The field where the New York Cosmos began their drive for their first league title in 1972 will once again host the professional team now reconstituted for a new era of professional soccer.
The Cosmos kick off their 2013 season at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 3., which can seat 15,000 people. According to Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, if attendance is even 50 percent for the home games, he estimates that the Cosmos could generate some $9.5 million in local economic activity—and up to $19 million if the Shuart Stadium is packed full.
“We welcome the Cosmos to Nassau County,” Comptroller Maragos said in a press release. “The Cosmos’ return will give not only our local economy a boost but also a huge boost to the sport’s popularity amongst our youth who can now aspire to professional play.”
Mineola’s own soccer prodigy, Carlos Mendes, who played professionally in the Major League Soccer from 2005-2012, and former Spain national team midfielder Marcos Senna will captain the Cosmos.
In their front office are the so-called “Ambassadors of Soccer” such as Pele, Carlos Alberto and Nassau’s Shep Messing.
Pele, perhaps the world’s best known soccer player, is now the team’s honorary president. He helped popularize the original Cosmos—as well as putting the sport on the American map—when the 35-year-old Brazilian star signed on to play for them in 1975, increasing attendance by 20,000 people almost overnight at Randalls Island’s Downing Stadium. He’d already set the record for being the youngest player to score in the World Cup in 1958 before he turned 18. Now 72, Pele, who’s the subject of a forthcoming documentary about to begin filming in Brazil, is seen as the game’s roving global ambassador.
Almost since its original inception, the Cosmos have been a nomadic team, playing at Hofstra, Randalls Island and even Yankees Stadium, as well as the then-new Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands, where attendance topped almost 80,000 in the 1970s. The North American Soccer League couldn’t sustain the business model over time, and by 1985 the Cosmos had played their last game.
Now the North American Soccer League hopes to be on firmer financial footing, and the Cosmos are key to its success. Their league is not the same as Major League Soccer, which has New York’s currently best-known soccer team, the Red Bulls, and is considered a tier above the NASL. There are some reports that the Cosmos are hoping they can move up someday if an opening arises. Meanwhile, in 2015, MLS plans to debut the New York City Football Club, a partnership between the Manchester City Football Club, which is owned by the United Arab Emirates, and the New York Yankees. But if the Cosmos can eventually level the playing field, they could sow the seeds for a heated regional rivalry in the very near future.
The team has already reached a TV deal with ONE World Sports, which will televise each home game, starting with their first against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at 7 p.m. Saturday. Other deals and sponsorships include Nike and Emirates Airline.
Meanwhile, the Cosmos are looking ahead to a bigger venue than Hofstra if plans are approved for a new venue at Belmont Park that would seat 25,000. Overall the project, which would include restaurants, a 175-room hotel, a public park and 250,000 square feet of retail space, is slated to cost $400 million.
“It’s under review right now by the State of New York,” said Jen Chang, the Cosmos’ communications and marketing director, referring to the Empire State Development Corporation, which is weighing bids for Belmont’s present parking lot. “There’s no official time frame but we expect a decision sometime within the next few months.”
The proposal, in conjunction with Queens-based Carl Mattone Real Estate Group, has already drawn protests from community leaders such as Legis. Carrie’ Solages (D-Elmont), who has been pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to shelve plans for a mega-stadium on the grounds and promote “smart development” that wouldn’t have such a large impact on the area.
“In an era when Big Sports is about big profits and lucrative franchise deals,” Solages said at a gathering outside the site in May, “Elmont seeks something other than being the gateway to a mega-soccer stadium…. A mega-stadium would neither strengthen our real estate values nor generate neighborhood economic growth in Elmont. A mega-stadium would, however, generate enormous profits for the absentee investors who would enjoy millions in profits from such a complex.”
The team insists that the new development “will help re-energize Belmont and the surrounding community with 3,000 full-time jobs, 500 construction jobs, a restaurant row and a 4.5-acre park.”
But for now Hofstra is home, once again, to the Cosmos.
“This is exciting and I welcome it,” said Jack Mandel, a professor of sports marketing at Nassau Community College. “Anyone who’s new to an area has to have resources and marketing savvy to build a business… They have their work cut out for them.”
With Spencer Rumsey