New York Cosmos: Why Stadium Plan Would Be a Mistake for US Soccer
On January 16, the newly reincarnated New York Cosmos announced plans for a $400 million, privately financed stadium project, including retail, restaurants and a hotel. I've seen the artist renditions of what the project would look like, and while it's visually stimulating, it's also something else.
I'm already on record as saying that MLS shouldn't place a second team in New York. I think they should make sure there's demand for a second team, and I don't think there is. For justification, let's look at the attendance figures.
Red Bull Arena seats 25,000, and yet it's rarely full. Of their 17 regular-season home games in 2012, 11 had an announced attendance of under 20,000.
In fact, just for giggles, I used the attendance figures available in the match reports on MLSsoccer.com to figure the total attendance for the Red Bulls and Sporting KC, the team I'm most familiar with.
I figured a team in New York would outdraw a team in Kansas City, considering the difference in population of the two cities and stadium size. Sporting Park has a seating capacity of 18,467. To be fair, I only counted league games, since Sporting KC hosted all but one of their Open Cup games and New York didn't host any before getting knocked out.
Well, I was wrong. While the Red Bulls drew a respectable average of 18,281 fans to each of their games in 2012, Sporting KC drew an average of 19,404.
To put this in perspective, the Red Bulls averaged 72.6 percent of capacity. Sporting KC, on the other hand, averaged 105.1 percent of capacity.
Stadium age isn't an issue here, as Red Bull Arena is only one year older than Sporting Park.
MLS Isn't The Goal
Not only is there a lack of demand for another team in New York, but the Cosmos aren't necessarily interested in becoming MLS team No. 20.
In an article by Grant Wahl on SI.com, Cosmos chairman Seamus O'Brien is quoted as saying:
I think soccer from the facilities point of view has probably been undeserved in the area. I think Red Bull Arena is a fantastic development. If we can complement that on the other side of town, terrific. If somebody else [read: MLS] wants to build one down the road, I'm not scared of competition. It isn't going to stop us building our home for the Cosmos.
See, MLS already has a stadium proposal for a second team in New York City, located in the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park section of Queens, only 10 miles away. That proposal has the backing of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, among others.
The Cosmos will begin play in the North American Soccer League fall championship season. They are seriously proposing building a 25,000-seat stadium (which can be expanded) to play in the second division, the only path to international success being the U.S. Open Cup.
Still don't believe me when I say the Cosmos aren't really aiming at MLS (other than as a rival)? Maybe this will change your mind.
The club sent out a tweet after announcing their stadium plans, telling fans they'd answer them on the team site later in the week. One of the questions they received was from a Michael Heinz:
Q: Can you give us a DEFINITIVE answer on what the Belmont stadium means for the Cosmos' MLS prospects? And what sort of role the NASL (and by extension the Cosmos) is going to have in the American soccer pyramid going forward? Do you really expect 20,000 people a game for NASL soccer in the current system, w/ no promotion and the Open Cup the only path to int'l success?
In response, Cosmos COO Erik Stover said on NYCosmos.com (emphasis mine):
We are completely focused on being successful in the NASL. We are already seeing the NASL growing rapidly with new investors and new clubs. Further, we expect to field a team that will feature comparable talent as MLS franchises in a few short years. So yes, we do expect to draw well.
As we've said in the past, our goal has always remained to play soccer at the highest levels in this country.
This makes me think the Cosmos don't really care what MLS does or doesn't do in regards to their 20th team.
The Cosmos stadium proposal is in the hands of the Empire State Development Council (ESDC), which, according to nytimes.com, is expected to take several months to decide on a winning bid. The stadium project was just one of the proposals received for the land in response to a state request.
If the ESDC are as shortsighted as I expect them to be, what with the dollar signs flashing in their eyes from a development they don't have to put money into, they will approve this project.
That approval will set up a showdown between MLS and the NASL, and I'm not sure anyone knows how that will turn out exactly. At this time, it appears rather counterproductive, because the Cosmos would be pulling potential talent from a still-growing (both in reputation and level of competition) MLS and possibly taking fans from a Red Bulls team that fails to consistently fill its own seats.
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