Modern day Cosmos have long way to go to live up to subway ads
In their heyday, they attracted big crowds and the occasional 80,000 sell out
Pele in action for the New York Cosmos in 1975. Photograph: George Tiedemann /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
New York, the ads on the subway system read, it’s “Cosmos Country” again although nobody, not even the club’s new owner, is pretending that the local citizenry is quite as captivated as the first time round.
Back then, in the late seventies and first couple of years of the eighties, the club was colossal by the standards of American soccer.
It was as much about the showbiz as the sport, though, with the involvement of Warner Brothers ensuring there was star power on and off the pitch and the spirit of celebrity that surrounded the whole operation resulting in as many mentions for players, it seemed, in connection with the nightclub Studio 54 as the actual North American Soccer League in which they competed.
In their heyday, they attracted big crowds and the occasional 80,000 sell out at the old Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, the site of which is now used for parking by the owners of the adjacent MetLife stadium where Ireland will play Mexico this week.
Though it was demolished almost a decade ago, the taxpayers of New Jersey are still paying for the old place and the various others sports facilities that surrounded it at the Meadowlands complex.
The MetLife, which is jointly owned by the city’s two NFL teams, the Giants and Jets, is reputed to be the most expensive stadium ever constructed with a price tag of around $1.6 billion but the bonds that funded its predecessor, a race track, and indoor arena and conference centre will not be fully paid off until 2025 with the state having had to write a cheque for $35.8 million in 2010 alone, the year the centrepiece was shut down.
The Cosmos were long gone by then, of course, and largely survived in the years after the team folded in 1985 as a brand based around that famous logo. In 2010 a group of businessmen fronted by the club’s most famous player of all, Pele, bought the rights to the name and set about trying to get it into Major League Soccer but things didn’t go plan.
It ended up instead in a reformed NASL, a sort of second division but, crucially, one that lacks promotion to the first, and things have been quite a struggle ever since.
He retained a soft spot for the club that brought Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia to New York
The Cosmos have enjoyed on field success in the new NASL, which has nothing to do with the old one but was rather seized upon as a name with potential by a group of disgruntled owners intent in breaking away from another second tier, USL Pro.
By December of last year, though, the then owners of the New York outfit had run out of money and were on the verge of selling the name to an investment firm that wanted to close the club and get back to licensing the only profitable bit, the brand. Had it happened there is every chance that the entire NASL would have folded.
Instead, an Italian born New Yorker called Rocco Commisso, whose life story reads a lot like a version of the American dream in which the key chapter involves him securing a full soccer scholarship to Columbia University, stepped in at 11th hour to buy the club up.
Equipped with an MBA to go with his natural talent for business, Commisso made many millions of dollars in banking and cable TV and now puts some of it back into the college that gave him his education and the sport he played for it.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated a few months back he admitted to not having seen the Cosmos play since the great days of the Giants stadium, preferring instead to head to Europe, and the likes of Juve or Barca, when he fancied taking in a game. But he retained a soft spot for the club that brought Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia to New York, and so saving it seemed like the thing to do.
By comparison with an MLS team, the cost of getting involved is low. David Beckham’s Miami “franchise” has had to raise some $500 million to get itself a seat at the American game’s top table and is still struggling to find somewhere to build itself a home. Commisso will spend a small fraction of that but he acknowledges that the venture will cost him millions.
The club is playing out of MCU Park, a baseball ground out in Coney Island, Brooklyn, hardly ideal but still a significant step forward on its Hofstra University base last year. It is a modest home compared with the city’s two MLS sides.
New York City play out of Yankee Stadium while the Red Bulls have their own place now out in Harrison, New Jersey. Both can cater for crowds of 25,000 or more while MCU - a publicly funded stadium that cost €55 million in 2000 - has just 7,000 seats.
The Brooklyn Cyclones, a baseball club affiliated to the Mets, can sell the place out on a good day. It is not clear how many the resident semi-pro Frisbee outfit attracts but the Cosmos, currently midtable in the NASL, have so far, on average, done a little better than half fill it.
That is not too bad by NASL standards but evidence nonetheless that there is a long way to go before the status of the modern day Cosmos comes even close to tallying with the claims made in those subway ads.