First, it was “Cosmos officials” linking David Beckham to an ownership role with the fledgling franchise. Then, it’s Eric Cantona once again assuming his role as band leader with proclamations of the group’s ambition “to have the best team in the country.” As if that wasn’t enough, he even threw in his desire for the Cosmos to be a major part of a long term goal of one day helping the United States “win the World Cup.”
That kind of grandiose chatter is oddly reminiscent of the team’s glory days, isn’t it?
Whether the Beckham talk has any substance is debatable, but as the team’s name once again makes headlines, the soldiers back home are digging the trenches and doing the grunt work. With Giovanni Savarese on board as the new coach, the Cosmos have turned their attention to building infrastructure and relationships – a task that weighs heavily on the shoulders of COO Erik Stover.
“We have a tremendous opportunity here in New York to make a club that everyone can be proud of but we need the human resources in first so we can start making plans and executing,” Stover told EoS. “That is really what we are focused on right now.”
This week marks a big start to those plans.
The club has begun to explore their assistant coaching options – a vetting process that is guided by the hand of their new head coach. Simultaneously, the group’s minuscule four person office looks to continue their growth as hundreds of resumes pour into the Cosmos headquarters. From the team’s front office formation to the on field product and fan experience, the club is taking a hand’s on approach to the rebuilding project.
“Seamus O’Brien has a very clear vision that we talk regularly about. It’s big,” Stover explained. “It’s not ‘we’re going in the second division and we will be just fine with that ten years from now.’ We plan to grow. We plan to help the NASL grow. Where it takes us, we are not 100% sure, but again, Seamus has a grand vision of very exciting things, and as news starts to come out in the next two to three to six months, I think it’s going to be very exciting here in New York.”
One bit of news that has already made the rounds is the home location of the side for the 2013 season. Hofstra’s James Shuart Stadium holds 13,000 spectators and just underwent a massive remake of their turf field after eliminating their football program. It is now outfitted with the lines of a lacrosse field.
“From the practical point of view, lacrosse lines are very manageable,” Stover said. “We can green those out easily and they will sort of drift into what the rest of the pitch looks like. We are confident about that. A dramatic improvement over American football lines. Then we will work with the University on everything else in the stadium, making it a top class game day experience.
“We happened to come along at the right time. We certainly reinforced what we were hoping for but ultimately it was Hofstra’s decision.”
With a manageable situation in their new home comes the spectre of filling those seats – not easy for any club to do, let alone this expansion group.
“We are very optimisitic,” he said. “We don’t want to put a number on it but there is certainly a lot of good will from the history of the club and we will always honor that. I think that will give us a nice bounce (in attendance) when we start.
“People are excited for us to come back,” he continued. “Then it’s on us to build for the future and a lot of that is taking care of every relationship we start from day one. It’s good customer service, open communications, honest communications, following through on what we say, being true to our word and always with the mind of running a proper soccer club – something everybody can be proud of.”
The Cosmos have been forthcoming and open about their plans with a burgeoning supporters group led by The Borough Boys. That outreach continues as the team holds a Q&A session with their front office staff, including new coach Gio Savarese, prior to the MLS Cup at Jack Dempsey’s pub on 1st avenue and 33rd street in Manhattan.
Stover is familiar with the group. In fact, he met with the supporters prior to his official hiring to discuss what they wanted to see from ownership.
“For us, the message we like to say is ‘how can we help you?’ We are not necessarily starting the conversation with ‘how many tickets are you going to buy?’ It’s really how can we help you achieve your goals,” Stover noted. “The Borough Boys were here before us, this new iteration of the Cosmos. Really, what they want is just a club to support. Respecting that desire, our message again is how can we help, how can we grow your membership, how can we deliver on what your dream club is? We really are just listening as much as we can and trying to communicate back the steps that we have been able to take so far, to answer the questions they have.
“There are also other groups,” Stover pointed out. “We had a meeting with La Banda already. There is certainly a lot of potential there. A lot of those guys know us already through Cosmos Copa. We think we can help all of those organizations grow. We want to do it organically. They are putting their heart and soul into it so how do we help? We don’t want to interfere and tell them how to do things. Whenever they call, we are going to pick up the phone and do what we can.”
“Everyone I have come in contact with is just supremely optimistic,” he continued. “That is a luxury we have from the history of the Cosmos – Pele, Beckenbauer and Chinaglia – and what that club was able to accomplish and what that group of guys was able to accomplish. Because of that optimism and that history, we have a road map to success. As long as we communicate very clearly that in year one, we are not going to put Ronaldo and Messi on the field, that we are building from NASL’s standards and we will be very competitive and we will have exciting matches and it will be a fun place to go watch a game, but we are starting with more modest expectations.
“We want everybody to grow with us as the Cosmos did in the early 70′s to the late 70′s,” he concluded. “We want to take that same arch, a lot of the same steps and a lot of those folks are along with us on the ride again and they can share with us what they did worked. Some of the relationships they had that are still in place 30 years later. Everyone wants this to happen. That makes the first step so much easier.”