a later time period.”

Let’s face it, he had to say that.  It would be stupid for him not to leave the door open for another market to pip New York.  First, let’s not delude ourselves, there is a hell of a lot of momentum favoring NYC, but given the unpredictability of the financial situation and the political situation in getting a stadium done, it can never be 100% New York is number 20 until 11 guys in Cosmos colors are chasing after a round ball on a patch of grass against some other 11 guys from an MLS team.  So you never, ever shut the door on other opportunities until you reach that 100% threshold.  

Second, why on Earth would Don Garber give away any of the league’s leverage unless he has to.  This is business.  If the Cosmos say “we want to pay $20 million for a franchise fee”, Garber will want to say “there’s a group in Atlanta willing to pay $50 mill.  Try again for number 21 or 23 in 2018!”

We think the main thing in that particular quote is that the league believes that a team in New York City will be a great benefit to the league, so they’re going to try to make it happen as soon as possible. 

As you can see, there was a lot of information to take in from Friday, but there is one thing for sure. New York City expansion is on the map and there is a very real chance, the 20th MLS franchise will be awarded to the City that never sleeps later this year.