COMMENTARY | The 2013 New York Cosmos are not nearly as good as are the 2013 New York Red Bulls. This isn't a statement of opinion, nor is it a knock on the Cosmos. RBNY are, at the very worst, a top-ten side that plays in North America's top-flight league, while the Cosmos will, starting in August, be a second-division side that may/may not be all that good. I'm not suggesting that the Cosmos couldn't give the Red Bulls a game in a one-off, but the smart money would unquestionably be on the Major League Soccer club if the two were to battle it out in some sort of meaningful ($$$) series of matches.
It appears as if those running the Cosmos are very aware of this fact when it comes to marketing the squad that will kick off what is meant to be a new era for the most storied soccer franchise in the history of the United States. Rather than act as if they are on-par with the Red Bulls talent-wise, the Cosmos are instead utilizing a three-legged method of drawing eyes and, hopefully for the club, a significant amount of money. Their current plan seems destined for success as it pertains to attracting attention from both local soccer supporters and casual sports fans in the NYC/NJ area.
It's the franchise's ideas for the long-term that I question.
The Cosmos are wisely utilizing history and nostalgia in just about every advertisement you see or radio spot that you hear. I don't count Pele in this, because, unless something has changed in the past couple of days, he isn't appearing at every Cosmos home game after the August 3 season opener. Everything about the Cosmos brand, from the logo to the colors to even the name, screams "retro" and "throwback," giving those who were around three and a half decades ago visions of their own soccer pasts.
Even the team's Twitter hashtag was cleverly crafted to point back to the franchse's history. "Cosmos 2.0" or "New Cosmos" puts an idea in a customer's head that this team is starting from scratch and merely banking on a name and a brand. "Cosmos Reboot," the tag that has been associated with the club for months, gives the allusion that this franchise is starting up right where it left off; as America's most beloved soccer club.
New York have also done well in putting together a staff and a roster that appeals to local fans. Names such as Giovanni Savarese, Alecko Eskandarian, Carlos Mendes, Danny Szetela and Marcos Senna are just a few that are immediately recognizable to diehard soccer followers who live in the region. The one drawback here is that no average sports fan who maybe catches a handful of soccer games on television every year knows a single name within the Cosmos organization other than the team's honorary president. Intentionally or not, the Cosmos are setting out to prove MLS wrong by showing that a club that plays in the New York market doesn't need multiple international stars in order to attract crowds.
Lastly, Cosmos home games are being given Triple-A baseball treatment in terms of pricing. One can get a pretty good ticket to a game for $25, and the best non-club seats go for $35 a pop. Similar tickets to Red Bulls games cost in the neighborhood of $50-60. To be fair to RBNY, though, fans can easily access cheaper seats in similar areas of Red Bull Arena on a consistent basis via services such as Living Social or Groupon.
All of this is well and good when it comes to the first month of the 2013 campaign. Once the weather begins to cool down and the kiddies return to school, the Cosmos are going to have two very real problems to deal with; one that's unique to them, and another that the Red Bulls haven't yet solved.
There's inevitably going to come a time when the shine is off the Cosmos apple, and soccer purists and those new to the sport will see NASL games as they truly are: Somewhere between Division I college and MLS in quality of play. Literally thousands of soccer supporters within the Manhattan city limits largely ignore MLS because they see the league as being second-rate when compared with the Premier League, La Liga or Serie A. How will the Cosmos, who will be participating in a league that is a step below MLS, keep those customers from rejecting the product after the first few contests?
Then there is the real competition that keeps people from RBNY home games each and every fall. The Mets are, well, the Mets, but it's very possible that the Yankees will be involved in a pennant race this fall. College football, this country's most popular spectator sport, is massive in the New York region; and I'm not even talking about Rutgers. Along with competing for attention with the Red Bulls, the Cosmos will also have to deal with fans who have, for decades, followed programs such as Penn State and Notre Dame. RBNY lose in-person spectators and TV viewers to NCAA football every weekend beginning in September. Why am I to assume the Cosmos won't suffer the same fate?
New York's second of to-be three professional soccer franchises is off to a fine start, and I'm sure the Cosmos and their fans are in for plenty of good times in August. Right now, before they begin playing meaningful matches that count in the NASL standings, the Cosmos are but a brand and not much more.
They've got plenty of steps to take to ensure that won't again be the case in October.
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
- Sports & Recreation
- New York Red Bulls
- New York Cosmos
- Major League Soccer