By Patrick Ralph
Stan’s Tavern is one of four sports bars and restaurants across the street from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. During Yankee games, places like these are filled to the brim with pinstripe-dressed fans talking baseball over burgers and beers. Given all the Yankee memorabilia which hang on the walls of these places, it’s unlikely to find many Mets fans around here.
At Stan’s, the bar is situated in the middle of the place while fans situate themselves at high tables and chairs around the bar. Along with Yankee memorabilia, large TV’s airing various sporting events can be watched from any vantage point in the bar.
But the arrival of soccer to the Bronx, in the form of New York City Football Club, known as NYCFC, has forced bar owners like Michael Rendino of Stan’s to cater to a different crowd. According to Rendino, the soccer club attracts a more diverse and European-based crowd to the bar. A very different crowd from that at Yankee games.
“We’re used to serving Bud Light and Coors Light to our customers”, said Rendino, who’s also a New York City firefighter. “Now we have more craft beers here because that’s what these fans want.”
But restaurant and bar owners like Rendino are curious to find out if the soccer club’s potential first playoff appearance in franchise history can be as beneficial to business as the Yankees’ postseason appearances have been over the years.
Stan’s Tavern is one of two dozen bars throughout the city that is an official pub partner of NYCFC. Rendino said that they do it to support the club, and it’s really helping business out.
“With NYCFC, we’re open 15 extra days during the season now”, said Rendino. “That’s a 12 percent increase in business for us. We’re starting to see a lot of the same faces so we’re really building up a new audience.”
NYCFC gets over 27,000 fans on average for a match, which is the fourth highest attendance on average in Major League Soccer. But Yankee Stadium can hold over 54,000 people for an event. For most matches, the stadium will not even open the upper decks.
“The main attractions for the season are the opening match and when they play the Red Bulls”, said John Michialis, general manager at Billy’s Sports Bar. “Otherwise, they can never sell this place out.”
The New York Red Bulls are NYCFC’s biggest rival. The two clubs are likely to make the playoffs, as both are tied for second place in the Eastern Conference of Major League Soccer. However, the Red Bulls play in Harrison, New Jersey and have been around for 20 years.
But Michialis said that his bar and restaurant has not benefitted much from its partnership with NYCFC. “I would rather have concerts with 75,000 people over the course of a weekend than once in awhile soccer matches with 20,000 fans”, said Michialis.
According to Michialis, Billy’s Sports Bar was packed last year for matches during the club’s inaugural season because Yankee fans were attending. With the Yankees being part owners of the new soccer club, the franchise was determined to drive its loyal fan base out to the stadium to support its newest business venture.
Now that the Yankees are not promoting the soccer club like they were last season, Michialis said that there’s very few fans in his place now. Michialis also said that the fact that not every NYCFC match is aired live on TV does not help his business either, as many customers come to his bar to watch sporting events.
The majority of NYCFC’s matches are broadcasted live on the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network (YES), a regional cable television sports channel owned and operated by the Yankees. Occasionally, some of the soccer club’s matches are broadcasted nationally by ESPN or Fox Sports.
However, roughly 25 percent of NYCFC’s matches cannot be watched on a traditional broadcast or cable television network. Instead, those matches can only be seen on UniMas, a Spanish language television network, or Fox Sports Go, a live streaming mobile video platform.
Joe Bastone, owner of Yankee Tavern, agrees with Michialis. “It’s extremely quiet in here for matches”, said Bastone. “It was a lot busier in here last year, but the crowd is not as big now.”
“They have to put a lot more money into advertising and promoting the team”, said Michialis. “If they go to the playoffs, then we’ll really find out what kind of crowds the team can bring in.”