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Three Good Questions for: Cosmos CEO Seamus O’Brien

Feb 3, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT

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For a brand in 30-year hibernation, the Cosmos name still resonates impressively.

The Cosmos once ruled domestic soccer, peerless in image, appeal and high finance, far ahead of its time and wildly out of balance with the game’s larger public regard.

The brand is up and running again, albeit at a measurably smaller scale.

When the new day Cosmos take the field later this year, the matches at Hofstra University will look nothing like the packed-house affairs of the 70s, when Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia and other global stars led the fabulous Cosmos into Giants Stadium.

The new Cosmos will play in the North American Soccer League, domestic professional soccer’s second tier. The club’s larger ambition is anything but second tier. Not long after the club announced plans for a 25,000-seat facility, we talked to Cosmos CEO Seamus O’Brien.

For building awareness of what the Cosmos are now about, what’s the most important thing the organization can do in your first season?

I’m a believer that you earn credibility and respect through your actions. We will build awareness by just doing what we said we were going to do, which is put a very credible, competitive team on the field, building a business off the field that builds credibility and respect within the industry as one that is professional and of a high quality standard. And obviously, being competitive in a business sense and then winning on the pitch.

I’m of the school that I’m not interested in making big, grandiose statements. I’ll let our action do the talking.”

It seems that managing the public’s expectations might be a challenge. Obviously you cannot be the Cosmos of old, so how do you approach that?

I am very conscious of the history of the club, and it is in some ways a burden because it does create expectations, with people dreaming of the past. But I have made it clear that history doesn’t build a future and it doesn’t build a business. You’ve got to build your own history. I hope that everything we do will be respectful of the history, conscious of the history, and I’m sure it will blend through our messaging and our branding of the club. But ultimately we’ve got to build a new history and build a position based on how we perform today. Because the nostalgia of the past will only last so long. This is a tough sports town. New York expects winners. If we don’t perform on and off the field, the history will count for nothing.”

What is your relationship with MLS, because sometimes it is difficult to say if you guys are more ally or adversary?

A lot is being made of this. For us it’s simple: we are starting again from the beginning. As we’ve said, 30 years ago is a long time. We are building a business that has a very strong foundation. If it takes us 10 years to get back to the heights where we were before, I will be delighted. One thing I’ve said, when we get there this time, we won’t be going away. So we don’t want to make any false starts, doing things too quickly. Nothing could be more foolish. The thought that we could step out in our first season at MLS level and be a winner on and off the field, would be absurd. So we made the decision that [the North American Soccer League] is the right place for us to start again.

So we haven’t ruled out MLS, but we haven’t ‘ruled it in,’ if that’s the word. We’re going to look at it. Right now, we had other priorities for our capital as to what we wanted to do in building the club, and that’s what we’re going to do. As for MLS and what they want to do, I can’t really speak to that.”

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