By DAVE MARTINEZ
The Paul Kemsley Era New York Cosmos left a sour taste in the mouths of New York-area soccer fans hoping for a second MLS franchise to emerge in the region. Seemingly at every turn, where there was promise, failure followed. A potentially great alliance with standout youth academy program BW Gottchee was formed, only to deteriorate into a legal battle over unpaid wages. An unbelievable opportunity to showcase as the foil against Manchester United for the Paul Scholes testimonial was more of a publicity stunt than anything tangible for the club. More emphasis was put on reviving a brand for retail sake than focusing on fielding a team.
Bottom line: No matter how great the opportunity was, the outcome always soured, and the brand suffered for it. New Cosmos co-owner and chairman Seamus O’Brien is focused on repairing the damage of the past two years by focusing in on the basics, namely soccer.
"One thing you will learn from me – unlike recent past – everything we say, we'll deliver on, and everything we say will be politically correct," O’Brien told SBI. "All I'll say for now is that we intend to attain the highest level possible, whatever that may be, at whatever time, and we intend to win. We are putting a team out to win and we intend to win on the field and off the field; in the business of sport, in the business of soccer, which is a highly competitive, global business. We're going to run a team that will be at the highest level, as I said, on and off the field in both of those areas."
O’Brien, who is a 50 percent shareholder in the Cosmos (the other 50 percent of the team owned by a pair of wealthy Saudi families connected to Sela Sport), has taken the role of righting the group's misguided ship after a tumultuous start to its MLS aspirations.
"I've been in the sports media marketing industry for most of my career, which is approaching 30 years," said O'Brien, owner of Asian-based sports marketing and event management company World Sport Group. “The other investors in the team have been an all-time sort of renowned industry sports and media guys who I have happened to have done a fair bit with over the years.
“One day they came to me and said, ‘Hey look, we'd like to talk to you about one of our investments in North America. You may have heard of it – something called the Cosmos.'"
“Of course I have,” he said with a laugh. “Obviously, they had issues and said, 'Look, can you help us?' So one thing led to another and here I am."
A "difference of opinion" over the running of the organization caused a split of the original investment group. With Thursday's announcement of the Cosmos joining NASL in 2013, the message has been streamlined; it is no longer about apparel or the next marketing gimmick. Instead, it will be about creating a proper football club from the ground level up.
"We're out on a journey," O'Brien said. "The link and the ties between the two brands, the league and the club, are obviously very strong. As we did the evaluation of the opportunities available to us right now as we start out, it became clear that starting in the NASL was the right place to start. It will allow us to do things with the team and the brand as a business that perhaps, initially you might not be able to do within the MLS structure. We want to build the biggest base within the community, around New York, on Long Island and Queens and internationally that we can.
“I'm very keen and conscious that not only do we play out a very extensive and in-depth role within the grassroots communities of Queens and Long Island. We are also doing the Cosmos Copa that is going on at the moment as a community, grassroots event, and on the professional side, we want to be able to draw the best American talent that we can.
“I think our reemergence, the NASL as a league, the moment only provides greater opportunity and career paths for talented kids coming out of either high school or college that want to play soccer professionally. We want to draw on that, and, at the same time, we realize that we are in a global environment, we are in America's global city with the most diverse population base in the world and we want to play to that audience.”
With such lofty aspirations comes the worry of monetary solvency. MLS commissioner Don Garber has repeatedly made mention of an ownership buy-in price of $100 million dollars to whichever prospective group that would take on the NY2 project. Though O’Brien admits that the investors are still looking for both a domestic and international partner for this endeavor, their current monetary outlook is still quite considerable.
“I mean, we got as deep a pockets as anybody in the game,” O'Brien emphasized. “I'm not going to go into our own wealth, but they are extremely wealthy people and I've got a few dollars myself. It's not about the depth of your pockets or your financial capacity; I don’t think that's ever been questioned to date. We made an evaluation on the business model and figured for the time being, I would rather put $100 million into our own team and our own brand and our own club than going to spend it somewhere else. We just made a business decision that we think is the right one for the team right now.
“As a business man — and this is a tough business — we are going to build a team, a franchise, a club that is going to … When we get to the top — and we will get to the top — we are going to get there and stay there. This is not going to be a one-hit wonder. It would have been arrogant and remiss to assume we can come out of the blocks in Year 1, win MLS or whatever and play in front of 70,000 people in MetLife (Stadium). That stuff only exists in fairy tales.
“What this is, step-by-step, we are going to build a team with an unbelievable storied history and heritage, which is a great burden, but one that we hope and believe we can live up to. We are going to get to the top, and when we get there, we are going to stay there for generations to come."