Building a team from scratch – whether in sport or in business – comes with its own specific challenges and opportunities.
Starting a new business is tough – it’s estimated that 90% of start-ups fail. Imagine having to start from scratch: no staff, no customers, no premises, no equipment, no brand. To come through that test intact requires a rare combination of nous and sheer hard work.
Now imagine having to do all that in the ultra-competitive world of professional sport, joining an established structure where your rivals have been thriving for years. That’s the challenge that faced football club New York City FC (NYCFC). Since its formation in 2013, they have built a team and a brand from scratch, guided by their owners, City Football Group and the New York Yankees, and their sister clubs around the world.
It was a long, testing process that finally came to fruition in March this year, when NYCFC kicked off their inaugural Major League Soccer (MLS) season, becoming the league’s 20th franchise. So how have they done it?
Unlike sporting leagues in most other parts of the world, those in North America operate a level playing field for player recruitment. Under the draft system, teams take turns selecting from a pool of eligible players, with expansion teams or those teams that performed poorly in the previous season getting first choice.
In MLS, the draft can be augmented with up to three ‘Designated Players’, who sit outside the strict salary cap. In NYCFC’s case, these slots are taken by captain and World Cup winner David Villa, World Cup winner Andrea Pirlo and Champions League winner Frank Lampard.
In business, such a system might be regarded as stifling competition, but NYCFC’s Sporting Director, former US national team captain Claudio Reyna, emphasises that it still places a premium on recruitment expertise.
He says: “As in any business, it’s not just about accessing the most expensive and high-profile talent available, but about doing plenty of homework to identify existing talent in the market – such as players who might need a fresh start or have unfulfilled potential – and spot the stars of the future.”
Building a local identity
As a new business, it was vital for NYCFC to quickly create a brand that would resonate with customers – which, in professional sport, means the people of New York City. So, although the Club shares the sky blue of their home strip with Manchester City, they have been keen to establish their own local identity. To engage fans in the process, they allowed speculation about the Club’s badge to build over a period of almost nine months before releasing two designs for the crest, which were then put to a public vote.
“It was really important to us that fans were at the heart of how we built this Club,” says Reyna. “From voting on our badge – one of the cornerstones of our identity – to the design of our captain’s armband, they have been a part of so much of what we have done.
“We’re incredibly proud of our ownership and our links with Manchester City, but we’re also proud that we have built a Club that belongs to New Yorkers, with a New York identity. Our amazing crowds at Yankee Stadium have been testament to that.”
And how was NYCFC’s first season in MLS? “It has been an amazing ride which has proved a fantastic experience for all of us involved,” says Reyna. “We’ve had the privilege to get to play in front of the best fans in Major League Soccer in the greatest city in the world. We’ve worked with fantastic partners like Hays, who have supported us on the pitch and helped us build our team off it. We’ve learned, and continue to learn, every day. Now that we’ve had a taste of top-tier soccer in New York, we can’t wait for more.”
He will have to wait, though – until March, when the 2016 MLS season kicks off. One difference between football and other businesses is that it only operates in public for part of the year. But you can be sure that the NYCFC management will be active every day between now and March, working on identifying players who can strengthen the squad and building their brand by finding new ways to forge links with the local community.
New York City FC is proud to have Hays as the Official Recruitment Partner of the Club.