Don't call them a "brand"
1 July ~ Sitting in the middle of the New York Cosmos offices in a fashionable part of Manhattan is a container stuffed with dollar notes. Any employee who describes the reborn club as a "brand" is financially penalised and has to contribute to the swear jar. Banning that particular buzzword is rare in modern sport. Of course, it's also a form of branding in itself. But the Cosmos, who play their first competitive game in nearly 30 years on August 3, are a unique and sometimes contradictory proposition. And New York's professional football landscape recently got cluttered.
The New York Red Bulls are the only team actually playing matches and they are gearing up to face new competitors. New York City FC, the latest addition to the scene, will join MLS in 2015. That brand-new club, backed by Manchester City and the New York Yankees, are currently in the early stages of development, including working out where to build a new stadium. The Cosmos will join the second half of the NASL season, the second tier of US football, at the start of next month.
Though the Cosmos name resonates with Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer and apocryphal tales from the 1970s, the club haven't had an actual team since folding in 1984. The latest owners have built the playing side of the club from scratch. The Cosmos won't be competing against their city rivals in MLS just yet, though chairman Seamus O'Brien has made vague hints about possibly joining MLS in the future. But they have plenty of ambitions – and money – of their own.
The club have secured national TV coverage of their games and announced high-profile deals with Fly Emirates and Nike. They've opened brand-new training facilities and a planning decision on an ambitious $400 million (£263m) stadium project on Long Island is expected very soon. A Cosmos academy is planned for next year. The fifth consecutive year of the Cosmos Copa, an amateur adult soccer tournament organised by the club, starts group stages on July 13.
On the pitch, the Cosmos won their first friendly 6-0, a charity fundraiser against Newtown Pride FC in benefit of the victims of the December school shootings. Their squad is filling quickly and veteran Marcos Senna, ex-Spain international and Euro 2008 winner, arrived in an undoubtedly expensive move from Villarreal. The Cosmos are owned by the wealthy Saudi Arabia-based Sela Sport group – and unlike MLS there are no salary caps or commercial restrictions in NASL.
Cosmos chief operating officer Erik Stover told me that he sees this league as the ideal platform to target the "huge potential" of soccer in the US and that the US Open Cup will be "essential" for the club. The winners of this competition, in its 100th year, qualify for the Concacaf Champions League.
While the new Cosmos have concentrated on engaging the local community so far, Stover is also aware of international possibilities for the club. But he's not yet sure whether this would involve "media deals, international tournaments" or "selling shirts in Shanghai". Stover describes the old Cosmos as "the first version of the galacticos", but this latest conception is aiming both big and small. It's going to be interesting to see how it all works out. Just don't call it a "brand" – even a local one. Ed Upright