FLORAL PARK, N.Y. – Whenever discussing the New York Cosmos’ stadium plans, someone will inevitably ask whether this project will lead the club to a move towards Major League Soccer.
Addressing some 300 people about the team’s Elmont Stadium bid in Floral Park’s Sewanhaka High School, that very question was asked by an audience member — and Cosmos’ Chief Operating Officer Erik Stover was quick to shoot it down.
“We expect our league to play alongside MLS,” Stover said. “We chose the North American Soccer League for a reason. We don’t view our league as second division or minor league in any way. We are trying to build a league that competes with global soccer, global football.”
It is a fair question of course. Major League Soccer has enjoyed a revival in the area through media coverage and fan interest directly related to the establishment of the New York City Football Club — the new Yankee/Manchester City owned franchise that operates out of Yankee Stadium.
Meanwhile, the North American Soccer League has hardly made a blip in local circles, outside of the occasional splash signing from the Cosmos. The team has struggled to garner consistent media coverage – even with local newspaper Newsday whom cover the Long Island area.
Despite the present standing of both leagues or the apparent disparity in attention and success, Stover, a former MLS executive with the New York Red Bulls, claims the NASL model has the higher ceiling for growth between both leagues over the long term.
‘”I had a very real experience personally in MLS and understand its restrictions and understand why they have those restrictions,” Stover acknowledges. “But we see soccer in this country growing, and with the restrictions MLS has, it would be very had to participate in the global market place.”
Those restrictions, of course, range from a tight salary cap to a byzantine roster rulebook, designed to quell competition over talent amongst their franchise investors. NASL operates more freely, with a laissez-faire central body overseeing league direction and sponsorship, with teams able to spend as they see fit.
“Our league is growing,” Stover said. “Just four years ago, average attendance was 1,500. It’s now 8,000.”
Stover also touts the growth from eight to eleven teams in a four-year timespan, with a league initiative to acquire “18 teams by 2018.”
And speaking of NYCFC, an audience member submitted a question simply asking “Have the Cosmos considered a stadium share plan with the new MLS team?”
After an initial smile and chuckle, Stover simply said, “No. We haven’t.”