Thursday, May 22, 2014

Different Markets

As the Indy Eleven get set to take on the New York Cosmos this weekend, I thought I would touch on a couple things that have been going through my head as it relates to the various levels of soccer in this country, specifically in the "major" and "minor" markets. Indy being considered a "minor" market, and obviously NY being considered a "major" market. What originally started me thinking about this was a reference to an article about the New York Cosmos from the Indy Eleven's twitter page, presumably because the article made reference to the strong start of the Indy Eleven in season ticket holders and the season ticket holder wait list, but it was other text in the article that caught my attention. Excerpt below, emphasis mine.

Can the New York Cosmos and Soccer’s Minor League Coexist?
The New York Cosmos’ 2014 season was launched on a chilly Friday afternoon with an event at a midtown Manhattan pub. Players had gathered upstairs at the Football Factory at Legends, on Thirty-third Street, waiting to be interviewed about the season opener, against the Atlanta Silverbacks. As two dozen journalists sipped Amstel Lights, Blue Moons, and soft drinks at the open bar, Shep Messing, the Cosmos’ goalkeeper during the nineteen-seventies, when the organization brought international superstars like Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer to the United States, spoke enthusiastically about the reincarnation of his former team.
The former general manager G. Peppe Pinton held the team’s rights, and did not relaunch the team for more than twenty years, before selling the brand to a group headed by Paul Kemsley, an Englishman, in 2009. In 2012, after ten million dollars and still no team on the field, Kemsley left. The club fell under the auspices of Sela Sport, a marketing company based in Saudi Arabia, and Seamus O’Brien became its chairman. The Cosmos started playing in the new N.A.S.L. last summer. Led by the head coach Giovanni Savarese, they won the 2013 Soccer Bowl.
Messing then introduced Erik Stover, the Cosmos’ C.O.O., who is trying to return the team to its late-seventies peak. That would be difficult even in the top-tier organization in the U.S., Major League Soccer, where the average attendance per game barely reaches twenty thousand. The Cosmos and M.L.S. had talked about a deal, but ultimately the team wound up joining the N.A.S.L. instead. The club must accomplish its ambitions within the confines of a three-year-old startup league that’s far below M.L.S. in terms of talent, reach, and viability. “We don’t look at ourselves as second division in any way,” Stover said. “We’ve said from the beginning as we’ve taken over this project that we want to be at the top of the pyramid at the United States.”

For now, the Cosmos and the N.A.S.L. have a symbiotic relationship: the N.A.S.L. wants the legitimacy that the Cosmos brand brings, and the team needs the league because it needs competition. “When the Cosmos came into this league, they brought with them the benefit and the burden of the Cosmos legacy,” Bill Peterson, the league commissioner, told me over the phone. They are already one of the most visible American soccer brands, and have the connections to match: Pelé attended Sunday’s opener, at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium, and the airline Emirates sponsors their jerseys. The Cosmos continue to get more press coverage than one would expect, considering their low place in the world soccer hierarchy. “While we get a lot of headlines, we’re also very cautious about growing smartly, growing in a controlled way,” Stover said in the Football Factory lounge. His players sat in small groups, talking mostly to one another but also to the occasional reporter. “We’re not trying to be overly aggressive and blow things up. We think smart growth is what we need to do.”

But the Cosmos have money to spend and want to use it to rebuild their already well-known name into a major international force. Sela Sport doesn’t seem to be concerned with making a profit immediately. (O’Brien told the Times last year that the club was on target for “modest losses,” owing to startup costs.) The Cosmos are proposing a privately financed four-hundred-million-dollar, twenty-five-thousand-seat stadium in Elmont, on Long Island. I was told that the team had the N.A.S.L.’s highest payroll in 2013; Marcos Senna, a thirty-seven-year-old Brazilian-born midfielder, who won a European Championship, in 2008, playing for Spain, earns a six-figure salary.
The team only got stronger (and more expensive) in the off-season,...after poaching one of the league’s best players, Hans Denissen. The thirty-year-old Dutch forward scored twelve goals for the San Antonio Scorpions in 2013, and was named a league all-star that year. The Cosmos swooped in with an offer he couldn’t refuse. “It was so ridiculous that I honestly sat with Hans and I said, ‘For the good of your family, how do you say no to this?’” the Scorpions’ president, Howard Cornfield told the San Antonio Express-News in January. According to the article, Cornfield also called Denissen’s contract with the Cosmos “ludicrous” for a league of the N.A.S.L.’s size.

When I spoke to Cornfield two weeks ago, he had backed off those comments a bit, noting that he was speaking “out of frustration” at the time. “I’m not a proponent of a salary cap,” he said. “I’m a proponent of everyone in the league working together for the good of the league.” Cornfield, who added that his team made “a lot of money” in 2013, allowed that New York teams in particular have other considerations: “The Cosmos have a huge challenge, in that they are competing in a difficult marketplace, a crowded marketplace, and they have to do things bigger and better than some of the other teams in our league.”
Stover has a different agenda for the New York Cosmos: “We want to be in our own stadium. We want to have what we believe to be the best roster in the United States. We want to be competing in CONCACAF for a Champions League title. And we want the N.A.S.L. to be as good or better than Major League Soccer.”
I know that is a rather large excerpt from the article, but there were some very key things in that article. Most notably for Indy Eleven fans is that the $87M that our team wants for a soccer-specific stadium is minor in comparison to the $400M stadium that the New York Cosmos want. Also key is that their plan is for a privately financed stadium. Finally, and this is one of those lines that stuck with me, "they are competing in a difficult marketplace, a crowded marketplace, and they have to do things bigger and better than some of the other teams in our league."

I think they were probably referring to ALL of the sports teams that are present in the New York region. NY Jets, NY Giants, NY Yankees, Brooklyn Nets, and the New York Red Bulls to name a few. But that crowded region is about to get another team, NYFC. New York Football Club, partially owned by the Yankees, and partially owned by Manchester City, and soon to be new member of the MLS. So NYC will have the New York Red Bulls, NYFC, and the New York Cosmos all competing to provide New Yorkers with their soccer needs. For arguments sake, if the goal of any football team is to work its way to the First Division level, how can the Cosmos ever expect to make that move when there are already two other teams in the area in the league? Maybe that's why the Cosmos say they "want the NASL to be as good or better than Major League Soccer." They understand they don't have much chance of making that move.

My point, and it was asked here too, is what about the rest of the country?
I have to conclude this is a great news for footy fans in the New York City area but what about the rest of the country?

The Red Bulls' average home attendance already falls well short of its 25,000 capacity and the Big Apple also has the reformed New York Cosmos on the scene too.

Is this potentially soccer over-saturation New York style? I realize it's the allure of the lucrative Nyc market and all that but has the league missed a great opportunity to truly put new meaning into the word "expansion"?

For example- take the huge area of land known as the Southeastern USA. Not an MLS franchise in sight.

Why? Where I live in Atlanta I'd have to travel some nine hours by car to go and watch my "local" team- DC United in Washington!
It's the "major" market versus "minor" market thinking. MLS would rather have two teams in the NYC area, add two more teams in Orlando and Miami, a team in Houston and in Dallas, and two in L.A. You telling me that there isn't a market for a successful team in one of the "minor" markets?

I don't know if that "minor" market team to move into MLS is from Indianapolis, but I'm guessing they'll never get the chance and need to follow the same thinking as the Cosmos and do whatever they can to make the NASL as good or better than MLS.

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