August 18, 2015
MY TWO CENTS
Gazing at the Cosmos
Will Smith is a long-time soccer fan from Brooklyn, N.Y.
"The opinions reflected in the My Two Cents columns do not express the views of the editors or management of BigAppleSoccer. com"
By Will Smith
Special to BigAppleSoccer.com
This past Saturday night, my 13-year-old daughter and I went out to Hofstra University and saw the Cosmos beat San Antonio 2-1 in a generally well-played, entertaining match.
Unfortunately, we were two of only 4,006 in attendance; a figure that is unacceptable, regardless of circumstances, on a beautiful, warm summer night. While I enjoyed the quick exit from the parking lot, it is clear that the Cosmos' current situation is unsustainable. They cannot go on paying big salaries and drawing small crowds in a stadium that is inadequate on every level. This is no shock to anyone. The question becomes one of what they do next.
Before we figure out a solution, let’s make sure we all understand the problem which is, in fact, two problems:
1) The team’s second division status
2) The team’s stadium situation
Let’s look at both:
The team’s second division status:
Like it or not, Cosmos fans, the North American Soccer League is the recognized second division of men’s soccer in the United States, behind MLS. That is not to say that MLS is perfect; far from it, in fact. Too many teams make the playoffs in MLS and the player acquisition processes are archaic and byzantine at best and idiotic and harmful to U.S. Soccer at worst.
That said, MLS has better stadiums, better players, teams on both coasts, more fans, a TV deal and the national spotlight. That is not to say that the NASL is without its charms. The games are not that far below MLS quality, the player acquisition rules are in line with the way the rest of the world operates and the playoff system does not denigrate the actual season by virtue of inviting too many teams to the dance. That said, it lags behind MLS in popularity, quality, star power, press and attendance. It is rightly considered a second division league.
So, what is an ambitious second division team like the Cosmos to do?
Well, for starters, they can drop the “worldwide brand” talk and worry more about getting people to their games than selling shirts in China.
Secondly, they can focus on putting the best possible team on the field and winning the NASL championship. While they’ve been good so far this year, it’s clear to anyone watching that they need another forward and, in all likelihood, another defender for depth purposes.
They also need to clearly state, along with the rest of the NASL, its long term vision; perhaps explaining to fans that, while the NASL is a recognized second division, they see themselves as an independent league, separate and distinct from MLS and the USL; one that is working towards promotion/relegation with the National Premier Soccer League in a accordance with FIFA standards. A statement like that doesn’t say they’re better than MLS (which, frankly, would be a lie at this point); just different from them and more akin to the rest of the world in its traditions and character.
The NASL and the Cosmos are floundering, to a degree, due to a lack of clarity surrounding its goals. Saying we want to be “world class” means nothing. Say that you want to be an independent league, working with a traditional model, is a lot clearer.
Of course, the question becomes, once the vision is clearly stated, whether fans would support 2nd division soccer in New York. I say “yes,” but not at Hofstra.
The team’s stadium situation:
Contrary to popular belief, not all New Yorkers are transplanted bandwagon hoppers from the mid-west or arrogant natives who only support a winner or a “major league” team. The successes of the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees can attest to that. That said, the truth is that, if either of those teams played in Hempstead, they wouldn’t draw the crowds they presently do.
Let’ s be honest about this: Long Island sports fans leave a lot to be desired when it comes to supporting teams in their own backyard. They didn’t support the Nets when they had Julius Erving and they only supported the Islanders when they were winning Stanley Cups.
No team playing on the Island has had sustainable success at the gate and no team ever will. The Cosmos, to their credit, recognize that Hofstra is not a long term solution and have put forth an ambitious plan for a stadium in Elmont. The problem with that is that it is still too far out from the city center, still on Long Island and, frankly, too grand a project. A team averaging 6,000 in attendance has an awful lot of audacity looking to build a 25,000 arena. Frankly, any politician who votes in favor of it should be voted out of office. Fortunately, for these politicians, the RFP has been sitting for two years with no movement so they have nothing to worry about.
The problems with Hofstra are plentiful. The concessions are terrible, the parking is a mismanaged disaster whenever there is a decent crowd, the PA system can’t be heard by the north side goal and the lighting looks like something out of a low budget 1970s horror film. Never mind a 25,000-seat arena down the road. The Cosmos need to do something about Hofstra yesterday.
The answer is MCU Park in Brooklyn. Accessible by multiple subway lines, it sits in historic Coney Island where there is a chance for walk up traffic. The tie-ins with the amusement park are endless; show a receipt from Deno’s Wonder Wheel Par and get in half price! Show us a receipt from Nathan’s and kids get in free!
Not only is the boardwalk a festive location full of perspective fans, but the stadium has parking adequate parking. Sure, the Cosmos would have to share the stadium with the Cyclones, but the baseball team only plays from June – September. The Cosmos could both front load and backload the schedule and play less games there in the peak baseball months; perhaps one or two home games per month at those times.
The move to Coney only works if the Cosmos play every home game there, of course. One-offs are oddities and don’t build a fan base. The Cosmos could play two years there, build a fan base and then look to build something reasonably sized (think 15,000 seats) on that empty lot Thor Equities has right alongside the historic boardwalk. There are 2.5 million people living in Brooklyn. It seems like each of them passes through Coney Island every summer. At least a few of them are bound to be soccer fans who are either unaffiliated with the local clubs or tired of making the trek to see them.
The Cosmos don’t have time to waste. It is time to get out of Hofstra before they have nothing left to leave.
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