December 4, 2016
by Charles Cuttone
Once in a Lifetime was enough
For the second time in my lifetime I am watching the New York Cosmos die a slow agonizing death. Once in a lifetime was enough.
It's not like this incarnation of the Cosmos was really a continuation of the first. Some of us wanted it to be. In some ways they were like the original Cosmos. Dominant on the field, winning three league titles in four years, and coming very close to a fourth.
But the team's ownership took a huge gamble, and lost.
After buying the rights to the name, the team's owners headed by Seamus O'Brien decided to forego paying Major League Soccer's expansion fee, planning instead to invest in the club. While they did sign a few big names in Raul and Marcos Senna, those players, never quite captured the imagination as Pelť, Beckenbauer and the rest did so many years ago. Especially not with the Cosmos playing in a sub-par stadium in a second division league.
Plans for a 30,000-seat stadium at Belmont Park got mired in Albany politics. Or maybe got mired in not being able to write the check to get it built. If the team's ownership could not hold on and sustain losses for more than four years, one has to wonder whether the dollars were ever there to begin with, not only to enter MLS, but to build the stadium and compete at the first division level.
There are those in the twittersphere who will blame the demise of the team, and perhaps eventually soon of the North American Soccer League, on the lack of promotion/relegation, saying the sport is too much a business.
To them I say, wake up. Itís a business everywhere. But the structure overseas has been in place since the leagues there started. MLS's owners have invested hundreds of millions of dollars. Three of those owners, Phil Anschutz, the Hunt Family and the Kraft family, carried the league and kept it from going out of business. The league's original group of investors lost more than $100 million. There was nothing to be promoted or relegated to.
No, the Cosmos are on the brink of extinction because the business model didn't work and their ownership could not sustain it. Getting promoted to MLS after winning a championship or three would not have changed matters. In fact it might have made them worse. MLS has higher salaries, higher travel costs, bigger front offices and larger budgets. Yes, there are more and larger revenue streams, but most teams are, according to the league, still operating at a loss.
Back in the 1970's, despite the big crowds and fanfare and the big names, the Cosmos were a money loser. A loss-leader for Warner Communications. Perhaps this is what Sela Sport, which also owns the floundering One World Sports cable TV network, had in mind. But losses mount up, and having the Cosmos and the NASL as a flagship for a TV network didnít work.
There are rumors that a group is interested in buying the Cosmos and saving them. Maybe it will happen maybe it won't. I've been there before. When the Cosmos were on the brink in 1984 after Giorgio Chinaglia had assumed ownership of the team from Warner, I was involved in putting a group together to try and save the team. Chinaglia had demands the investors were unwilling to meet. The deal never happened and the team folded.
Once in a lifetime was enough.