Mediacom Communications founder, chairman and CEO Rocco Commisso pledged to right the New York Cosmos soccer club in a press conference call Tuesday, starting off by paying back wages to players and front office staff and culminating in rebuilding the ailing team.
“We found our savior,” said Cosmos chief operating officer Erik Stover, speaking of Commisso on the conference call. “A savior for this club and I believe very strongly a savior that has helped the North American Soccer League going. A leader that can help the league grow and help this club grow.”
Commisso agreed to buy the club from Sela Sports and former chairman Seamus O’Brien. The deal was done at a breakneck pace – at the conference Commisso said he was first contacted by the Cosmos on the Friday before Christmas at 10 a.m.; by 1 p.m. the next day they had hammered out the basics of a deal. The biggest holdup was getting the U.S. Soccer Federation to assure that the league the Cosmos play in -- the North American Soccer League – would continue as a Division II entity. With its second tier status intact, Commisso said the deal was reached quickly.
The Mediacom chairman is now the majority owner – O’Brien retains a minority interest in the club – of the soccer team that once held court for the biggest names in the sport. Under another former media mogul – the late Warner Communications chairman Steve Ross – the Cosmos fielded teams in the 1970s with such icons as Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto.
Commisso started off the press conference on a somber note, offering condolences to the family of former Cosmos player Roberto Cabanas, who died at age 55 of a heart attack Monday. Cabanas had played for the Cosmos for five seasons beginning in 1980 and was the second highest scorer in team history.
Commisso got right back to business on the conference call, adding that he is committed to the team’s success. Although terms of the deal were not disclosed, Commisso added that he is willing to do what it takes to filed a successful team.
“I think I am getting into this situation with my eyes open,” Commisso said on the call. “I think I bring my entrepreneurial experience, my resources, the connections I have worldwide with the financial community and the media community.”
His first priority will be to pay back wages to players and front office personnel. That could happen as early as Thursday, Stover said on the conference call. Commisso added that his next priority will be to secure key employees and management for the team, including Stover and head coach Giovanni Savarese, in whom Commisso said he has complete confidence.
While Savarese will be tasked with rebuilding the player roster – the Cosmos have lost six players, including 2016 league MVP Juan Arango – that may not be as difficult as it seems. The Cosmos won the NASL Soccer Bowl in 2016 but the club expected the 36-year old Arango to play just another year. And, Yohandry Orozco, another top player last year, was mainly there to get fit and showcase his talents for other clubs.
Commisso’s other task will be finding a venue for the team to play. The Cosmos lost their right to play at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium and has been talking to other colleges – including Commisso’s alma mater Columbia University – and minor league baseball’s Brooklyn Cyclones for use of its MCU Park in Coney Island. Whatever the decision – and it has to be made fairly quickly as the regular season starts on April 1 – Commisso said the goal is to have the team play within the five boroughs of New York City.
With the deal the team’s TV rights, formerly locked up with One World Sports, revert back to the Cosmos. That would free the team to negotiate with other networks – like BeIN Sports and CBS Sports which already carry other NASL contests. But Commisso said while important, securing a TV deal is not an immediate priority.
“It’s crucial long-term, it’s not crucial today” Commisso said. “I have lots of contacts out there. It’s on the agenda to deal with the broadcasting rights and the cable rights.”