Saturday, January 22, 2011
New York Cosmos Have a Brand, But Will They Get a Team To Match The Hype?
AP Photo/Ira Schwarz
The news came out Wednesday that Manchester United legend Eric Cantona was returning to the game of soccer as Director of Soccer for the New York Cosmos.
The only problem is the Cosmos have no team for him to put together.
The Cosmos, once the talk of the town in New York as well as soccer in the U.S., have not had a senior team since the NASL folded in 1985. Their youth academies have kept going though, and in 2009 the brand was bought by a group headed by Paul Kemsley and the goal has been to get the Cosmos into Major league Soccer.
There is no senior Cosmos team but there is the Cosmos brand and it’s a strong one at that. It brings a sense of nostalgia for the pop culture breakthrough that was chronicled in the 2006 documentary and book “Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos.”
It’s a brand that was strong enough to lure Cobi Jones away from the Los Angeles Galaxy, a franchise he’s been a part of as a player or coach since the team’s inception in 1996, in order to take on the role as Associate Director of Soccer.
With former NASL brands of the San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps joining MLS through expansion certainly the Cosmos brand is appealing.
After the Montreal Impact join the league next year as the 19th club, the well-known desire is to have a second franchise in New York round MLS out to an even 20 teams and create a natural rivalry with Red Bull New York.
“We would like to see the 20th team in the league be a second team in the New York metropolitan area,” Mark Abbott, MLS president, has said. The league has been in discussions with the Cosmos ownership group.
The Cosmos know how to market themselves. Whether being the leading team in the 1970’s or putting out massive billboard displays in Times Square in this millennium, the organization makes sure the team name is out there. They’ve had some high-profile hirings and they’ve attracted a lot of media attention—again, without a team to talk about.
Surely many understand, but for those that don’t, they should not expect the Cosmos to have the same identity as they once had, despite the same name.
The NASL Cosmos brought in the best players in the world: Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia and, of course, Pele. The MLS version won’t be able to do that.
MLS has strict salary cap rules, partly to create parity in the league, but also so teams don’t outspend their revenues and fold, attempting to avoid the fate of the old NASL. And it’s worked so far. So yes, they’ll have their three Designated Players, just like every other club, but unless players come over for extremely lower salaries in order to play for the Cosmos brand, the team won’t be what made them so special, what made them pop culture icons.
The organization has created a lot of publicity for themselves, something that surely is attracting the eye of the higher-ups in MLS. If they can drum up enough fan support, as well as enough financial support, (neither should be a problem) then they certainly have the upper-hand to finally gain entrance into the league.
From there, Cantona and Jones will finally have a job to do, and if maybe, with the help of the attractive tradition the Cosmos once created, they can bring in the right players—both free agents and youth academy products—they can capture some of the imagination of American fans.
The old Cosmos way of building a team in America is extinct, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still an intriguing organization. With all of the buzz they have generated recently the organization has shown people are still willing to see the Cosmos logo on the pitch once again.
The question is, when will they actually have a team for fans to come out and see and root for?
The beginning of the documentary "Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos". Video from YouTube.