Second Class Cityzen Treatment Won’t Help City Brand Abroad

What a way to endear New York City fans to your sporting project and brand, City Football Group.

New York City FC festively rang in the New Year with an announcement that sent the MLS fans and media into a furor. The dreaded, yet oft-predicted confirmation that New York City FC star designated-player Frank Lampard would finish out the season with Manchester City FC, therefore missing about 4 months of the MLS season, was made public. All of this only 3 months prior to NYCFC’s inaugural season, no less.

Now it’s easy to have a knee-jerk, “sky is falling” reaction to this, and many have done just that. Truth is, NYCFC can still easily compete for MLS Cup in 2015 even while missing Lampard for half of the season with the talented and experienced roster it has assembled under coach Jason Kreis (and with a 3rd designated player scheduled to come, along with other prospects and potential Manchester City loanees). So, competitively, this is hardly a reason to panic for NYCFC fans.

There also seems to be a lot of people putting all of the blame on City Football Group, and although it should shoulder much of it, I’ve been told that Lampard himself was especially pushing to stay at Manchester City to try to compete (presumably) one last time for the Champion’s League Title and the Premiership, proving to the world one more time that he “still has it” while the likes of Mourinho and Chelsea perhaps believed he didn’t.

Since a footballer can’t be forced to play where he doesn’t want to, it would seem that Lampard must’ve had a big part in this development since he could have easily just decided to sign on to start with NYCFC at the beginning of the MLS season like he originally said he would at his press conference in Brooklyn. But, Lampard opted to renege on his promise to New York City and here we are.

Whoever you want to blame, City Football Group will begin to learn the hard way that so blatantly treating its sister clubs as secondary to Manchester City will not endear fans in New York City and Melbourne (or North American and Australian fans, in general) to the English Champions, nor to the CFG brand and mission.

As I mentioned before in regards to CFG’s puzzling decision to make NYCFC’s home jersey’s nearly identical to Manchester City’s, the vast majority of NYCFC’s fans and still domestically un-aligned soccer fans in the NYC area support European clubs other than Manchester City, so they are not at all interested in Manchester City’s well-being or taking on its identity.

In the Australian A-League, there was also anger from several Melbourne Heart fans about having to change its team colors from red and white to City’s sky blue, while being re-branded Manchester City by CFG.

If the English club is going to make a habit of taking NYCFC’s (and potentially Melbourne City’s) best players, and treating its “sister clubs” as secondary in importance, and disregarding the wishes of its local fans, it will only breed absolute resentment for Manchester City and the City Football brand in its sister clubs’ countries.

As Third Rail (NYCFC’s Supporters Club) member Geoffrey Murphy said following the recent Lampard announcement, “I don’t have a Premier League team I support, and was leaning toward Man City because of NYCFC, but based on how Man City has treated us, I will gladly root for ANY other team.”

He’s not alone. Many NYCFC fans have voiced how they will be rooting against Manchester City in all competitions now. If CFG continues to act in ways that is perceived disrespectful to its “sister clubs” and their leagues, they can expect the fans, not only of their particular clubs, but of the leagues in general, to consider City Football Group a source of “what’s wrong with football”, and bad for their leagues, in general.

City Football Group has precious little time to repair its relationship with its fans and change this rapidly growing and solidifying perception going forward. It must absolutely tread carefully, not only if it cares about the success of its sister clubs, but of the perception and popularity of Manchester City itself.

An already suspicious MLS fanbase and American soccer media now completely has its knives out for Manchester City, who rightly feels that the club and it’s ownership in MLS is unnecessarily becoming a black eye to Major League Soccer’s improving reputation, disrespecting the US and Canada’s top-flight soccer league, and worst, in America’s biggest and most important market.

How much of a choice Lampard gave City Football Group in the end is probably irrelevant to the public perception, and the damage is already done. These scandals seem easily avoidable by CFG, and one must really question the wisdom of its decision makers in Manchester if they are going to continue to destroy all of the trust they have started to build with NYCFC fans in the great city of New York, a market of almost 20 million people.

Why waste this opportunity? Why not treat its “sister clubs” equally, respecting its cities, leagues and local soccer culture? This is the best way to ensure that the “City brand” and Manchester City are viewed as positively as possible. Otherwise, you are just engendering global. league-wide resentment and suspicion of Manchester City and the CFG mission. It also severely stunts the massive potential for success of its clubs, especially in worldly, soccer-loving New York City, the Media Capital of the World.

It’s a strategy that seems remarkably counterproductive. It remains to be seen if CFG will do what is necessary to win back the trust of NYCFC fans (signing an equally big-name designated player as soon as possible to permanently replace Lampard now seems to be the most acceptable remedy for most NYCFC fans), rather than set the entire project back several years, as this Lampard debacle potentially has done to the expansion club perception-wise. But, they need to make it count.

You can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickChavezMLS.

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