I'm starting off this month's footnotes with some thoughts about soccer and nostalgia. What's the big deal with the Cosmos v2.0 laying claim to past glories? While I am concerned about the problems of commercial hijacking of culture, when I pull on my overpriced Cosmos jersey I'm happy to adopt the delusion that I'm on a continuum with the Glory Days of the 70s and 80s. And just how guilty should I feel about that?
The most recent post is about the disappointment of losing an important match to a team not playing beautiful, free-flowing, attacking football. At least we lost with style!
Saturday, 28 September 2013. Reynish’s days numbered? Cosmos sign former Sounders keeper Bryan Meredith.
Sunday, 29 September 2013. Glory Days. Later today, I’ll be driving out with my family to attend a soccer match at Shuart Stadium in Hempstead. The Cosmos will be hosting the Tampa Bay Rowdies. This is an important match for both teams who are at the top of the NASL table with 15 and 14 points respectively. A draw will be barely good enough for the Cosmos who need to capitalize on this opportunity playing in front of a home crowd to take the win and the three points. More…
The Philadelphia Union scraped out a dramatic win away at Sporting Park against Kansas City. That night the Union where wearing their third kit, a tribute to a historic American soccer club, Bethlehem Steel FC.
The Bethlehem Steel Soccer Club, 1913-1930, was arguably the most winning soccer team in US history. Beginning as an industrial amateur league club and later becoming a professional club and a founding member of the American Soccer League, Bethlehem Steel dominated the American soccer scene for many years." More…
Tuesday, 1 October 2013. US Open Cup Finals. The US Open Cup finals will kickoff at 9pm EST. This venerable yearly contest will feature Real Salt Lake as hosts to a much battered DC United for bragging rights and a berth in the Champions League (CONCACAF edition). If you have GolTV, you'll be able to watch it even. Result: DC United 1, RSL 0. DCU, despite a disappointing season, will tool up for next year's edition of the Champions League.
Saturday, 5 October 2013. Cosmos. The Cosmos have traveled to Minnesota to take on the Loons. The game will stream live on NASL.com starting at 8pm. Result: Cosmos 1, MUFC 0. I watched the match at Kreators with a couple of friends. Ken-e and Robin, the owners of Kreators were decked out in Cosmos regalia. I wore a Cosmos away jersey, the green one, and my Free Beer Movement scarf. And true to the mission of FBM, I bought beers for my soccer watching friends.
Friday, 11 October 2013. The Hex. The US hosts Jamaica at Sporting Park in Kansas City. This next to last round in the World Cup Qualifier will kickoff at 6:30pm. ESPN will broadcast. Result: USA 2, Reggae Boys 0. Despite the disorganized performance, the USA is carried to victory by the individual effort of Graham Zusi and Edgar Castillo. A nice touch by Jozy Altidore finished the second goal setup by Castillo's hard work.
Saturday, 12 October 2013. Cosmos to host Railhawks. Tonight at 7pm the Cosmos will kickoff against the Carolina Railhawks. This is something of a revenge match. The Railhawks are the only team in the NASL to have dealt the Cosmos a loss this season. The Railhawks haven't had a stellar run, losing four of their matches during the clausura. The Cosmos current sit atop the NASL table with 21 points. The Railhawks are among a cluster of four teams with 14 points, all tied for the second spot. A win tonight will take the Cosmos closer to clinching that berth to the Soccer Bowl. Result: Cosmos 4, Choo-Choo Chicks nil. The Cosmos dominating performance puts them within one win of clinching the spot in the Soccer Bowl 2013 to be played in Atlanta on the 9th of November.
Tuesday, 15 October 2013. The Hex part the last. The US MNT plays away in Panama. Unfortunately, this match will be broadcast on the blackhole of soccer channels, beIN SPORT. Good luck if you can find a place to watch it. To Long Island soccer fans: If you know of a soccer pub that'll be showing the match, send me a tweet. This just in… El Portero Club de Futbol in Hempstead (near the LIRR station) will be showing the match. 9:30pm kick off.
Monday, 21 October 2013. The agony. Soccer is a game designed around failure. To play the game well requires skill. To succeed requires a greater dose of hard work. And even when skill is combined with hard work, those moments of beauty when the dance on the field reaches the level of art or produces a goal are rare. When they come though, it is a moment of joy.
Yesterday, I arrived at Shuart Stadium, home of the Cosmos, a couple of hours before kick off with a cooler full of beer. I parked with the other supporters in the lot southwest of Gate C. I raised the back door of my Volvo XC70 and started pouring cups of beer from the growlers I filled that morning at the farmers market.
Zach was already there, as was Robin and Kenny. Zach introduced me to Ben who said he’d heard about me from Zach and was pleased to finally meet me. Then I met Mike, Gary, Roger, Allison and Doug, Jason, Phil. I had plenty of cups. Could I interest you in a beer? I asked each one of them.
I’d seen all of these folks before, in the supporters section, but I hadn’t been properly introduced. This was the first time I’d managed to find out where the other supporters were tailgating.
Six guys started an impromptu game of street soccer in the parking lot. At one point the stray ball came right at me. I chested it down and then flicked it back out onto the black top field of play only spilling a minor amount of beer on my green Cosmos jersey.
All of us were decked out in green and white and yellow. Allison had painted the Cosmos’ logo on her white tennis shoes. Robin was pouring green cosmopolitans for all the tailgating Cosmos girls.
The day couldn’t have been better. Temperatures in the mid-sixties. Clear skies. Cosmos blue. And the sun warming us. Perfect for the last home match of the Cosmos first season. All of us anticipated that our Cosmos would win easily over the Eddies who, while not a bad team, we didn’t consider to be dangerous. But things don’t always go the way you expect them to.
Near the end of the match, something like the 88th minute, the Cosmos were leading 1-0. We could taste victory. In just a few minutes we would have clinched our spot in the 2013 Soccer Bowl. We’d be booking our plane tickets for Atlanta. But we gave up a corner kick in those closing minutes of the game. The ball floated in from the right, bounced around at the far end of the field, then the Eddies started celebrating. What were they celebrating for? The crowd was silent. No one made a sound. The referee signaled that a goal had been scored. Nobody saw it. We refused to see it. Then the scoreboard confirmed what shouldn’t have happened. This was not in the script. Or was this just more late game dramatics? Would Noselli score another surprise goal in stoppage time? Six more minutes. Anything could happen. Or nothing. The referee blew the whistle for full time. 1-1. A draw that felt like a defeat. No Soccer Bowl celebrations tonight.
Wednesday, 23 October 2013. Literary and graphic football. Issue 6 of the free to read “football, design & wit” magazine Pickles is about how big money is changing (has changed) the modern game (@PicklesMagazine). Also, the new autobiography of Zlatan Ibrahimovic is reviewed by Richard Williams in today’s issue of The Guardian. Grant Wahl wrote about Bob Bradley’s time in Egypt for a recent issue of Sports Illustrated.
Thursday, 24 October 2013. Against modern football. As I skimmed through issue six of Pickles I was a little envious of their editorial situation. Being based in England, the editors of Pickles can sharpen their swords and axes and sling much needed barbs at the monied institution of the Premiership and of European football in general. Here in the US where our top league (the whole league mind you) has a total annual revenue of around $300 million, our Goliath is a dwarf by comparison. So skewering the MLS with barbs seems... well, a little unfair. And there is added pressure in the US since soccer is a small sport compared to the Big Four, we soccer fans tend to naturally lapse into a booster role, rather than that of harsh critic. (This last statement is certainly not true for everyone, since I’m sure there are some vehement critics of the MLS, but I’ve yet to find a worthy publication whose editorial staff takes it as their mission to reform the evils of that institution.) We might be critical of the MLS when we are talking to fellow soccer supporters, but when we talk to the generic American sports fan, we become advocates for the MLS because we want the sport to grow in this country.
Which begs the questions: why do we want the sport to grow? And given that soccer is still small in the US and supporters have comparatively more say in how things develop, perhaps the most important question is how should the sport grow in the US? Can we avoid the mistakes made in Europe? Or do we just want to replicate the Big Money Premiership here in the US?
Financial notes. By the way, I found that $300 million number in a post on SB Nation concerning a comparison of the UFC financial model to that of the MLS. That post lists the sources (for 2013) of the financial number for the MLS. The total annual revenue number includes “gate receipts, individual team sponsorship income, league sponsorship income, merchandise sales and TV rights sales.”
To put things into perspective (re the size of the MLS with respect to Big Football): According to Forbes magazine the revenue for Real Madrid (a single club) is $650 million. To be honest, I’m not sure what that number means, or if it can be compared properly to the MLS number. The only point really is that the MLS is small potatoes when it comes to money in the world of soccer.
Not to get too hung up on the $300 million number for MLS, but that is the same number that was being thrown around as the franchise fee for NYC FC last summer. And, recalling that a $9 million number was floated out there in association with Clint Dempsey’s move to Seattle which would be roughly have of the total annual revenue for your average MLS club. It stands to reason that Seattle is above average when it comes to TAR.
Second tier. Now that the first season of play for the Cosmos in the modern era is about complete, I’ve been thinking about what the future holds for the club. I’m not sure how the Cosmos are making money. The stadium attendance is about 6K per game. My guess is that revenue from ticket sales is probably in the ball park of a million dollars for the entire season. The proposed stadium that the Cosmos might build near the Belmont racetrack is supposed to cost around $400 million. To recoup that investment is going to take more than gate receipts. (Something to keep in mind is that the club’s true revenue source is not the fans that show up to the games. Even if you double that million dollar figure to account for direct jersey and other merchandise sales, the fans and supporters are still not the financial well spring into which the Cosmos ownership has tapped. So let’s ask, where is the money coming from? And why is it coming? Where’s this all going? Assuming that Seamus O’Brien, World Sports Group, and Sela Sport are not running a charity, then they expect to get a return on investment at some point.)
Last Friday, I attended the Q&A banquet that the Cosmos held for Club 71 members. (Club 71 are the season ticket holders who purchased 2013 & 2014 season tickets up front.) Both Eric Stover and Giovanni Savarese fielded questions from the group of fifty or so who assembled for the special event. Stover stressed that the Cosmos had a long term commitment to the NASL. Savarese said the Cosmos wanted to be “a true soccer club” (whatever that means). At the end of the Q&A, a few of the players came streaming into the room wearing their spiffy Cosmos warm-up suits with the injunction to “Fly Emirates” emblazoned across the front and started shaking hands. Of course, my son and I were wearing our jerseys and playing our part as a walking billboard for an airline I cannot imagine ever finding a reason to fly with. We wear the corporate logo because they are subsidizing our entertainment and (at some level) we are grateful that someone is footing the bill.
A month or so ago, a friend of mine made the point that the Cosmos aren’t paying six digit figures to former Spanish internationals and hundreds of millions for a stadium just to stay in the NASL. My friend said that “it is bleeding obvious they’re planning on making that jump to MLS.” Not according to Stover. But of course, Stover can’t say that the Cosmos are planning to ditch the NASL as soon as they get the chance. That would just look and sound bad. While the Cosmos are in the NASL, then it stands to reason that they are going to say good things about the league. Makes sense to me.
So are the Cosmos eyeing the MLS? Do all the signs point to the Cosmos entering the MLS? Not all of them. Don Garber, MLS commissioner, said back in September that the MLS is looking to add four more teams by 2020. New York City FC is already guaranteed to enter in 2015. And it appears that the three other favored cities are Miami, Orlando, and Atlanta. (The Orlando bid looks the strongest given that they’ve just got the green light on the construction of a new soccer specific stadium.) Nothing about the Cosmos in that expansion plan. (Although some have speculated that at the last minute, NYC FC, will purchase the Cosmos and drop the NYC FC placeholder name to become Cosmos 3.0. But this seems a little convoluted to me.)
Also, I find it just a little odd that the MLS is looking to expand it’s presence in the southeast. This move looks like the MLS is taking the battle for soccer cities directly to the NASL which has already two teams in Florida and one in Atlanta. And why isn’t anyone talking about St Louis as an expansion city?
Another thing that Stover said during the Club 71 Q&A was that the NASL expansion team in Oklahoma City looked promising. “There’s a good group of owners there and we could be looking at another Indianapolis.” Stover is referring to the fact that the Indy Eleven have already gathered more than six thousand deposits on season tickets. The reason for his optimism about OKC: oil money.
Show me the money. I keep coming back to the question of where all the soccer money comes from. And the money appears to be in television revenue. For the MLS, TV revenue only accounts for about ten percent of their TAR (if the sources cited above are correct); that is about $27 million per year. For events like the World Cup, FIFA stands to make more than an order of magnitude more than that. Even if the protests over corruption and violation of human rights in Brazil keep away a fraction of the spectators, the real haul is in TV money and on that score, FIFA is safe. Who’s not going to turn on their TV to watch the World Cup next year? Would it even make sense to stage a TV viewing boycott out of solidarity with the victims of FIFA’s greed? Are there ways to send FIFA the message that we don’t like their practices and support our national team in it’s run to win the Cup? I’d like to know.
This brings me back to the question about why we Americans want to grow the sport here. Do we support soccer in the US so that one day our national team (and I’m talking about the men’s sport here since the US women dominate the sport internationally) will win the World Cup? Or do we want to grow the sport so that we will have a team that we can support locally? Right now we fans and supporters are looking for top down solutions throwing our support behind the big clubs and the major leagues. Wouldn’t it make more sense to grow the sport from the bottom up? Build strong local clubs, clubs connected with their fans, even owned by their fans and supporters, and from this base build the sport in this country?
Wednesday, 30 October 2013. Trophies. Last weekend two New York soccer teams won their first major trophies. On Saturday, the New York Cosmos won the 2013 Fall Championship with a win over the San Antonio Scorpions. The following day, the New York Red Bulls won the 2013 MLS Supporters Shield with a decisive win over the Chicago Fire (5-2). The Supporters Shield win means that the Red Bulls will be playing in next years’ CONCACAF Champions League (CCL). The CCL is also in the sights for the New York Cosmos. Head Coach Gio Savarese has said that the Cosmos plan to take next year’s 2014 US Open Cup seriously and will try to win it. The winner of that competition will play in the 2015 edition of the CCL. The Red Bulls (formerly the New York / New Jersey Metrostars) who hadn’t won a major trophy in their eighteen year history have peaked at the right time. Failing to win anything this year would have meant that the NASL (Division 2) team on Long Island would have claimed to be the most successful New York soccer team. The New Jersey versus New York debate aside, the fact that two New York teams won their first major trophies on the same weekend suggests the hints of a budding rivalry. At the moment, there’s no direct competition and no direct comparison, but next year, it’s possible that the Cosmos and Red Bulls will meet in the US Open Cup.
Friday, 8 November 2013. Disappointment. Wednesday evening I watched the New York Metrobulls fade into irrelevance again. Ten days previous we were celebrating because they had won the 2013 MLS Supporters Shield. But despite a masterful attacking performance against the Houston Dynamo over the two legs of the conference semifinal, the Metrobulls went down in defeat, in extra time last Wednesday. The Metrobulls showered the Dynamo goal with a hailstorm of shots. It was as if the goal were enchanted and was sealed against every effort of the Metrobulls to score. Uncanny sorcery is the only explanation for what happened on Wednesday. The Dynamo have made a pact with the devil and one day they will burn in soccer hell for what they have done.
Why? Why do I put myself through this? “The agony of defeat” is a phrase I heard every Saturday afternoon when I was growing up. I experienced the agony of defeat on Wednesday. Like the irrevocable finality of death. Beneath this numb desolation which lies dormant during the coming winter, my only consolation is the coming the season, when in the spring the boys will take to the field again and once more attempt a campaign against the powers of darkness arrayed against them.
Soccer Bowl 2013. With the Metrobulls out of the MLS Cup tournament, I can focus more completely on the NASL Championship match to be played this Saturday in Atlanta. New York’s green and white, the mighty Cosmos, will bring their own magic to stifle the incantations of the Silverback’s goalkeeper. Beware Atlanta! Our magicians can call on the power of the Cosmos to lay your fields to waste and the salt we will sow in your soil will doom your hopes for years to come. After Saturday, they will know what we in New York have known all along: that the Cosmos have arrived!