March 8th, 2011
07:26 AM GMT
“The New York Cosmos are back!” shouts the PR machine behind the rebirth of the American soccer club into the brave new world of global football.
But back doing what?
A Cosmos player hasn’t kicked a ball since the mid-1980s, the club currently has no players, no stadium and no games to play. But you can buy the new team shirt.
The relaunch of U.S. football’s most razzmatazz team then seems to be more a modern exercise in brand building as it does about bringing another football club to Major League Soccer in North America.
Founded 40 years ago the club had been defunct since the demise of the North American Soccer League in 1984. Cosmos was resurrected by a group of investors led by club chairman Paul Kemsley, who bought the name and rights in 2009. The aim is to reignite the allure the Cosmos had when football legends Pele and Franz Beckenbauer played for the team in their mid-1970s heyday before resuming professional play at some point .
But not too much is being publically said on how the team will be assembled or when they may be admitted to the MLS. Instead, during this week’s “goodwill tour” to Asia, there’s been a greater emphasis on the star quality the Cosmos could bring to the game.
Pele is back with the club as Honorary President (could the new Cosmos motto be: “We’ve still got Pele!”?), and he was joined in Singapore and Hong Kong by actor and former French footballing enigma Eric Cantona as the club’s Director of Soccer.
“We are excited to visit Asia… and to let everyone know that the New York Cosmos are back. We will continue to integrate Asia in all that we do,” said Paul Kemsley earlier this week.
By leading some football clinics for youngsters on the tour, Cantona could at least justify his title and the Cosmos could hold to one of their stated goals of developing young talent and developing their academies.
But Asia’s main attraction for football clubs (even those that don’t have a team) is as a vast marketplace where millions of fans are hungry for live matches and happy to buy into a team’s success and savvy marketing.
Manchester United, Real Madrid plus numerous less illustrious clubs take a week or two during the off-season to play exhibition matches in Asia and help boost their brand through dedicated TV channels and merchandise.
And there’s the big money TV rights. English Premier League rights in Singapore were sold for around $325 million for the 2010 to 2013 seasons; i-Cable in Hong Kong bought the rights for $240 million.
Teams from Major League Soccer currently don’t have that kind of draw or global revenue potential even with the addition of international stars, like Thierry Henry for the New York Red Bulls, or brands in their own right, like David Beckham with the LA Galaxy.
So even without a team the Cosmos might have an advantage over many of their prospective MLS rivals. If they can cultivate an international fanbase over the next couple of years before their team has even kicked a ball and then add some much needed swagger to the staid and average quality of MLS, the club’s goals and revenue could be world-beating.
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