When New York City FC recently introduced their inaugural season home kit, media outlets, bloggers and fans all around the world commented on its similarity to Manchester City FC’s kit last season. With the only points of differentiation being the NYCFC badge, the MLS logo, the inaugural season reference and adidas as the kit supplier, NYCFC’s unveiling of its first jersey certainly got the press and exposure the club hoped for.
Why would NYCFC do that, many wondered, while others raised their concerns about the alienation of some potential fans or — especially with Frank Lampard currently on loan — giving off the impression of a minor league club for the English Premier League’s Manchester City FC.
With this strategic move, NYCFC is clearly embracing the connection with its owners and all the advantages that come from being a part of the City Football Group. As a member of this larger group, synergies on and off the pitch can be leveraged, and building a strong NYCFC franchise ultimately also reinforces Manchester City FC’s global recognition. Besides this mutual benefit, with the MLS growing rapidly, City Football Group surely wanted a piece of this pie while expanding Manchester City FC’s presence at the same time. As a further effort, City Football Group purchased Melbourne Heat, now called Melbourne City FC, earlier this year but applied a slightly softer rebranding approach.
Red Bull GmbH, the Austrian energy drink company, is probably the most famous and obvious corporation to purchase and rebrand various sports teams as they have done with FC Red Bull Salzburg, RB Leipzig, Red Bull Brasil, Red Bull Ghana, and NYCFC’s neighbor the New York Red Bulls. Upon purchase, all clubs were renamed (including the respective stadia), given the same kit (including crest) and most importantly, have been climbing the domestic leagues with the new financial and managerial backing. Chivas USA, a subsidiary of C.D. Guadalajara, on the other hand, was an example of a franchise expansion that did not work out as anticipated and after a 10-year run shut down operations earlier this year.
While fans are used to investors stepping in and building up a club, it is becoming increasingly common for an investor group, including corporate sponsors, to establish a global portfolio with teams in all corners of the world. Cooperation on youth development, training facilities, branding strategies, community outreach and all other aspects of business is helping not only one team to be successful, but is beneficial for the whole organization. This practice has taken the commercialization of soccer to a new level and fans are vocal while they are adjusting to this change. However, for fans, in the end the most important aspect is what kind of soccer is played on the pitch and who takes home the desired silverware at the end of the season.