By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On Wednesday morning, Jose Collazo, a middle schooler from the Bronx, hated soccer, but by Thursday afternoon he not only changed his mind about the game, but had a favorite team and a favorite player.
“This is a dream come true," Collazo gushed. "I've always wanted to meet a famous person. I didn't even know who he was, but meeting him was so much fun that I can't wait to see him play. I'm going to tell my children about this."
That famous person he met was Frank Lampard, a World Cup veteran and longtime European star who was at Pier 5 in Brooklyn Bridge Park on Thursday morning as the New York City Football Club announced that it had signed him. The club chose the park in Brooklyn and not Manhattan or the Bronx, where the team will play its home games at Yankee Stadium, for a very particular reason — to get people from all over New York City interested in soccer and, specifically, NYCFC.
The team wants more Collazos — more people that might not have cared about soccer — one day to reconsider and, hopefully, become fans.
“That’s why it’s awesome to be in Brooklyn,” NYCFC's Chief Business Officer Tim Pernetti said. "We've done our best to share the history as we make announcements with all of the boroughs of New York City.”
When the team announced it had hired Claudio Reyna to be its sporting director, it was done in Harlem. When it introduced Jason Kreis as the head coach, it was in Midtown Manhattan. When it announced that Yankee Stadium would be its home, the announcement, naturally, came in the Bronx. When it announced its newest and biggest star, NYCFC came to Brooklyn.
“It’s why we’re happy to announce our players so early — because it gets people excited,” Pernetti said. “Especially coming after the World Cup, we couldn’t have gotten a better time.”
Expect to see more of this as it gets closer and closer to NYCFC’s 2015 debut. Their coach and its new players all understand that their roles on this team are not just as coaches and players, but also as ambassadors.
"I think it's a terrific idea," Kreis said. "We need to spend time in all of these different areas to make major announcements like this. It helps us fulfill our responsibility to find new fans and to keep them.”
Part of what the team is trying to capitalize on is the popularity of the World Cup, which saw unprecedented ratings here in the United States for the first time in 2014, and the growing interest in the sport in general.
“I think the sport in this country is headed in an extremely positive direction," Kreis said. "It's been popular around the globe for a long time, but, as you saw with the way the World Cup was received, it's finally gaining traction in America."
Lampard notes that the best way for the team to gain in popularity is by winning, but since they won’t start playing for about another year it’s up to everyone to fulfill their roles as ambassadors.
“Hopefully my football can do the talking, but it is important to embrace the community, and not just while the cameras are pointed at us, as an ambassador to the new franchise,” said Frank Lampard. “We want to show New Yorkers that we are a team for New York and we want to make them proud. The only way to do that is to go into communities, meet people and promote the game, especially to the young kids that want to get into soccer.”