Time To Panic? Cosmos attendance woes becoming a concern

Cosmos Hofstra Sparse Crowd

COMMENTARY – One can make the case that the New York Cosmos were in a no-win situation when it came to drawing fans during the Spring Championship season. A Monday fixture and two 5 p.m. Sunday afternoon starts in all of five home matches in an awkward nine-game Spring season clearly made for a tough sell.

However, there was no excuse for what happened Saturday night.

The Fall Championship season opener against the San Antonio Scorpions sold all of 3,806 tickets. For those watching at home or attending the game itself, that number was perhaps a bit generous when gauging the actual number that went through the turnstile for the event.

There was nothing else to distract fans from attending. No World Cup fixtures. No NHL games. No Yankees game. The only competition? A midday Mets encounter against the meandering Miami Marlins and a Red Bull game in New Jersey.

Further, the team was enjoying a solid bit of momentum. If on-the-field progress is any measuring stick, their win over the Red Bulls in U.S. Open Cup play certainly made quite a statement. Worse still, some ticket packages for that encounter included tickets to the Fall opener.

What happened?

Cosmos COO Erik Stover continues to take the long-view on the situation, telling EOS in our exclusive interview last week that the club is taking a pragmatic stance to growth. They understand their position as a second division side and are making the most of their tight marketing budget to make their footprint in the professional soccer market.

However, that does little to ease concerns over their present standings.

The Cosmos led all teams in attendance during their Fall Championship run, drawing a respectable 6,859. Of course, those numbers are buoyed by their impressive attendance for their home opener (11,929). By season’s end, they eked out San Antonio for the league lead in average attendance (6,763).

Despite that fact, there was a disturbing trend in the numbers as the season came to a close. Here is a look at their attendance for the Fall season:

COSMOS FALL 2013

After the Cosmos rode out their media-blitz bump, the numbers settled near the 6,000 level. In context, that is not a bad place to be for a second division club; particularly one that had only just begun play.

The problem is that the downward trend has continued, despite their Soccer Bowl winning season. Here is a look at the attendance numbers for the Spring season, followed by the Fall opener:

COSMOS ATTENDANCE 2014

The Spring season opener naturally drew a respectable crowd. The Monday match bottomed out at 3,091. The season finale, however, is a telling one. Fully expecting to close their year with a fight for the title, fans showed awareness of the ramifications of their match with an uptick in attendance (6,495). That number could have been a bit higher had they not lost their opportunity for a championship the day before with Minnesota pulling out a season-ending winner over Tampa Bay.

What does that tell you? Clearly, the Cosmos have established a loyal base of roughly 2-3k fans that follow the team religiously, along with the stragglers that help the team reach that potential 6k level. For a minor league side, that is a great base to build from.

With all of that said, where was the awareness for the Fall season? Did the club drop the ball in their marketing approach? Were people simply not interested?

If you are looking for blame at the club level, perhaps the U.S. Open Cup can be a start. There is no question New York went all in for the tournament. That showed in their fourth round victory against the Red Bulls, which saw the team draw 9,364 fans. Those numbers were achieved without the help of their MLS counterparts, who shunned the event from the beginning. Instead, the Cosmos took a calculated approach to their advertising, seeking out events like the June 10th Portugal vs. Ireland encounter at MetLife to target their audience.

By June 25th, their U.S. Open Cup run ran dry with a loss against Philadelphia, and the Cosmos found themselves all of 17 days away from their NASL opener.

Were they caught off guard? Perhaps. As Stover told us last week, the team was counting on advancing in the tournament; far into the tournament. Focus necessarily changed, and the team took advantage of the World Cup shine, getting their players on local TV and radio as analysts and promoters.

By then, it was too late to draw anyone in. They were swallowed by the World Cup noise.

Now, whether this was a problem of advertising or just a lack of interest from the fans is debatable, but the downward spiral in numbers seems to point to the latter. After debuting with the best attendance in the league, the Cosmos now sit fifth out of ten teams, just barely eking out rivals Tampa Bay Rowdies for that distinction. As expected, Indy Eleven lead all clubs with an average 10,465 fans in five games. The MLS-hopeful San Antonio Scorpions are second at 6,476. Spring Champion Minnesota United comes in third with 5,577 and Carolina is next with 5,364. Both have played only four home matches.

Then there is the Cosmos, with an average attendance of 5,041. Tampa Bay sit behind them at 4,998.

Hofstra, while a useful home in the present day, has been a terrible albatross when it comes to scheduling and accessibility. The Spring season fixtures are proof of that.

Versatility in their home is also a concern. With a proper stadium, the Cosmos could have the freedom to market their club further. One way would be through scheduling summer friendlies to introduce the local community to the team. In Hofstra, that is simply impossible. Look for no further example than this NASL break, where other teams were able to pull together a friendly showcase, while the Cosmos were handcuffed by the constraints of the University.

In a painful twist, issues drawing at Shuart don’t make their push for a 25k seat Belmont Stadium any easier. For the Cosmos, they look at the Red Bulls model for encouragement. While the attendance numbers may tell a different story on paper, there were many a summer where the seats at Giants Stadium simply swallowed the Red Bull support, which at times sat in the low four figure range.

That all changed when Red Bull Arena was born.

Selling a multimillion dollar plan on a promise of ‘what can be’ is tough, and that makes their Elmont bid a political football in this year’s New York State Governor elections. Had there been vibrant support, any political operative would piggyback the project towards votes. Instead, candidates will look at this as a risk instead of a reward, which in turn will likely push a vote on the stadium further down the docket with the Empire State Development board.

Of course, there are promising developments to buoy the spirit of Cosmos fans. The team’s desire to build a state-of-the-art practice facility as well as a Cosmos Academy program are welcomed developments. They also signal a long-term view for this project.

Long-term plan or not, none of that will be possible without drawing butts in seats — and if they truly want to be, as they say, “at the highest level,” it all starts with the fans.

The 2014 campaign is not a wash. New York still have eight more games to turn their attendance woes around. Their play on the field has lived up to the Cosmos name. They have two trophies to prove it. Now, it is up to the front office to match that level if they hope to continue the club’s growth.

  • Fabio

    Go NYCFC !!!!

    • D_RoyJenkins

      Yes! #5boros1city

  • drm21892

    This article perfectly describes all of my fears. With all of the attendance problems, I am worried that the stadium bid won’t be approved. And without the new stadium, the attendance problem will only get worse from here. With NYCFC starting play in less then a year, the Cosmos have to do everything they can to drastically improve their attendance numbers in the Fall season. I think it starts with bringing in a big name, because that will obviously be the easiest way to draw in the casual fan to a game. Not sure how else this problem is going to get resolved, but as a Cosmos supporter I am nervous that the situation may only get worse from here.

    • Anonymous

      What’s the incentive for a big name to come play for the Cosmos, when they can sign with either the Red Bulls or NYCFC? Or make just as much money, if not more, elsewhere?

  • Look at the 2 funny guys at the top of the comments, how many season tickets has NYCFC sold ? I am sure that you guys will be able to put 1 guy in Left Field, 1 guy in Right & have a conversation during the game !

    • Rufus T Firefly

      Maybe the fake cosmos should sign pele to a contract. That’s the only way they can get more than a thousand people out there to nassau county. Nah doesn’t matter. No one in New York gives a **** about the cardboard cosmos. LOL at you punkie!

      • even less give a crap about NYCFC. Swallow that pill RUFUS !

  • Dave from Dix Hills

    Red Bull fan but honestly the cosmos always earned my begrudging respect. That said, this is pretty bad. Can’t believ I am sayi it but I hope they rebound.

  • MetrofanNo1

    I think they Cosmos FO just think that just by having a team is enough. Just look at tat picture? I would want to see a soccer game played in some teal surface with those unnecessary lines and stupid logo. People just finished watching the World Cup. People will appreciate not only a good club, but a good stadium.

  • Garry Redman

    I think some folks here are overlooking an obvious fact… Maybe, just maybe there is just TOO much soccer to digest in the NYC area? Now, here me out, as of this writing we a just a day removed of witnessing the world’s most watched soccer tournament in the world. And to those folks that is where they set the bar when it comes to professional and world class soccer is concerned. Regardless whether it’s fair or not.

    It’s pretty hard to the Cosmos to compete with world renowned, established teams like the Real Madrids, Liverpools and the Barcelonas of the soccer world. The Cosmos do have a storied history themselves and the championships to prove it, but to those folks, it was so long ago most of them were kids during that time. If they were in MLS, may be would be a different story, and maybe you wouldn’t be writing about attendance issues.

    You are not going to convince casual fans to come see a game in a facility like Shuart and watch a D2 level team that does not have any recognizable, box-office stars that they can gravitate to. Not going to happen.

    So, do I think it’s a cause for concern? Yes. But, is this a time to panic? Too soon. My suggestion to the Cosmos fans is one of patience. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Better yet, ask Stover about the process it took to get RBA constructed from start to finish and you’ll see what I am talking about.

  • Anonymous

    It’s all the fault of MLS…’the Man’ keepin’ down the 500 organic proper football clubs that are rising in the USA. The Cosmos are a victim. If it weren’t for MLS and USSF and their jackboots on the neck of pro/rel, the Cosmos would be filling every inch of those 11,000 bleacher seats. A damn shame. NY Cosmos…they built it, why won’t the people come?

    • Garry Redman

      Hold on, let’s be fair… MLS did offer the Cosmos a seat to the table. The Cosmos didn’t like the rules as far as single entity was concerned. They told Garber and Co. “**** you”, and then started this ill-fated campaign with NASL to compete directly with MLS… Well, you tell me how is it going… The bottom line is both sides were at fault. But it looks like the Cosmos are going to be the ones who will suffer for it.

      • Anonymous

        I was being sarcastic. So often you read posters here insisting that there are 500 authentic clubs, not franchises, that are all set to explode. For some inexplicable reason though, the existence of MLS has unfairly kept that from happening. Nobody can explain why the people just aren’t showing up to watch the Cosmos. It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that they play in D2 on a plastic lacrosse field in the suburbs, and share nothing with the legendary Cosmos other than a name and a jersey. Very pretentious claiming lineage to the old Cosmos’ titles.

        • Rufus T Firefly

          Garry how is MLS at fault for anything? Their due diligence probably showed the cardboard cosmos were full of **** and more than likely wanted no part of them. All anyone has seen out of nassau county is all talk and no action. Anyone who thinks that mess is going to last more than another year or two can kiss my fat black ass.

  • Various reasons are out there on why people don’t attend games. My issue is it cost $16 round-trip on the LIRR from NYC. Seems wrong it would be almost as much as a game ticket to attend and I’ll bet most people who saw the ads on the subway feel the same way.

  • Rufus T Firefly

    Maybe NYCFC will buy the cardboard cosmos and turn them our feeder team. Their fans (all 50 of them) are already used to supporting a farm/minor league team

  • LOL

    Just fold already, save us some time.

  • I would hope their owners are taking a long view and not panicking about attendance being middle of the pack for the league they are in. (Would be helpful to hear some details on a plan B for a stadium if the current proposal is either rejected or just ignored for many more years.)

  • Cardboard Soccer Fans

    Gotta ask yourself what kind of soccer fan roots for another club to fold. A stronger soccer pyramid is good for the state of the sport in this country. If the NYCFC and Red Bulls fans are so confident in their team’s success then why do they think the Cosmos should fold? You “fans” need to take a cold hard look at yourselves and ask if you want the sport to again go the way it did in the 80s and teams tore themselves apart. Any team’s death gives more ammunition to the naysayers who think soccer will never succeed here.

    #5boros1city my arse. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

  • The real Stan

    Should have just joined MLS. I said it before no way NY State approves that stadium plan just based off of their attendance even when it was good because they play in the 2nd division. Bad idea from the start

  • I think people see it for what it is. They are playing at Hofstra and travel there is not easy and the parking is not all that great. The Cosmos will probably be gone in another year or 2 unless they move to a smaller stadium and not expect large attendance numbers. I am assuming drawing between 4-6 K is doable. But the money will come into play soon and they are going to have to make cuts in player pay. Also if you look at it this way. NYRB also had a large amount of fans at the game also and help increase attenadance because of the curiosity factor. Smart thing to do is get out of Long Island and try to move closer to the city. But we have seen what has happened with NYCFC and their stadium issues.

  • JP

    Sometimes things need to be put into perspective. The NASL average attendance would be the 6th best in Europe for Division 2 leagues behind England, Germany, France, Italy and Spain. It would be in the top 25 in all of Europe for ALL DIVISIONS for attendance. So to say they are struggling is a relative term, compared to what? The Cosmos are what they are, a division 2 team. They may have a wealthy ownership group, but nevertheless they are a division 2 team. The NY fan is very sophisticated and a bit under appreciated in terms of their knowledge of the sport. The nostalgia of the return of the Cosmos has worn off so now the product is left and the facility remains. Once that realization sets in, the attendance figures are not so bad IMHO.

    • JP, you are absolutely right. Personally, I am thrilled to be sitting there watching an authentic NYC team that has proven its quality against MLS teams now. I would rather sit with 2,000 people in bumfuck watching, as some say, “minor league soccer” than sitting with 50,000 cheering the name of a can of soda or sitting in the house that Ruth built being Don Garber’s and Sheik Mansour’s Diet Man City’s little bitch.

      I understand that some people don’t mind be treated like **** by sports teams and that’s fine for them. I get the allure of David Villa over Roversio. It’s just not my thing, I have a little more self-esteem than that.

      Having said all of that, I’m not sure how the Cosmos keeps up the current level of quality in their team at 3,500 per game. It not only hurts the bottom line in terms of game day reciepts, but it hurts us in terms of promotion that can lead to other revenue streams. I think we will bounce back, not the least reason because it’s pretty clear that NYCFC is utterly failing. Regardless, I think “worry” is a pretty fair sentiment to have at the moment.

      • Is Brooklyn in the House?

        How can you claim that you’re an authentic NYC club when you haven’t played a game there since the 70’s and are stuck in Nassau? Makes no sense.

        Cosmos owners should do us all a favor and buy Red Bulls.

  • If you look at the comments & really look at the problems with Stadium,attendance,growth of the team i say look directly at the system we have, where a Club in this country no matter how much they invest still can’t make a profit & has nowhere to go if they do well. The federation could implement a few more things for Clubs that want to compete & we all know what that is. Till Every Club in the U.S. has the same opportunities nothing will change & the investments made by everyone else not in MLS will go by the waste side. Plain and Simple. Up to the Fed to not only fix the system but capitalize on the other 400 or so Clubs that exist. That will grow the game faster in this country, much faster than selling McFranchises.

    • Alejandro

      McDonalds League Soccer:
      Over 400 Clubs Oppressed Daily

      #ProRel4USA

      • Anonymous

        hahaha T-Shirts anyone

  • This is a very good article. I wish there was more that I can disagree with. The only thing, I think, is that Red Bull Arena has not supported the sell out crowds that their front office expected because they lost so much goodwill with the on and off the field futility of the prior years. Red Bull has never fully recovered from that and I fear that if we have a lot more 3,500 type attendances we will hurt the team in the long run, even if we get the stadium, which I’m still confident about.

  • Jack Cleary

    It seems to me that the level of competition is also hurting the Cosmos. The attendance level went up dramatically when they played the Red Bulls. If you are Red Bulls fan and they are playing Sporting KC, it’s pretty easy to get excited about that game, you are playing the MLS Champions and they have Graham Zusi and Matt Beasler. You can go through several of MLS teams Seattle Sounders, Real Salt Lake, LA Galaxy, Toronto FC and those teams will raise interest and attendance. But who really knows the NASL teams and their players. Everyone expects the Cosmos to beat the NASL teams, when they don’t it make matters worse. I have been to three games so far, opening day fall 2013, a 1 to 0 loss to San Antonia in the spring and the 3 to 0 win against the Red Bulls. I went to two of the three games because of the significance of those games. I went the San Antonio game because I grew a Cosmos fan in the 70’s and will attend a few more games for that reason. But is not because I’m excited about the competition.

  • It isn’t a surprise that a minor league soccer team playing in a college football stadium on Long Island aren’t drawing big numbers. The ownership (same as prior ownership) clearly over-relied on 30+ year old memories in planning all this. They should have read up on the history of the Long Island Rough Riders when it came to a 2nd division team competing with a 1st division one in the NY metro area. Minor league sports can’t compete with the major league ones in New York, and that’s just the facts.

    If the Saudi Arabian owners want to get some traction, they need to sign some well known players and pay Hofstra University some more money to allow more flexibility in stadium usage and signage. That’s a short term fix. There’s no way a 25k stadium gets built for a team averaging 6k.

  • Frank

    Given the 3500 average would it not be better / is it possible to move to Belson Stadium 10 miles more central to NYC?

    Better atmosphere 3500 in a 5000 then 12000 stadium

    At least somewhere without the horrible lacrosse hofstra markings?

    • Tomas

      No, a move to Belson Stadium would look even worse for the Cosmos and tarnish the reputation of the club. The FO should tarp the corner sections and some of the end seating and then work hard to maintain 6K for the rest of the Fall Season, they did rebound for the final Spring Season game with 6400K plus so they can do it but its not going to be easy

  • drm21892

    what about a move to Icahn stadium in Randalls Island? Stadium sits 5k and may be a better temporary solution.

  • jspech

    all these piece about Cosmos or have a hint of Cosmos demise by attendance figures at home, never speak about the teams marque attendance draw as the away teams.

    Is Cosmos are done, then so quite possible means the end of D2. It sickens me to think people secretly cheers for that.

    • Rufus T Firefly

      They don’t draw flies on the road either.

  • Scott McCarthy

    The problem is the location, I was sent free front row corner season tickets, and after not being able to make it out to LI for a couple of games, I sent the entire book, plus the comp tickets for the US Open cup game vs. Brooklyn Italians to a friend in Queens, I didn’t want the tickets to go to waste, I am a NYC FC fan, but I do want to see the Cosmos and NASL do well. and two empty seats do not help anyone, he has attended most of the games and has enjoyed the games.

    • Tomas

      Speaking of their drawing power on the road it should be a big turnout for Ottawa Fury FC’s first home game in their new stadium this Sunday vs the New York Cosmos – they may hit close to 10K apparently.

  • chepe pedos

    the cosmos have a great team , style of play and great young not so famous players, the ony thing that would help the cosmos is more marketing on t.v , on sports program, etc…. the last regime did very good with promoting the new york cosmos return , and even getting an all star team in 2011… and so on… it seems that this new owner does not care much about marketing the cosmos … yes they have a famous soccer brand, and the only diffrence between MLS and NASL is the marking company, both are at the same level, and there is no first and second division…

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