New York Cosmos: Can Pele, Eric Cantona and Cobi Jones Restart a Revolution?

Craig Hutchinson@@CragHutchinsonContributor IIIMarch 7, 2011

In the late 1970s, it was Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia who were helping the New York Cosmos become the hottest sports ticket in North America.

Giants Stadium would regularly sell out its 77,000 tickets, celebrities would flock to the games, fans in opposing cites turned out in droves and uttering the simple words, "I'm with the Cosmos" could get you past any velvet rope in Manhattan.

The New York Cosmos were not only the flagship team of the North American Soccer League, but they transcended the sport internationally and domestically before it all came crashing down in 1985.

But now, the Cosmos are back.

They do not have a team or a stadium yet, but they do have famous names once again to represent the famous white and green uniforms.

Pele is returning to the organization as Honorary President, and Manchester United legend Eric Cantona, who has turned down numerous opportunities to return to soccer since his retirement in 1997, joins the club as the Director of Soccer. Working alongside Cantona as part of the soccer personnel structure is American Cobi Jones, a veteran of over 300 MLS games and 164 caps for the US National team.

A structure is in place for the Cosmos to return to their throne atop the American soccer hierarchy, but they cannot do it without a team or a league to play in.

MLS commissioner Don Garber has publicly said on numerous occasions he hopes the league's 20th franchise will be in New York, despite competition from cities like Atlanta, Miami, St Louis, Ottawa, San Diego and more. With Montreal joining the league in 2012, a 20th franchise extension would likely join in 2013.

If and when a 20th franchise is announced in New York, there is still no guarantee it would be the Cosmos, but they certainly seam to make the most sense.

With the Cosmos' brief but explosive soccer history in this country and international superstars already with the organization, they have an advantage in securing a fan base as well as national and international merchandising appeal.

In the 1970s, the North American Soccer League needed the Cosmos to break soccer into the mainstream and be the league's flagship team.

Major League Soccer, however, does not.

While some outdated and ignorant members of the American sports media will tell you that soccer will never be relevant in this country, there are now over 18 million kids registered to American youth soccer leagues, the World Cup attracted higher ratings that the World Series, and the average attendances at Major League Soccer games are now catching up to (and even surpassing in some markets) those at NBA and NHL games.

Soccer is relevant in the USA, with or without the Cosmos. That's not to say they couldn't add to the groundwork they in fact started four decades ago.

This time around, not only would the Cosmos be facing competition for fan dollars from not only the other nine professional sports teams already in the New York market, but the other soccer team already here as well.

The New York Red Bulls have turned around from the worst team in the league to become one of the biggest and internationally recognized clubs in the league.

The Red Bulls turnaround was thanks primarily to their magnificent new stadium, Red Bull Arena, as well as signing of marquee players Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez.

Even if the Cosmos were able to recreate this with their own franchise, would there be enough demand in New York City to warrant two teams?

The Red Bulls front office has stated they believe a second New York team would be mutually beneficial for both organizations, as the rivalry created within the city would force extra members of the sports media, as well as sports fans, to take notice.

Attendances would be unlikely to take a hit, as the majority of Red Bulls fans travel from Northern New Jersey where the club is based, and a second New York team would likely be based in Queens and draw supporters from the city and Long Island.

If anything, the buzz created by having two rival teams in the city would likely increase attendances at Red Bull Arena, which averaged around 21,000 post-Henry last season.

The reason the Red Bulls were able to make this turnaround with a new stadium and star players was because of its owners, Red Bull GmbH, the multi-billion dollar energy drink manufacturers who have been willing to pump their cash into the franchise.

If the Cosmos hope to be as relevant as they once were in this town, they would need similar financial backing.

For a while, there was a heavy rumor that New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon was in talks about possibly taking over a soccer franchise and basing it in Queens near Citi Field. However, his involvement with Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme may see him lose the ownership of the Mets and in turn, make his involvement with an MLS team even more unlikely.

Needless to say, land in New York is not cheap, and the money will need to come from somewhere to secure a new home for the Cosmos. With Red Bull Arena setting the benchmark for American soccer stadiums, a new Cosmos stadium would need to be just as impressive if the two clubs are indeed going to become new rivals.

Money will also be needed to ensure a caliber of team worthy to wear the Cosmos uniform.

While there is a salary cap in Major League Soccer, there are creative ways around it, and Designated Players don't come cheap. Eric Cantona and Pele should be able to help lure some of the worlds big names into New York, while Cobi Jones will be providing essential knowledge into the intricacies of the MLS compared to other world leagues (the draft, salary cap, waivers and so forth).

If and when the Cosmos do return to professional soccer, they will do so with a solid starting point of a recognized brand, superstar ambassadors and an already established academy system.

While this is a good starting point, there is still much to be done to assure the Cosmos recapture the magic they had in the 1970s. A good financial backing, new stadium, new manager, and of course, a team.

This is not a franchise that can be approached half-hearted. Only the best will do.

And the Cosmos returning to their glorious best could be another huge stepping stone in establishing soccer as a major sport in the United States.


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