Andres Gonzalez, VP of Partnerships at New York City Football Club, talks to us about their vital work in uplifting underserved communities and supporting local businesses

New York is home to over two million small businesses, employing almost half of the city’s workforce. They are the lifeblood of New York’s economy. But the small business community was devastated by Covid, with over 26,000 closures across the city since the beginning of the pandemic.

As ever, New York has responded to a crisis in the only way it knows how to: by pulling together. New York City Football Club, whose inaugural season was in 2015 and the reigning MLS Cup Champion, is playing a key role in helping businesses – and the city’s underserved communities – recover and prosper.

“One of the things I love about this club is that we’re not only built to win championships,” says Andres Gonzalez, VP of Partnerships, NYCFC. “When we talk about what success means to this organisation, we talk about a vision of empowering better lives through football. I think that comes across through a lot of the activations that we do, a lot of the partnerships we create, and a lot of the initiatives we put together.”

The club of the five boroughs

Eight years into their journey, NYCFC truly represents the city, both on and off the pitch. Across all five boroughs, the club has embraced representing one of the most diverse cities on the planet.

Through the club’s charity foundation, City in the Community, they have served over 30,000 New York youth since 2014. They’ve also established free programming in 78% of communities across the five boroughs and donated 250,000 meals to the South Bronx community to address food hunger. This isn’t just box-ticking: New York City Football Club walks the walk when it comes to supporting the city.

The club is proud of the NYC Soccer Initiative, a $3m public-private partnership launched in 2016 to create and maintain 50 mini-football pitches across the city, as well as expand free football programming. “In the United States, football tends to be a pay-to-play model,” says Gonzalez. “People tend to pay to have their children play the sport. So providing free access to football around the city is very important.

“As you can imagine in a city like New York, identifying safe places to play in underserved communities is also a challenge. So just having pitches for kids to go out there and play for free, as well as providing coaches who go out into the community, makes a real difference.”

Working with Etihad Airways, adidas, the US Soccer Foundation, and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, they achieved their goal of building 50 mini-football pitches late last year. Now, they’ve made a further commitment to building 26 more around the city in the lead-up to the 2026 World Cup, which the US is co-hosting.

“We not only provide safe places, we teach kids how to play and enjoy football,” says Gonzalez. “A lot of the programmes that we run at these mini-pitches bring in an element of teaching life skills to the youth that go beyond sport. And that’s really important as well.”

This ethos extends into the club’s Saturday Night Lights programme, which provides over 300 young people weekly with a safe place to play football when crime rates are at their highest. As well as enjoying quality coaching, the kids on the programme also receive academic mentoring and support.

The power of sport

Small businesses play a key role in the fabric of New York City’s diverse neighbourhoods. That’s why NYCFC partnered with Eleven Sports Media at the end of 2021, with a shared philosophy of using the power of sport to support local businesses.

“One of the great things about living in New York is it’s all about small businesses, and the uniqueness that they bring,” says Gonzalez. “It is really what creates the great environment that makes people want to live and visit the city of New York

“When the city was coming off the back of the pandemic, we were looking to support businesses that had been heavily impacted. Eleven approached us saying they wanted small businesses to be a focus of our work together. That gave us immediate value alignment.”

With Eleven’s model and range of activation services already a success in the UK, it transferred seamlessly to the MLS, helping NYCFC to bridge the gap with local businesses and providing end-to-end marketing support and solutions for SMEs in New York. The partnership delivers a portfolio of accessible partnership and branding opportunities for local businesses during NYCFC’s home games at the iconic Yankee Stadium, as well as managed events and networking activities

“Eleven had a lot of experience in Europe with engaging the local business community for football clubs, and we are very lucky to have been working with them as they entered the US market,” says Gonzalez. “Historically, small businesses haven’t had the ability to partner with major sporting organisations in the United States. It’s a model that is new and it’s something that I think is phenomenal.”

Supporting future stars

Putting pathways in place to develop local talent is a vital part of NYCFC’s on-pitch success. The likes of James Sands, who became the club’s first homegrown player in 2017 and has won international caps for the USA, and Tayvon Gray, who plays his games at Yankee Stadium very close to where he grew up in The Bronx, show how important the Academy is to the club.

Off the pitch, the NYCFC Academy also plays an integral role in communities in New York, and Eleven is proud to display its branding on the Academy jersey.

“The partnership with Eleven supports our Academy as the club continues to attract top talent,” says Gonzalez. “Across New York, we are lucky to have a vast population of football fans and players. Seeing the talent that exists and being able to connect them into our Academy structure is really rewarding. Having Eleven be part of that journey with us is incredible.”