Aug 4, 2013, 4:05 PM EDT
The New York Cosmos’ long-awaited return was always likely to garner significant attention, and the sellout crowd of 11,929 at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium ensured that, for one night, the hype would be justified. But after an event fueled more by nostalgia than any quality reported on the field, a difficult, uncertain future has finally arrived for the reborn club. As the buzz from their opener dissipates and the realities of second division soccer set in, the Cosmos are going to have to do more. They’re going to have to augment their history to establish relevance with a new generation.
That’s what’s striking about the Cosmos’ revival. For the most part, the hype around the team has been churned by the generation that experienced the original franchise’s success. Among younger fans — the demographic soccer is leaning on to try and achieve its mainstream success — the Cosmos brand just isn’t as strong. With some of the most prominent voices in the previous generation now occupying places in the media (people like Shep Messing), the message has been laid on a little thick. We’re being told the Cosmos are big — much bigger than their league or standing suggests — but we’re not seeing a proof of concept.
That’s not to say the Cosmos’ return isn’t big in other respects. That such a storied brand is making its competitive return is historic. But their time between competitive games was almost 30 years. The youngest people who have a relevant memory of the NASL are already into their late 30s and 40s. This might literally be your grandfather’s soccer team, with the contention that a team is automatically relevant based on brand alone reflecting another New York-based team: the Harlem Globetrotters.
As the Globetrotters show, in sports you just can’t get by on marketing alone. You can perhaps transcend athletics and go into show business, but if you’re going to be a major sporting brand, you have to be relevant in product (on the field) and in context (a compelling league). The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Cowboys – they wouldn’t be their sports’ biggest brands without huge success in their sports’ biggest leagues, and as the toil of women’s sports as shown, the start power of people like Mia Hamm aren’t enough to make their teams or leagues significant. Team success and league profile are necessary.
Both of those are problems for New York. For an NASL team, the Cosmos have put together a compelling roster, though they’re unlikely to find major success in the fall season. The league’s more established clubs just have too big start for Giovanni Savarese’s team to be an overnight success, a struggle that bled through the cracks of their 2-1 opening night win against Fort Lauderdale. As Strikers’ head coach Günter Kronsteiner implied after the game, the Cosmos aren’t actually that good, yet. And until they can dominate second division clubs, they’re unlikely to find relevance on the New York sporting landscape.
Then there’s the league and that problematic second division existence. Unfortunately, in turning his back on MLS in July 2012, New York owner Seamus O’Brien has probably capped his club’s potential relevance, particularly with the full weight of Major League Soccer behind the 2015 arrival of New York City FC. Whereas at one time you could see the Cosmos being incorporated into Major League Soccer, now their existence is firmly tied to second tier. Owning a significant portion of the league’s marketing rights, O’Brien has a vested interest in the NASL’s success, while slow changes in league management and urged by the Cosmos mean more crucial decisions are originating in New York, not the NASL’s Miami offices.
In a recent interview with the BBC, Cosmos COO Erik Stover outlined the club’s vision. Is it to be promoted to MLS, he was asked? Not necessarily. The team needs to improve, though they’re not intent on doing it by outspending their NASL opposition. Training facilities, stadium, youth academy – there were a number of parts to the club that need to be put in place. But eventually they want to win U.S. Open Cup. They want to get into CONCACAF Champions League. They want to play in Mexico, where Stover noted Major League Soccer teams have yet to have relevant success. Is a potential appearance in a Club World Cup within the grandiose vision of this restart?
Still, let’s conjure a hypothetical and consider a world where the New York Cosmos reestablish their relevance. In that world, they’d then be a viable competitor with Major League Soccer, if not on a league level then certainty to the relevance of NYC FC and New York Red Bulls. At that point, doesn’t Major League Soccer start fighting back? And when that happens — when MLS starts meaningfully competing for fans, marketing with their new competitor in mind, competing for players — how do the Cosmos win that fight? What is a conception of success where they don’t have to spend themselves into the ground to gain traction against MLS?
Anything’s possible, but after yesterday’s opener, the Cosmos have reached their first summit. Inevitably, there’s going to be a dip in interest, one that will test their staying power. But lacking on-field success or league relevance commensurate with their self-manufactured hype — with so much of their relevance still tied to an incarnation that expired 29 years ago — it’s unclear what a viable end game is for this old team’s new addition.
Perhaps if he’s lucky, O’Brien can establish a new brand, entice a buyer, and recoup some of what he’s put in. That’s a more realistic goal for the Cosmos.
Mar 11, 2014, 9:43 PM EDT
Gunners prospect could soon be locked into an international career with Germany.
Mar 11, 2014, 8:56 PM EDT
Champions League was Milan’s last battle. Now, two months of auditions for next year’s team begin, with Seedorf decide who will return for the Rossoneri’s restart.
Mar 11, 2014, 8:06 PM EDT
Over the course of two legs, Arsenal was outshot 41-15 and had only 27 percent of the ball.
Mar 11, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT
Legacy didn’t matter, Costa is ready for your love, and Atlético improved but imperfect.
Mar 11, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
Another sickening blow for Holden, who suffers knee ligament damage after latest comeback game goes horribly wrong:
Mar 11, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT
With the Gunners falling at the first UCL knockout hurdle once again, what did we learn this time?
Battling Arsenal bow out, as Bayern Munich reach UEFA Champions League quarters after 1-1 draw (3-1, agg.)
Mar 11, 2014, 5:42 PM EDT
Defending champions Bayern down Gunners to reach quarterfinals of Champions League:
Mar 11, 2014, 5:38 PM EDT
With seven goals in five Champions League games, Costa has led Atlético into the quarterfinals.
Mar 11, 2014, 4:44 PM EDT
Three Vancouver Whitecaps take their place in the first week’s Best XI.
Mar 11, 2014, 4:03 PM EDT
Japanese youngster traveled with squad to Munich… then Arsenal found out he was ineligible:
Mar 11, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT
Nick Rimando snared the league’s honor, but the Dancing Bear claims PST’s first weekly award.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:02 PM EDT
Can the Gunners go on the road and beat Bayern 2-0 for a second-straight season in the UCL?
Mar 11, 2014, 1:20 PM EDT
American investment company now owns 25 percent of United’s total shares on the NYSE:
Mar 11, 2014, 12:43 PM EDT
Newcastle boss full of remorse after unsavory incident lands him in hot water:
Mar 11, 2014, 12:09 PM EDT
Pardew reprimanded by the FA, is his ban long enough?
Mar 11, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT
German youth international, eligible to play for the USMNT, set to extend stay with Arsenal:
Mar 11, 2014, 10:46 AM EDT
Ankle sprain is “a very rare and unique injury, and we are trying to treat it as well as possible.”
Mar 11, 2014, 4:55 AM EDT
Milan’s failed to turn its season around, with Atlético has stabilized after a February swoon.
Mar 11, 2014, 3:47 AM EDT
Bayern’s lost twice in the last 12 months – once to Arsenal. The holders will look to avoid a repeat of last year’s visit.
Mar 10, 2014, 10:32 PM EDT
There’s also a freshness under Mastroeni, who oozes the respectability that comes from a distinguished career.
- Arsenal midfielder Gedion Zelalem about to jump off the U.S. Soccer radar 0
- Stuart Holden out for 6-9 months, as serious injury hits U.S. international once again 3
- Three things we learned from Arsenal’s failed UEFA Champions League campaign 1
- Battling Arsenal bow out, as Bayern Munich reach UEFA Champions League quarters after 1-1 draw (3-1, agg.) 0
- Two from Diego Costa help Atlético Madrid cruise past Milan in Champions League, 4-1 (5-1, agg.) 0
- ProSoccerTalk’s MLS Team of the Week – Week 1 0
- Sporting KC's Television Network Expands
- American Investment Firm Buying Up Man United Stock
- Earthquakes vs. Toluca: CONCACAF Champions League
- San Jose Earthquakes Acquire Benfica Midfielder Yannick Djalo
- Revs Waive DelPiccolo; Roster Stands at 27
- Inter President Denies Holding Talks with Chicharito
- Nearly Perfect Start for Galaxy, Result Aside
- USWNT Lose to Denmark 5-3 in Algarve Cup
- Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando Named MLS Player of the Week
- Will Johnson Signs New Multi-Year Contract With Portland Timbers