For anyone who watched last night’s exhibition match between Manchester City and Chelsea, one thing was clear – the greater New York City area is currently Chelsea territory.
Just as they did last summer for their club’s exhibition against Paris Saint-Germain at the same venue, Blues supporters showed up in droves at Yankee Stadium. In fact, but for a small pocket of approximately 2,000 City supporters down third base line, the vast majority of the crowd was Chelsea blue, through-and-through.
The disparity wasn’t surprising.
Chelsea’s success in England and Europe – as well as being a London based club – are factors that have served as natural attractions for Americans who follow the Premier League.
If you speak to any member of the New York Blues – the official Supporters club of Chelsea based in Manhattan – many of them began supporting Frank Lampard & Co. after living in London (for study abroad or work) during the early 2000’s. It was at this time that Chelsea burst into an era of prominence as Roman Abramovich bought the club, hired Jose Mourinho, and soon thereafter won back-to-back league championships (2004-05, 2005-06).
This was an age when the Premier League was enjoying a surge of prominence in the United States and many fans found themselves feverishly searching for a team to call their own. Each person’s respective reason for supporting an English club didn’t really matter, as long as it made sense in his/her head.
You want to support Chelsea? Great.
You like Manchester United? Nice choice.
You’re an Arsenal man? They play a great brand of football.
But very few American fans who began watching the Premiership at the turn of the century were chomping at the bit to support Manchester City. After being relegated in 2001-02, the Citizens spent most of the decade in mid-table purgatory before being bought by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008. Within a year the club purchased a roster of top quality players and by the 2010-11 season, the Citizens had qualified for the Europa League.
City’s recent rise – combined with being based in a city less frequented by Americans, not to mention the home of their championship winning neighbors, United – means that the club’s stronghold in America simply isn’t that strong.
But don’t expect it to stay that way.
If City’s marketing department is anywhere as well-funded and determined as their player acquisition department, things in the tri-state area will begin to change over the next 5-10 years. While it’s unlikely that American fans of Premier League clubs will be changing allegiances, non-aligned Premiership fans (as well as the new wave of supporters) are likely to find their way into the sky blue kit as the game continues to spread stateside.
But how can we be sure that City’s presence in the U.S. will change?
Buying a Major League Soccer club is a pretty good start.