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Official Review by David Hanson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
They may not stay there long, they may not play the sport the venue was intended for, and players for the building’s anchor tenant may not even want them there, but NYCFC’s inaugural season in Yankee Stadium has been a rousing success. The Manchester City subsidiary has already proven as popular, if not more, than the 20 year-old New York Red Bulls and their shiny new stadium in Harrison, New Jersey, having shattered league merchandise records in its first few months of existence and providing possibly the most fun sports experience in the city.
Plans for a soccer-specific stadium in the five boroughs for NYCFC have been many, but none have yet been fruitful. Even before the club’s initial announcement in 2013, plans had been scrapped for venues along the Hudson River in Manhattan, near Citi Field in Flushing, Queens, and in the shadow of Yankee Stadium itself.
As of April 2015, the team is considering a move to the Baker Athletic Complex at Columbia University, potentially leveling Lawrence Wein Stadium and building a structure housing both NYCFC and Columbia football. Believe it when you see it.
In the meantime, NYCFC is the couch surfer the Yankees never wanted who turned out to be a really cool roommate.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
NYCFC fans are free to take advantage of nearly all of Yankee Stadium's regular offerings, aside from some sit-down restaurant options and the vendors in the upper deck, which is closed for NYCFC games (other than the 2015 home opener). Standard stadium fare including hot dogs, chicken fingers, and fries can be found all over the stadium, with additional options like Lobel's steak sandwiches and Papa John's pizza mixed in as well. A few concession stands sell cocktails for $12 and up, while beer (with Bud Light and Budweiser most abundant among the selections) runs $9 and up and is readily available pretty much anywhere with a cash register. You won't have to leave hungry, but you will certainly be paying New York prices.
Yankee Stadium's Legends Suite and Ketel One Club are each open for NYCFC games as well, providing complimentary high-end dining options including sushi, steak and lobster, as well as an endless array of desserts, with in-seat delivery as well as in-suite seating. Non-alcoholic drinks are complimentary for each club section, and alcoholic beverages are available for purchase as well. The milkshakes in particular are fantastic.
The overall atmosphere is where the NYCFC experience separates itself from the rest of the New York sports scene. Attending a Yankees, Knicks, Nets, or Rangers game can feel more like a board meeting than a sporting event at times. Meanwhile, NYCFC provides non-stop entertainment (soccer does not have commercial breaks or time outs other than halftime) to a captive and responsive audience. By closing off the upper deck, the obstructed-view seats by the batter's eye structure (which contains the Mohegan Sports Bar) and the Legends Suite seating area behind home plate, seating is limited to seats with a good view of the pitch.
The stadium attendants patrolling the concourse can occasionally overreact to benign behavior like standing in the wrong place or entering the handicap area with crutches instead of a wheelchair, but are surprisingly inattentive when it comes to actually checking tickets for each section. As a result, those who choose to change seats can do so more or less at will as long as the original ticket holder is not sitting in them. The die hard Third Rail fan section (more on those delightful folks later), comprising the left field bleachers, is General Admission, so fans are allowed to move around and fill the area on a first-come first-serve basis. The games are incredibly kid friendly as well, and the two-hour running time gets them home at a reasonable hour on a school night.
It's clear that NYCFC and Yankee Stadium are still figuring each other out, but significant progress has been made throughout the inaugural season. After merchandise from pop-up concession stands in the concourses sold out quickly earlier in the 2015 season, the team started emptying the Yankee Store in the Great Hall and restocking it with NYCFC gear. Lines to purchase paraphernalia are typically long before the game begins, and a custom jersey station seems to crowd the store faster than it can customize jerseys. The gear isn't cheap either, with scarves running 3 for $55 and jerseys running well over $100. It seems to be working, as fans all over the stadium are completely decked out in team garb, another sign that NYCFC has caught on in the Big Apple.
The obvious must be stated here: the playing surface is a soccer pitch wedged into a stadium designed for a different sport. The seats in right field are not very close to the field, and the seats behind home plate are not even open. The closest you can sit to the pitch is left field or along the first base line. Even so, you can still see everything quite well and the action is also shown on the stadium's massive scoreboard in center field. Hardcore soccer fans who are used to soccer-specific stadiums may take issue with the layout, but it is (supposedly) temporary and is not that big of a deal for fans wanting to enjoy a soccer game.
If you arrive via public transportation, as most do, you don't see much of the neighborhood. What you do see looks a bit gritty, but the area is harmless. Across from Yankee Stadium is a public park where youth and high school baseball and soccer teams regularly play. Billy's Sports Bar and Stan's Sports Bar sit across River Ave from Yankee Stadium and each are inviting and fun (though somewhat expensive) before and after games. The food options leave a lot to be desired, however, as there's a McDonald's and not much else within sight of the stadium. Tailgating is permitted in the stadium's many parking areas.
The fans at NYCFC home games are phenomenal. Led by the diehard Third Rail section, which remains standing on the bleachers for the entire game, the fans are engaged, excited, and happy to be there. Where the Red Bulls have buried themselves in the suburbs, NYCFC has endeared itself to the city's soccer fanatics with big names like David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, and (finally) Frank Lampard all just a subway ride away. It cannot be overstated how enthusiastic New York's aspiring soccer hooligans are about the team, and their energy carries throughout the stadium.
The Third Rail often features at least two fans with large bass drums, blue paint grenades activated upon the team's first goal of the match, and a shower of beer whenever a goal is scored. While this is not for everyone, it's pretty harmless and the fans are mostly well behaved, if not a bit profane. The entire stadium feeds off their energy as they lead chants for the team and specific players throughout the entire game. To stand among them during a match is a unique, intoxicating experience, even for those who care little about soccer.
Outside the Third Rail area, fans are just as knowledgeable and enthusiastic. This is an MLS team in its infancy; there is no bandwagon and there are few (if any) old white men in suits taking clients to the game. If you know NYCFC exists (knowledge of its presence seems largely social media and word-of-mouth based so far) and made it to a game, you are there to watch the game and cheer for the team. Visiting fans are generally treated with respect, if not a small amount of friendly trash talking. This is a stark contrast to Yankee games, where tourists, businessmen and 20-somethings taking instagram photos while ignoring the game often detract from the experience. On a per person basis, NYCFC may have the most enthusiastic fans in the city.
Yankee Stadium is accessible via the 4, B and D subway lines, each of which run from the upper Bronx down through Manhattan and far into Brooklyn. The B and D trains connect to the A/C/E line in Manhattan, which stops at Penn Station, where LIRR and NJ Transit each terminate. All Metro North lines east of the Hudson stop at Yankee Stadium on game days, connecting the upstate and Connecticut to the stadium. All three major airports are accessible via public transportation as well. Parking garages are also located all around Yankee Stadium, though they are not cheap. Traffic is a concern for weeknight games, which generally start well within New York's extended rush hour at 7pm. Public transportation is by far the easiest, cheapest way to get to Yankee Stadium.
It must be noted that Yankee Stadium does not have the infrastructure to scan tickets from a smartphone, which is inexcusable in this day. You must have a physical, paper ticket (printed PDF or otherwise) to enter. Season ticket holders are issued ID cards, which serve as their tickets. Bathrooms are located all over the stadium and the entire facility is handicap accessible.
The get-in price for NYCFC is typically $25-$30, and is worth every penny. For those willing to brave the Third Rail section (behind the goal on which the home team shoots in the second half), the General Admission system allows you to sit wherever you please. Seats along either sideline typically run $50 or more, though those seats are readily accessible to anyone who wants them by the second half. There is no reason to pay for access to the Ketel One or Legends Suites, even with the food included. With the upper deck and Legends Suite seating area closed, there isn't really a bad seat in the house. The food and gear are quite expensive, but admission itself is absolutely worth it for the most fun sports experience in New York City. It cannot be stated enough how much fun these games are to attend.
NYCFC's players seem to really care about their fans, and players sign soccer balls and kick them into the stands after each win. The party does not stop there. After each home win, the Third Rail fans slowly pour out onto River Ave under the subway tracks for a pep rally featuring bass drums, singing, chanting, and general jumping around. It gets quite rowdy and isn't recommended for children, but it's damn fun. Just look out for paint grenades.
This is a fantastic sporting experience for hardcore soccer fans and casual observers alike. Try it out before the suits catch on.
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997 Brook Ave
Bronx, NY 10451