National Writer: Charles Boehm

New York City FC stadium update: The Cube to create "wow" moment

The Cube - NYCFC stadium rendering

For quite some time now, New York City FC supporters have been their city’s sporting equivalent of a lost tribe wandering the desert. The club’s long wait for a permanent ground of their own necessitated playing home matches across the Tri-State region at Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, Red Bull Arena and even other venues as far afield as BMO Stadium in Los Angeles two years ago.

So Wednesday’s unveiling of the latest renderings of their future home at Willets Point in Queens, just across the street from Citi Field, are a most welcome signpost on a long, winding path whose final destination is nearly in sight.

“It's tough on our fans, tough on our players, it's tough on our staff,” New York City FC CEO Brad Sims explained to in a one-on-one conversation this week. “We have great relationships with the Yankees and the Mets and I think everyone makes the best of what they can with the situation.

“But I know that everyone's looking forward to being in the new stadium. I think we've tried to tinker with things over the years to optimize the fan experience at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field to the best of our abilities. But there's a lot of things that are kind of out of our control as a tenant.”

It’s taken longer than anyone anticipated when the club first took the field back in 2015 as MLS' latest expansion team. But Sims and his colleagues believe it will be well worth the wait for the NYCFC faithful.

“Every time a new stadium is built, we go check it out. And we're checking in constantly with the teams over there about what's working well, what might not work, where did they maybe miss the mark and what would they recommend that we do different,” he said. “So one benefit of this process taking so long for us is that we've been able to benefit from a lot of other buildings that have opened and been able to provide us with intel and best practices. We think we're in a good position.”

The Cube

The chief highlight of Wednesday’s news: “The Cube,” the dramatic, immersive main entrance to the stadium which vaults more than seven stories above street level, lined with 11,000 square feet of LED screens that will be customized for gameday programming as well as art displays and other sights year-round.

It’s not the only intriguing feature of the Cityzens’ house, though it will probably be the most striking, visible from far away and fairly unique in its class.

“Really, we want to blow people away,” said Sims. “You're at the start of your experience, as you're entering or you're walking into the facility. We think the vast majority of our fans are going to enter through the southwest, this main entrance, because we expect a lot of people to come from using public transportation, 7 train, LIRR, also a decent amount of parking is to the south as well.

“So you're going to have a lot of people walking up, and we want this ‘wow’ moment when you're coming in the stadium, that there really is this fantastic sense of arrival. The Cube, we think it's unlike anything in any other soccer stadium or any other sports venue that we've seen.”

NYCFC - aerial view - The Cube

Approval process

Identifying and acquiring a site, then navigating Gotham’s extensive road map of evaluations, consultations, appeals and approvals for a project like this is a marathon process, and Sims is careful to note the stadium has not officially completed all that just yet. But the finish line is coming into view, with the City Planning Commission approving on Wednesday the mixed-use plan the stadium anchors and the City Council now soon to take up the matter.

It’s still on track for a 2027 opening, and NYCFC hope to be breaking ground on construction by autumn. A key priority here is proudly reflecting the distinctive character of the Big Apple – a result of not only the club’s conscious design choices, but also the particular quirks of the urban real estate they have to work with.

Unique footprint

Specifically, take a glance at two of its corners in the latest renderings.

“We want our fans, and people when they're in this building, to know it's New York City, to not feel like it's Columbus or St. Louis or Austin,” said Sims. “You hear a lot of chatter out there like, ‘Oh, these stadiums look the same,’ or they're designed in certain things. I joke that with soccer-specific stadiums, there’s really only two designs: It's either rectangular, [meaning] there's four stands, or it’s oval and it's a continuous bowl and then you kind of play off on that.

“We think ours is a little bit different, and it plays into the actual footprint that we can build on. It’s not a clean, pretty rectangle or oval. It's kind of a jagged piece of land … we have some cool areas, for example, in our northwest corner and our southeast corner – they're almost cut off diagonally in a way, because we've just run out of space. There's one street going this way and then at the top, we don't have all the land in the northwest corner of the parcel, so we’ve just built accordingly. So there's some funky angles. It's almost like we feel we have a soccer equivalent to Wrigley Field or Fenway Park or something like that, where you're building around the environment in the neighborhood.”

The venue’s capacity will check in around 25,000, which the Cityzens believe strikes a balance between those space constraints, the desire to make every seat a good one and their optimism about pro soccer’s future growth in NYC.

“We told our fans we were going to build a stadium in the city, in the five boroughs,” said Simms. “If we had given in on that dream a few years ago, we probably could have had a stadium somewhere in some suburbs and already been done by now. But we've really committed to being in the city. The con of that is it's taken longer and then also when you actually find a space, it's probably not going to be very big.

“We don't have a big footprint and really, the way you get more capacity, generally, is just by adding more space to kind of go [up and out]. And you can go up, but there's only so much you can go straight up. So we think at 25,000 it’s the right size stadium for our footprint, and we feel like for the fan experience, we want to make sure that every one of those 25,000 fans has a great view of the field, has a great experience, has fantastic amenities and doesn't feel like they're so far away from the bench or too high up or that the sound acoustics are bad.”

NYCFC bowl - stadium shot

More to come?

The club also announced a brand refresh this week, playing up their status as New York’s only pro sports team with “City” in the name and updating some of their visual elements ahead of the home opener – Saturday vs. Portland Timbers (2 pm ET | MLS Season Pass) – in the Pigeons’ 10th season of play.

That, too, is driven by the sense of a new era, one in which Sims has predicted NYCFC can become one of MLS’s giants. Might they mark their move into the new Queens stadium with a different on-field look, perhaps with kits featuring some of the secondary colors just added to the club’s design palette?

A blossoming sense of new possibilities applies to that and many other aspects.

“Only 1 to 2% of our total fans or followers of New York City FC actually attend our games – the vast majority in the area, in the country, globally are consuming us through digital media for the most part, and so that's where we're really leaning into that in terms of kit process. Eventually, yes, that will lead to something,” predicted Sims.

“With MLS and adidas, it's quite a long lead time. We obviously just launched our 2024 away kit two weeks ago. At that point, the 2025 kit is essentially done at this point and we're working on the 2026 kit. So eventually I think you will for sure see that refreshed brand on our kits. But it's not this season or next.”