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.
Apr 19, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT
Despite losing to Chelsea over the weekend, Robbie Earle and Kyle Martino think Manchester United is already looking ahead to next season’s Premier League title chase.
Apr 19, 2015, 7:09 PM EDT
Philadelphia squandered a first half lead as New England rallied to earn a come-from-behind victory.
Apr 19, 2015, 6:02 PM EDT
Catch up on all of Sunday’s action from Spain and Italy’s top flights.
Apr 19, 2015, 5:07 PM EDT
Thousands of supporters boycotted Newcastle’s match today, as they dropped their sixth straight in the league. With 35 points and five to play, should the Magpies be worrying about relegation?
Apr 19, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
Following Liverpool’s FA Cup semifinal loss to Aston Villa, the Reds’ boss said his side must learn how to deal with the occasion in big matches.
Apr 19, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT
The horrible attack comes the night before a local derby, but police have ruled out fan violence as a motive.
Apr 19, 2015, 2:34 PM EDT
Go inside the Manchester Derby match day experience with a pair of supporter groups.
Apr 19, 2015, 1:49 PM EDT
The Manchester City winger was sent home quickly from the hospital and he confirmed the “tests have gone well.”
Apr 19, 2015, 1:27 PM EDT
The Manchester City manager wouldn’t be drawn into questions about his future at the club.
Apr 19, 2015, 12:51 PM EDT
Spurs bracketed halftime with a pair of goals and they stood tall to Newcastle’s spotty threat.
Apr 19, 2015, 11:58 AM EDT
Villa will play Arsenal in the FA Cup final after beating Liverpool against all the odds.
Apr 19, 2015, 11:39 AM EDT
Mourinho plays up defensive masterclass. But how did he quell United’s attackers?
Apr 19, 2015, 10:44 AM EDT
Spurs search for a European place as they take on struggling Newcastle from St. James’ Park.
Apr 19, 2015, 10:35 AM EDT
The home side produced enough moments at the Etihad to see off a timid West Ham side.
Apr 19, 2015, 9:55 AM EDT
With his goal of an Eredivisie title secure, Memphis Depay will be a popular transfer target this coming summer.
Apr 19, 2015, 9:15 AM EDT
The West Ham defender flubbed an easy clearance and sent the ball into his own net as Manchester City have dominated West Ham in the first half.
Apr 19, 2015, 8:16 AM EDT
Thomas Tuchel will follow in Jurgen Klopp’s footsteps for the second time when he takes over at Borussia Dortmund this summer.
Apr 19, 2015, 7:52 AM EDT
A pair of slipping sides meet at the Etihad in a rematch of last seasons title-clinching win for Manchester City.
Apr 19, 2015, 7:31 AM EDT
It’s that time of year, where big clubs look to the bench to replace important players in big games.
Apr 19, 2015, 1:14 AM EDT
Keeping tabs on all the action from Week 7 of the 2015 MLS season.
- VIDEO: Is relegation a possibility for Newcastle United? 0
- Aston Villa 2-1 Liverpool: Gerrard denied fairytale ending as Villa stun Reds, reach FA Cup final 3
- Jose Mourinho: Chelsea had Manchester United’s stars “in our pockets.” Is he right? 1
- Manchester City 2-0 West Ham: Two first half goals put down poor Hammers 0
- Borussia Dortmund names Thomas Tuchel as Jurgen Klopp’s successor 0
- MLS roundup: Goals galore as Sounders, Crew SC, Galaxy cruise to three points 1