Don’t call it a comeback.
Don’t call it a comeback.
This is the message on the homepage of the New York Cosmos’ official website as the famous American club prepares to return to competitive action for the first time since 1984. ‘Reboot’ is the phrase that Cosmos officials prefer for the resurrection of one of the most recognised brands in world sport in the 1970s and 80s – days when legends of the game such as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia donned the iconic white shirt.
Fast forward four decades and the Cosmos are preparing for their second coming when the team returns to the North American Soccer League (NASL), taking on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers on August 3. The Cosmos will take to the pitch complete with a new marquee signing in the shape of former Spain international Marcos Senna and chief operating officer, Erik Stover, states that the club is relishing the opportunity of tackling the competition provided by New York’s burgeoning soccer market.
“The Cosmos are obviously a very important club in the history of soccer in the United States,” Stover told SportBusiness International. “The positive feelings about the club from the 70s and 80s are still resonant around New York so the time (to return) has always been right. I think what’s different now is that we have the right owners to make sure that it’s done right. (Chairman) Seamus O’Brien has vast experience in sport marketing, business development, sponsorship and partnership deals and media rights. So to have that type of experience at the top of your organisation is tremendous and the partners have the financial wherewithal to make this grand vision happen. Those two things together make it the perfect opportunity.”
The Cosmos began play in 1971, spending 14 seasons in the previous incarnation of the NASL, winning five Soccer Bowl trophies. English businessman Paul Kemsley led a consortium that in 2010 resurrected the franchise with the ultimate goal of securing a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion team. However, the Cosmos in October 2011 announced the resignation of chairman and CEO Kemsley amid reports of a major restructuring of the club.
This ultimately led to Saudi Arabian investors Sela Sport securing full control of the club in the following month with O’Brien, founder and executive chairman of Asian sports marketing, media and event management company World Sport Group, also coming on board. In July 2012, the Cosmos announced the team would join the NASL in its 2013 season and Stover is targeting two initial key goals for the reboot.
He said: “The most important thing is that we are successful on the pitch. Everybody says that whatever sport you are in, especially in the New York market, you have to win. There’s a lot of scrutiny and expectation on us. People remember the days of Pele and Beckenbauer. Certainly we’re not starting at that level, but if we play attractive soccer and win matches that will help bring people out. That’s the second most important thing – having good attendance. We’re in New York and competition is very high. We certainly don’t expect to sell out every game but we do have to build up our market again and it’s going to be difficult. But if we do well then that will put more wind in our sails attendance-wise.”
Hofstra Stadium, a 15,000-seat venue on the campus of Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, will be the place that the Cosmos initially call home. However, the club in January submitted an eye-catching proposal to develop a privately-funded US$400 million stadium complex. Along with a 25,000-seat stadium, the development at Belmont Park racecourse, east of New York City, would also include a ‘Restaurant Row’ of nine new eateries, nearly 250,000 square feet of retail space, a 175-room hotel and the development of a brand-new 4.3 acre public park for the residential community. The Cosmos’ proposal is just one option being considered for the site by the State of New York, but Stover believes its multi-use proposition is key as it awaits approval for the plan with ground-breaking pencilled in for 2014.
“The most important thing is that it’s mixed use development,” said Stover. “Most economists will criticise stadiums as not being a big economic engine in a community because the stadium in itself is just repurposing event or entertainment dollars. So they would say that a stadium in itself is not a huge driver for the local economy aside from staging big events like an All-Star Game or say Manchester United coming to the United States – those will bring some money into the region. For this development there’ll be a hotel, restaurants and shopping district that will be operating 365 days a year and create real jobs, bringing people into the community. So we feel that not only are we bringing professional sports back to Long Island, but we are also providing it with an economic engine that lasts throughout the year.”
The Cosmos will return to a US soccer scene that has changed dramatically since it made its NASL exit in 1984. In New York alone, the Red Bulls are firmly established having been a founder member of MLS in 1996, while May’s formation of New York City FC throws the heavyweight ownership group of Manchester City and the New York Yankees into the mix. The League’s 20th club expects to begin play in 2015 creating three New York soccer teams, and potentially, three stadia. This raises the question – can the New York market sustain this state of affairs? Stover is adamant it can.
He adds: “For us we just want to build a good club. A club that people can be proud of and support. A true club that’s run the way that the best teams are run in the world. We think we can do that better and faster in the North American Soccer League. We welcome the competition and want the opportunity to play the Red Bulls or New York City. We think that the structure of this particular sport allows for that. In this country we have the US Open Cup and we have the chance to play MLS teams. If we win that competition we can then go off and play in the CONCACAF Champions League. We don’t view the NASL as second division. We think there’s an opportunity for our league to be as good as MLS. From that point of view, building a good club and wanting to compete, we welcome as many teams as New York can handle.”
This article is provided by Rob Ridley, a freelance journalist specialising in the global business of sport. For further details on the return of the New York Cosmos check out the August issue of SportBusiness International magazine.