The Cosmos, the preseason, and the possibilities

12380642_10154190821876091_2009870375_oIt’s hard not to notice what has been the slowest Cosmos preseason since the club re-booted. They have put together a compelling squad that could push for the third title in the modern era and make a deep run in the Open Cup. They’ve signed a deal with Under Armour that should bring a level of cooperation and distribution ability they never secured with Nike. Stadium buzz remains alive and it appears that a decision could come shortly.

But, in terms of coverage of their preseason, the absence of a “name” in soccer on the team (something I don’t believe to be necessary) and the absence of an international element, the silence coming from the Cosmos’ camp is deafening in terms of preseason presence.

In 2013, the Cosmos traveled to England for preseason matches prior to their first season. In 2014, they went to Dubai and faced several clubs from the UAE Arabian Gulf League. And, last year, they played heavily hyped matches against South China AA in Hong Kong and CD FAS in El Salvador.

This year? They played a match with no stream against FC Ararat Yerevan, probably their biggest opponent of the preseason. They also played games with no streams against Fresno Fuego (PDL) and Miami United FC (NPSL). A stream was available for their match against the San Jose Earthquakes, but the stream provided by Boca Raton FC (APSL) kept failing and made most of that match unviewable, as well. At time of writing, the Cosmos have one match left against the Charleston Battery and have said no international trips will occur this preseason.

In 2013, during the England trip, Stover told Empire of Soccer, “Our trip to London really is about getting fit and ready for our game on August 3rd. It’s not a marketing exercise what so ever. In fact, we haven’t scheduled anything at all marketing wise.”

Understandable. The team was just getting started and was thrust into the NASL season halfway through with no competitive matches played.

In Dubai, this was probably a benefit/obligation of having Emirates as a sponsor. But, it most likely allowed them to engage potential investors and was the beginning of the campaign to sign Raul.

Last season seemed to mark a clear shift. Matches played in Hong Kong and El Salvador in front of 19,000 and 25,000 attendees, respectively. In both markets, Raul was touted and the recent signing of Andres Flores clearly played a part in making inroads into that market.

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Seamus O’Brien (Photo: New York Cosmos)

“If you don’t compete globally, you are nothing,” Cosmos Chairman Seamus O’Brien told Empire of Soccer before last season. “A car company in Detroit invests $500 million on a team in Manchester, England to sell cars in Shanghai, China. That is the global economy of this sport.”

In the same article, Cosmos COO Erik Stover echoed the idea.

“If we are ultimately going to be successful like the Cosmos were in the seventies, you have to be relevant internationally. A lot of that in this sport will then drive the economy back here in the United States.”

What changed?

We reached out to the club for comment. Stover commented, “Our preseason has been designed to get us ready for the regular season and we feel that things are rounding into shape very well.  We had a couple international opportunities that were canceled because of scheduling conflicts, but that happens sometimes in this business.”

Last year, we heard messaging that the Cosmos did not want to have friendlies in New York for a few reasons. One, the simplest, it’s COLD. Anyone who attended the LIU scrimmage can attest to that. Two, working with Hofstra is a challenge and usually a deterrent to anything outside the regular-season schedule. Three, visiting friendlies tend to benefit the visiting team more as it lets them expand their market, rather than helping the Cosmos expand their own.

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A few of the new faces alongside Alexis Velela (Photo: New York Cosmos)

Understandably, the roster turnover is probably forcing them to take on more opponents domestically to work in players like Yasmani Duk, Jairo Arrrieta, Juan Arango, and Yohandry Orozco. It’s given Giovanni Savarese a chance to focus on experiments (three-man back lines, Danny Szetela as a sole holding mid, Mike Lahoud on the back line) and see what works.

“It’s been a very successful offseason in terms of player acquisitions and commercial opportunities,” Stover told us. “This is probably the best roster that we’ve put together in our four seasons. Not only have we kept our championship core together, but we have added new players with major international experience.  We also added US youth internationals that are already proving capable of contributing now.  We undoubtedly have more depth and balance on the team.”

“Commercially, Under Armour is a huge step for us and we are excited about the kit reveal tomorrow. There will also be a couple of other sponsor announcements in the coming weeks,” he added.

But, I think two more factors are involved.

First, the obvious lack of star power. Without Raul and Senna types, do you have that turnout in places like Hong Kong and El Salvador again? Maybe not.

Two, moneyball Cosmos. Two players with large wages were released. With the pick-up of Arango, you have an experienced player entering without the same level of a name as the players released. He’s off his national team and talking retirement. The value of Orozco currently stands at about €400K, according to Transfermarkt. Yasmani Duk’s loan cost the team about $50K, according to the vice-president of his parent club. Looking at the numbers they’ve put into player acquisition, perhaps they feel international trips might not give them bang for their buck.

But, maybe, there is a different way to approach this.

Currently, a number of teams are on overseas preseason trips. The Eddies are in Scotland, Minnesota is down in Mexico playing Liga MX sides and the Rowdies went to Europe to play XI’s fielded by Championship and Premier League teams. But, perhaps, the most compelling preseason approach was the one from the Strikers.

A fourteen day tour hosted by four cities where they played four clubs was the main portion, but the good stuff was in the details.

The Strikers and the R9 Academy hosted tryouts for Chinese players, selecting at least one for a contract, having executed a similar plan in Brazil in the previous months. To this end, Assistant General Manager and Head of Scouting Bruno Costa left early to begin identifying candidates. Of the at least two players selected, the costs of one was paid for entirely by the Chinese government.

The Strikers played matches with their new catchphrase “Join the Club” written in Chinese on their shorts. Ronaldo was in attendance for the tour. Team officials had meetings planned to discuss the construction of a new stadium for the Strikers with potential investors in China and to top off the whole thing, the entire trip was funded by the Chinese government.

What a coup. The Strikers make an impact in the market now, attract a following by bringing players home, search for investment opportunities, and do it all on the Chinese’s dime yuan.

This is all being done with a team of relative no-names. If the Cosmos could find a way to mimic this formula, surely benefits would follow. And while both teams have a proud history and legacy, the Cosmos remain the home of Pele, Beckenbauer, and now Raul. They must have some way to make this happen.

Speaking as a fan, I’ve barely seen a damn thing on the field all preseason. I feel the Ararat Yerevan game was a big thing not to stream, and the connection with the Eskandarians makes it really feel like we missed out. I can’t see how the team is coming together and, in the absence of a stream, the recent silence from the Cosmos’ social media (which had been fantastic during the California tour) is very disappointing. With nothing since November and no real opportunities to see the team play friendlies at home, these tidbits are all we get. Really hoping to see the Charleston match streamed or, at least, live-tweeted.

But, I do have to temper that with the belief that the Cosmos have built an impressive squad and have filled the vacancies left after 2015. The Under Armour deal is a massive get. While I wish we had more coming out from preseason, I think the Cosmos have built a strong foundation for what could be an incredible year.

 

12207506_10154190840991091_1634154486_oWhile I understand everything Luis is saying, I have to say I disagree. Honestly, while the overseas trips and global branding has been great, what has it gained for the New York Cosmos? Have they sold millions of jerseys worldwide? Nope! Has it impressed New York so much that fans are flocking to the gate to see the Global Branded New York Cosmos? Nope!

These trips have brought in some great sponsors and probably some business partners/investors behind the scenes but the reality is, the New York Cosmos are struggling at home; and I am not talking about their wins and losses at Hofstra.

In this market with two Major League Soccer Teams and the New York Cosmos, the Cosmos are struggling to attract fans to the gate on Long Island. They are still waiting for an answer on Belmont after 3 years and while on the field they are the most successful club in the area, off the field they are a distant third in significance in this city. To me, that is a problem.

The historic New York Cosmos could not sell out their NASL Soccer Bowl game at Hofstra in November. To me, that is a problem.

So while the importance of global branding cannot be ignored, the fact of the matter is, the Cosmos need to fix home. See when you think of global clubs, you think of the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan, and Manchester United. You know what those clubs all have in common? They own their respective cities and don’t have to stress about getting enough people through the gate on a weekly basis to break even.

So while I love the overseas ventures of the Cosmos, I don’t mind that they are not doing an elaborate Harlem Globetrotters tour this year (That is a Paul Kemsley era reference) as I really believe the Cosmos need to work on home more than abroad.

One thought on “The Cosmos, the preseason, and the possibilities

  1. I agree with Nick. The on the field product to date has been great but the marketing efforts and the Hofstra location has done little to compliment the achievements of the club. It’s interesting to note that Stover in his Q&A last week does realize that lack of a stadium has hurt the club’s relevance in the NY soccer market. That being the case why not play in temporary venues like Randall’s Island, Pier 40 or even Met Life until a stadium location is secured. It is something that the prior Cosmos organization (during the 70’s) has done and could potentially help with ticket sales.

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