NYCFC Finding New Fans Through Differentiated Events

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When New York City FC fans arrived at the adidas Fifth Avenue flagship store in Manhattan for a meet-the-team event, they might have expected the traditional approach that some of these events follow – players seated at a long table, where a fan can walk down the line and get an item signed and then walk away.

But as the more than 150 fans arrived, the scene was quite different. A quick look around the room and you might spot Alexandru Mitriță and Héber Araújo dos Santos playing foosball, while several players gathered around a television to watch NYCFC’s eMLS player Chris Holly take on any challenger in FIFA 19. On the other side of the room, some players ducked behind a DJ’s turntable, while others sampled food from celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson.

“Back in the day, an event like this might just be the players sitting there and you someone walk up and get an autograph, autograph, autograph and then leave,” said NYCFC CEO Brad Sims. “We want to take that to the next level.”

Events like this are at the core of NYCFC’s strategy to deepen its bond with the wide swath of people that make up its potential fan base across the tri-state area.

While the size of the market could be viewed as daunting, NYCFC is aiming to embrace it, designing a slate of fan-facing events that hit different age groups, genders, price points, and locations.

“This is such a broad marketplace, but we’re making a concerted effort to engage as many people as possible,” said Sims, who joined the club in December 2018 after most recently serving as the chief revenue officer of the Cleveland Cavaliers. “We also want to make sure we’re providing a differentiated experience for different groups, so there is a balance between creating events for the general marketplace and then for specific parts of our fanbase.”

READ MORE: USL Launching New Initiative That Celebrates Supporters

That means smaller events like this, which was open to anyone who had spent more than $75 on NYCFC merchandise at the adidas store in the days before the event. It also means things like the 24-hour pick-up game that NYCFC hosts in Rockefeller Center ahead of the start of the season. It also means sending a player to a youth soccer camp in Connecticut or having a player making an appearance at a sponsored event on Long Island.

“We’re trying to find the next evolution in regards to our activations as we try to find things that put us on the map,” Sims said. “Some of that will be geographical as we push into areas we hadn’t been before, while some of that will be making sure we’re connecting with all of our members, creating highly valuable touchpoints.”

Making sure that NYCFC is creating a buzz in its hometown is one of Sims’ most critical tasks.

While the club hasn’t struggled on the field after star striker David Villa departed in the offseason, its visibility in what already is a tough sports market has taken a slight hit. Across the country, the LA Galaxy – LAFC matchup was a headline event that seemingly drew attention across Los Angeles during MLS’s rivalry week. NYCFC’s match with New York Red Bulls, played during the same weekend, lacked that same gravitas despite both clubs playing well. Through its first 11 home matches, NYCFC is averaging 20,420 fans per game in 2019, down roughly 12% year-over-year. In its first season in MLS in 2015, NYCFC averaged 29,016 fans per game.

READ MORE: MLS Seeing Attendance Decline At 2019 Halfway Point

While the club continues to try to find a long-term stadium solution – it has played temporarily at Yankee Stadium, a non-ideal soccer environment that has certainly depressed attendance – events like the one it held at the adidas store hopefully will play a role in creating those diehard supporters that any MLS club needs to have success.

“For the fans that are investing their time and money into our club, we want to make sure we show how much we value them,” Sims said. “The more opportunities we have to engage with our fans, the better.”