NY Cosmos – Section from the Book I was going to write – but won’t.
Let’s get in the way back machine for a minute. The Cosmos have just brought Pele out of retirement, the soccer world takes notice. In his many autobiographies Pele mentions that European clubs were always after him to play. Then Steven Ross goes crazy, and tries to buy every player who has thought of soccer. Which, looking back at it now, wasn’t that bad. Could this have been the start of the Real Madrid teams of the 90’s, Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona’s “Dream Team”, or the AC Milan teams with Guuilt, Rijarkd, Van Bastan? Or would have Blackburn in the 90’s bought every top player (and missed on some) to win their league? Could this explain why Manchester City was bought by Oil Barron’s?
There are countless soccer magazines out there, and I’ve read or bought pretty much all of the ones in America at some point. It is also very good that a big time magazine like Four Four Two talks about the NASL. “Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinagalia, and Johan Neeskens, joined Pele at the Cosmos to create the world’s first soccer supergroup decades before Galacticos and Chelski.[i]” That article was given to me by Cesar Diaz who is a New York City based soccer writer for various publications, and one of the emerging experts on the old Cosmos. Before we get too far on here, let’s gloss the nicknames on those two teams. Galacticos means the super group that played at Real Madrid in the 1990’s. And of course Chelski is the Russian slang for Chelsea.
What this proves is that people are influenced by the past in the sport. Try as they might to reinvent the wheel and be a revolutionary, everything in the sport is based on what happened in the past. That’s what’s so key about the Cosmos and the NASL showed was take these top players, and watch the success and money come in. There’s the general thesis of the work here, if you can bring in talent, the money, the fans will come. And no one other than the NASL and the Cosmos showed this more. And this wasn’t a new idea, just bigger, more expensive and on a bigger scale than the old Bethlehem Steel teams.
The movie Once in a Lifetime, shows what the NASL would do to get anyone to come out. Fueled by the Cosmos using Warner Communication’s money, prestige and airplane, players came in from all over the world. The rest of the soccer world took notice to the crowds, and the media exposure. Ok I’ll concede the point that the American media drop the ball, pun intended, but for a short period of time in major markets you couldn’t walk around in the sports community without hearing about your local club. Part of the appeal was people finally had extra spending money to burn, so there was the chance that people would go out and support another league, and more teams.
At this time in America, there were only three networks, NBC, ABC, and CBS[ii]. Fox wouldn’t come around until 1986, and by that time the NASL was long gone. So any NASL match would pull in numbers, and be a big television event. They bounced around like the ball to any network which would take them. At one time the league put six games on ABC 1979-81 and ratings for the six ABC games in 1980 averaged a “dismal” 2.6.[iii] As it was at the time, and the league didn’t think of this as a good thing, because they may have been thinking of the numbers that could reach the NFL type of numbers. (look up). If you move those numbers for six games to today’s standards, the MLS would love those. The sad fact is that they are part of an oversaturated media world.
A soccer blog kenn.com did a whole blog article about the television history of the league:
An article in the July 15, 1980 New York Times says the 1980 games averaged a 2.6 rating (the same as 1979) and a 10 share (up from a 9 share in 1979). It also mentions that 1980’s first telecast did a 2.1 rating, while a Cosmos-Washington Diplomats game on June 1 did a 3.1.[iv]
This was during the ABC years of the league. Granted ABC sports isn’t at that time anything like what the station is today, Then again as I’ve said, television isn’t what it was before. Plus most if not all of that footage is on youtube or through that guy who has 80% of the game tapes of the NASL (look up) But a summer schedule and games between two of the biggest cities in the USA, to have the Cosmos pull in a 3.1, that’s great steps. And to think at that time in the world, more people were still spending their times outside even at night. Probably part of the death of the sport was due to the television companies putting the schedule out in the summer. Games in the summer, unless it’s raining out, aren’t an attractive thing. But to argue against myself on this case, our culture for better or worse is one of television. So to have something on, there are people who will watch.
If there is another thing the Cosmos brought to the sport, it was the club is a global brand. By having great players from around the world, you increase your visibility. The Cosmos were the first club to do that. That is they were the first team to bring in the big names from overseas. How many people do you know now who actually still remember The Cosmos and weren’t soccer fans? There were a lot. I can say around my work, and I don’t live in a soccer area, or work in sports anymore, that there are still people who know of the old Cosmos. Obviously, if you have Warner behind you, transferring players can be easy. And having that exposure is a big help.
Another advantage with signing great players is the marketing, and merchandise sales you can guarantee to flow into the club. In fact, if you want to look at EBAY, you could find the old NASL stuff still. In this global market, teams are selling their jerseys all over the world. You can’t walk into a sporting goods store anywhere without seeing something to do with the top soccer clubs. Part of that, is directly related to the old NASL. If you search around enough online there are enough sites online about the OLD NASL and their memorabilia. There are also many sites devoted to memories of the league. In fact, if you want just type in any club’s name and you can find a blog, or a site. I’m just waiting for someone to do the NASL video game.
Critics of this will also point out the negative aspects of buying up all the talent. One could say since Blackburn’s title in the 90’s they’ve been living a pipe dream, and will never see that again. Other people could point out Newcastle, spending and not getting the title. Or just look at the debts that Barcelona, Manchester United, and various other clubs have run up after buying talent. Oh and you can also say the NASL didn’t last because of the overspending. On its face you can say that is true, but what has outlived all of that? That is, buying up all the top players for success, and ignoring the bottom line. Then there is the common thought that all clubs are run at a debt anyway, so why worry about the bottom line? All of this I will point to later in the transfer problem section.
But let’s also, not forget about the other teams in the NASL, as much as the Cosmos ruled the world, and the soccer community in the states, there were other clubs, and they need a mention. And the league didn’t start with the Cosmos, heck they weren’t even the first club to play soccer in New York City Generals. Ironically it began with Wolverhampton and Stoke City playing as “American” teams Cleveland and Los Angeles in 1967[v] To list every team that came and went in the NASL, that would be hard, since the league membership fluctuated so much during the years.
Let’s put it this way, there were a lot of teams in the NASL. Many of them were franchises that tried to match the Cosmos and failed miserably. Such is the case in sport and life, if something goes well, many try to copy it. Kind of the point of the book too
[i] Four Four Two Jan 2006
[v] Back flap of Playing for Uncle Sam – David Tossell