Tuesday, June 28, 2011

TSFR: New York Cosmos Talk a Good Game, Have Yet to Play It

Cantona, Pele and Cobi Celebrating 15% Savings After Switching to Geico
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For the sake of my forehead, the New York Cosmos need to bring their strategy back to Planet Earth.

The nascent soccer organization wants to bring another MLS team to the New York metropolitan area – preferably within the five boroughs. Leave aside the question of whether we really *need* another soccer team in the metro area – our beloved Red Bulls have long since shown that the barrier to attendance is the perceived lack of quality of the team and the league, not the geographic location of our stadium.

Instead, let's address what has amounted to eight months of aspirational PR stunts without any semblance of a team, a stadium or a meaningful fan base. As it stands, the Cosmos have nothing more than a track suit bearing the team's logo and a bunch of bitter Borough Boys who refuse to leave the confines of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to see an actual, existent New York team play across the Hudson River.

First the rights to the "team" – I'm using that word loosely – were purchased by Paul Kemsley in August of last year. Kemsley, a wealthy property developer and former vice chairman of Tottenham Hotspur certainly brings credentials to the table. He also brings money - lots of it - and a solid track record of building successful properties and franchises. As an added bonus, he's British! Those guys do all kinds of soccer stuff all the time, so they must know how to get a winning team off the ground, right?

So far, Kemsley has lacked any coherent strategy to create anything more than a Cosmos brand.

One of the first major events he orchestrated as chairman was a Cosmos-sponsored event in October 2010 to celebrate Pelé's birthday. Yes, Pelé, the 71-year-old Brazilian soccer legend whose last World Cup appearance coincided with the Nixon administration. His fading star does little to burnish the reputation of a "team" that's trying to attract some semblance of credibility.

Then there was the NY Cosmos Spring 2011 Collection by Umbro event back in February, at which the nonexistent soccer team unveiled its trendy line of track suits. That's right: You can *wear* the Cosmos, you just can't see them play.

Kemsley would need to do all three of these things to create some serious traction for the Cosmos franchise:
  • Raise between $75-$100 million for the required MLS expansion fee
  • Outline concrete plans to build a soccer-specific stadium in the New York metro area
  • Obtain league approval
Kemsley: #winning, But Not On the Field
What makes Kemsley think this is going to be such a cinch?

Coming up with the expansion fee won't be the hardest part. The brand seems sound and as a team it may have some legs, so all Kemsley needs is a few more wealthy individuals like himself to get in on the deal. However, in order to truly appease all the hopeful yokels with their "City Limits or Bust" signs, that soccer-specific stadium needs to be built in one of the boroughs. Therein lies the problem.

Anybody with their head not buried in the sand has caught a whiff of what the soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets have had to go through to get their stadium built. Granted, they did it the hardest way possible – by carving out a spot in one of the busiest areas of Brooklyn, which included utilizing eminent domain to condemn private properties and kick people out of their homes. But what are the other choices? A stadium in the far reaches of the Rockaways? Ditmas Park? Staten Island? Read: Automatic fail.

Unless this thing is built with the help of Wilpon-owned real estate (Fred could use the loot), this stadium thing ain't happening any time soon. Kemsley can get Cosmos-related hotels and restaurants – maybe even a casino – built before he can summon the pocket change and grief it's going to take to give the people what they want. He'd probably make more money on those ventures than he would on a soccer team, anyway.

Ladies and Gentlemen: the New York Cosmos! No, seriously...
In pondering this whole situation, something dawned on me. As much flack as Red Bull fans get from our rivals and the deluded Borough Boys contingent, the Cosmos are doing something that a brand like Red Bull is famous for: Getting people drunk on branding. The only difference is Red Bull swooped in and bought the team first, expecting the fans to embrace the brand later. The Cosmos are hoping to establish the team as a fashion statement first, and hope that brand loyalty carries over if they can assemble the purse and political muscle required to put a tangible product on the field.

But, there's far less of a chance that Kemsley can make that happen than that the Red Bulls can get soccer fans to adopt an energy drink they're already at least vaguely aware of.

In short, the Cosmos franchise is doomed to remain a footnote in the annals of U.S. soccer unless Kemsley reverses course. Until then, I look forward to the next hopeless PR stunt - perhaps John McEnroe will show up in a Cosmos jersey... oh, wait.
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