Major League Soccer should be doing cartwheels over Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan’s interest in securing an expansion franchise.
Sheikh Mansour, who already owns Premier League side Manchester City, was said to be seeking an MLS license last November, and on Sunday the New York Times revealed the 42-year-old was the “odds-on favorite” to win expansion rights for a franchise in New York City.
At present, New York Red Bulls represent the tri-state area, but the former New York/New Jersey MetroStars play their home matches in Harrison, New Jersey, and MLS has always been keen to have more of a presence in New York City proper.
Earlier this week the Telegraph reported Sheikh Mansour had already targeted a potential site in Queens for constructing a $500 million stadium—money that would be over and above the $100 million Mansour’s Abu Dhabi United Group would have to dole out in expansion fees.
The good news for MLS is that Mansour and his holding company are both flush with cash and adept at running sports organizations.
Mansour’s personal wealth is estimated at nearly $5 billion, and his portfolio includes holdings in Virgin Galactic, Daimler AG and the Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation. Then there is the oil money (he sits on the Supreme Petroleum Council), and it has long been speculated his interest in broader investments and personal branding is intended to diversify his interests away from a reliance on oil.
As for his history with City, since buying the club in 2008 he has invested heavily in playing personnel, but, unlike other owners looking to buy trophies, he has actually delivered them. City won the FA Cup in 2011 and the Premier League last season, and this spring will qualify for the Champions League Group Stage for the third year in a row.
He also trimmed the club’s operating debt by nearly £100 million between the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.
But the big payoff for MLS is his specific interest in starting a franchise in New York City.
With numerous baseball, hockey and gridiron football teams already competing for leisure dollars, the market is hardly an easy one to break into, but Sheik Mansour’s wealth and branding ambitions should ensure he weathers any initial storm and builds a sustainable operation for the long term.
A football club in New York City has to be a big thing, and Sheikh Mansour would run it with a “big club” mentality from the get-go.
He would also bring a history of competitive success and, more importantly, resources to the club of MLS owners.
Contracts and cost certainties such as the salary cap are still heavily centralized in the league office—something that serves as a detriment to MLS competing with the bigger European divisions.
It’s hard to see such an arrangement being compatible with Sheikh Mansour’s ambitions for long, and in that regard as well his involvement with North America’s top flight would be extremely beneficial.