SBJ/July 29-August 4, 2013/Franchises

For Cosmos, rebirth on a modest scale

On Saturday, the historic New York Cosmos, a brand associated with the legendary Pelé and the Studio 54 era of the late 1970s, will be back on the pitch for the first time in almost three decades. In the weeks leading up to their return, easily one of the most heavily hyped efforts around a second-tier U.S. soccer club in memory, the Cosmos have been aggressively promoting that rebirth.

“You can make the argument that the New York Cosmos are the most recognizable American soccer club around the world,” said Cosmos Chief Operating Officer Erik Stover, a former managing director of the MLS New York Red Bulls. “But we can’t live off our brand and our history. This is a new team, playing in a different stadium, in a different era. We have to get the word out.”

The Cosmos of the late 1970s featured international stars such as Pelé, Giorgio Chinaglia, Carlos Alberto and Franz Beckenbauer, selling out matches at Giants Stadium on their way to NASL titles. But that was a time when NASL was the nation’s top soccer league. Today, the league is secondary to MLS, so while the Cosmos brand might still resonate enough nationally to sell merchandise, the club’s efforts in its return to the pitch for the first time since 1985 are focused much more locally in order to sell tickets.

Instead of Giants Stadium, Shuart Stadium on the campus of Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., will be the Cosmos’ home when they kick off their season against Fort Lauderdale on Saturday.

To tout their return in a crowded New York marketplace, the Cosmos have aggressively worked the central transportation destinations, with a strong marketing presence at Penn Station, a major hub for commuters from New York’s boroughs and Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut. The Cosmos have employed part-time staff to hand out schedules and ticket information at the station.

“The franchise is working very hard and the results will be there,” said NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson. “When you’re opening a club in a large market as the Cosmos are, you have to put in extra effort. It takes more resources and the risk/reward is much higher. The Cosmos understand this.”

Individual ticket prices for the Cosmos’ seven home matches in the NASL’s fall season — the league plays two “seasons” within one year — range from $15 to $35, with club seats available for $95. Capacity at Shuart Stadium is just under 13,000. Stover declined to say how many tickets had been sold for the opener, but an online review last week of the Cosmos’ public ticket sales system revealed that seats remained available in most sections.

The San Antonio Scorpions led the NASL during the spring season with an average attendance of 7,140.

The Cosmos are playing at Hofstra as they await a decision by the Empire State Development Corp. on a proposed development called Elmont Crossings. That $400 million project would include a 25,000-seat soccer stadium, nine restaurants, a hotel, a public park and retail space adjacent to Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. All proposals were submitted in January, and a developer is expected to be chosen by the end of the year.

Pelé and Alberto will be honored before the relaunch match on Saturday, but Stover and the Cosmos know they have matches beyond that to sell.

“We talk about this as a staff a lot,” Stover said. “Aug. 3 is not the endgame for us. It’s only the beginning.”

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