How New York City Football Club Turned Disruption into Opportunity
An experienced sports business veteran, Brad Sims joined the MLS club in January 2019 after nearly seven years as Executive Vice President, Franchise Operations and Chief Revenue Officer for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Brad joined All Access Interview Series host Jim Andrews to recap how NYCFC’s response to the events of 2020—including the pandemic, rise of the social justice movement and a national election—strengthened connections with its fans and community. Below are edited highlights of the conversation.
Jim: Between the global pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the national election, NYCFC was quick to respond with actions and join in conversations. Can you share more about your cause marketing initiatives and focus on the community?
Brad: With New York being at the epicenter of the pandemic in March and April, and our home being Yankee Stadium in the South Bronx, which was one of the hardest hit areas, we wanted to help the local community. Early on, we began working with our corporate partners and our supporters—including our official supporters group, The Third Rail—to partner with New York Common Pantry to deliver nearly 200,000 meals to those in need.
We also dedicated our annual Cityzens Giving campaign to COVID relief in the South Bronx. Our jersey partner, Etihad Airways, donated the front of shirt for one of our nationally televised matches in September to Cityzens Giving for the South Bronx.
As part of making sure that we took care of our team members and employees, including preserving jobs and avoiding layoffs and furloughs, we partnered with the Yankees to create a $1.4 million disaster relief program for gameday staff.
Around the Black Lives Matter movement, we took a number of steps, including partnering with the Jackie Robinson Foundation to help us achieve a number of external commitments, and supporting our First Team players who helped create Black Players for Change.
We started a youth-led voting campaign called POWER the Vote in partnership with Vote.org, the largest nonpartisan voter registration and research-driven get-out-the-vote organization in the country.
And we are very proud of Saturday Night Lights, a violence prevention and youth-development program funded by the
soccer and other types of programming offering growth opportunities during times when crime levels are at the highest on Friday and Saturday nights.
Jim: Turning to some business operations topics, NYCFC had a pretty unique approach to handling season tickets in the wake of 2020. Can you tell us about that?
Brad: We run season-ticket payments on the 15th of the month. On March 15, 2020, it didn’t feel right to process payments given the uncertainty around the season, so we paused payments and did the same again in April and May. In June, we let everyone know we would not take any more payments for 2020 given how unlikely it would be that we would have fans in the stadium if and when play resumed. By November, we had 93 percent of our season-ticket base elect to leave their money with us for 2021 and not take a refund.
Jim: Can you describe what you did ensure fans still feel close to the club even when they couldn’t attend games?
Brad: We really ramped up our focus on content. We did a docuseries and a number of other digital content series. We won a Clio award for “Undeniable,” which was one of those series.
The broadcast experience was key for us as well. Instead of showing an empty stadium, we engaged with a virtual signage solution for home games. Of course, our return to playing was at Red Bull Arena, which is the home of our rival, because Major League Baseball’s condensed schedule didn’t allow us to return to Yankee Stadium. Our challenge was to make it look and feel like it was a home field on the broadcasts. We received very positive feedback on how we transformed a red stadium into NYCFC blue with our partners and our messages. We did the same on the field to create a similar home atmosphere for our players.