by DAVE MARTINEZ
The North American Soccer League has been in trouble for several months. Despite recent revelations that the league severed its ties to the embattled Traffic Sports, they are still set to lose three of their more successful teams (Minnesota United, Ottawa Fury, Tampa Bay Rowdies), with rumors quickly spreading of the possible end of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Rayo OKC.
Through it all, the NASL has been able to count on a select few clubs and investors that were always married to the cause — none more influential than the New York Cosmos.
But now, the Cosmos have troubles of their own.
Despite winning their third league cup in four seasons, the Cosmos suffered a fourth straight year of declining attendance and dwindling viability in the market. A similar situation last season meant steep budget cuts to the front office and the team roster.
This year, those cuts will go even deeper, bringing to question the team’s long term viability.
In short, the Cosmos look like they are teetering on the brink of extinction.
Following meetings last week between Cosmos investors Sela Sports and team chairman Seamus O’Brien, the team began a series of budget cutting initiatives. Those cuts began in the front office.
The day after Thanksgiving, the majority of the Cosmos front office staff were put on furlough, with numbers ranging from 60-80% of staff. The furlough is expected to last one week, with the largest cuts happening in the ticket sales department.
While that may be surprising to some, keep this in mind: while other professional teams began their 2017 season ticket campaign in August, the Cosmos haven’t even begun selling tickets for next year. In fact, they aren’t even taking deposits. The club has maintained for months that they will engage ticket sales once a venue is selected. However, to not even accept deposits sounds alarms about the team’s long-term viability.
But that isn’t the worst of it. Payroll has also been an issue, with top-to-bottom delays in weekly salaries across the board. Pay issues have been a problem in the past, but have been mostly sporadic and negligible. Over the past three months, however, some staff have gone several weeks without pay, with many still owed payment to this day.
Those payroll issues have sent employees scrambling to secure work for next year, with several staff members actively trying to help one another in finding opportunities in the market.
Thanks to the work of Giovanni Savarese, the players have mostly been shielded from pay lapses. Recently, however, that hasn’t been the case. Players went nearly two weeks without pay this very month — the same month that they took home the NASL Championship. Many of those outstanding salaries were paid out late last week, but there are still lingering payments owed to a handful of players.
Whether it is massive budget cuts or simply the end of operations, it is clear that the team will certainly not operate at the current level in coming years — if at all. With that in mind, the sporting side is trying to accommodate their roster. Instead of releasing players, several team members are being actively shopped in the transfer market, hoping to find a home ahead of the uncertainty of 2017.
Whether this is an act of solidarity among the sporting department or a directive from team ownership to cash in on transfer money remains unclear.
Clearly, the Cosmos are in trouble — and that is putting it mildly. However, without confirmation of the ownership’s intent, it is difficult to etch the team’s gravestone without knowing its direction.
Yes it sounds like the team is on a fire sale, preparing to close its doors for next season. But keep this in mind: several sources have told EoS that USL’s D2 status is all but secured for the 2017 season. We have also heard that, though the provision exists to maintain two D2 leagues under the USSF pyramid, the governing body is against the idea of engaging in such a convoluted scenario.
With the NASL in a tailspin, it could very well be that the Cosmos, like other NASL teams (Jacksonville Armada), are reducing staff and roster budget to get in line with a D3 model.
Another scenario exists where the team could once again enact stringent budget cuts — reductions that would make this year’s initiatives look forgiving in comparison. Last year, the team cut some of their more handsomely compensated front office employees and also enacted a major reduction to their on-field budget. After another cataclysmic year at the gate, it stands to reason that the club could be looking at a bare-bones operation for 2017.
Still, it is impossible to ignore the facts. The team hasn’t taken ticket deposits for next year. The location of their 2017 home venue, still believed to be MCU Park, remains a mystery. Players are being shopped for transfer. Payroll isn’t being met. Staff are being furloughed.
Does that sound like a team that is gearing up for the New Year?
The NASL is conducting a Board of Governors meeting this Tuesday to address the future of the league. And for the first time since its reincarnation, one can only guess if the Cosmos will be a part of that future.