Securing a new TV deal for the New York Cosmos soccer club isn’t the first priority for its new owner, Mediacom Communications founder, chairman and CEO Rocco Commisso, but it is definitely on the agenda.
The Cosmos, one of the better-known names in the second-tier North American Soccer League, had been tied to a rights deal with One World Sports, which has struggled on its own and is currently seeking a buyer. Commisso’s deal to acquire the Cosmos from Sela Sports and former Cosmos chairman Seamus O’Brien does not involve One World Sports.
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 Pelé, Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto.
A lifelong soccer fan — he said during a conference call announcing the deal that he turned down a chance to join the group that purchased Italian soccer club A.S. Roma in 2011 out of loyalty to rival Juventus, his boyhood favorite team — Commisso pledged to help rebuild the Cosmos, starting with paying back wages to players and front office staff. The TV deals will come later.
“It’s crucial long-term; it’s not crucial today,” Commisso said of securing a new TV deal. “I have lots of contacts out there. It’s on the agenda to deal with the broadcasting rights and the cable rights.”
Of more urgent importance are matters like putting the team back together after players were allowed to find other places to play because the Cosmos’s finances were so dire before Commisso (hailed as a savior on the call by team chief operating officer Erik Stover) stepped in. The team has only three players under contract at the moment. The Cosmos also lack a home stadium, though Commisso said the aim is to find a stadium within New York City’s five boroughs.
The NASL already has a rights deal with beIN Sports and CBS Sports Network to carry games, but some critics have said the Cosmos separate deal with OWS has hurt viewership. The fledgling NASL, a Division II league under top-tier Major League Soccer, has lost clubs over the years and has struggled to find an audience.
Currently, the NASL has contracted from 12 teams to eight, a number that Commisso hopes to grow. “I think I am getting into this situation with my eyes open,”he 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.”
GOAL: GROW THE LEAGUE
One of the conditions of Commisso’s deal was that the U.S. Soccer Federation affirm the NASL’s Division II status, which the governing body did on Jan. 6. The USSF also moved the third-tier United Soccer League (from which the NASL sprung in 2011) to Division II, which could fuel speculation about a future merger. The USL currently has about 30 teams.
Both leagues were granted provisional status, meaning they still have to meet requirements around the number of teams (at least 12 by the sixth year of operation), locations (at least 75% in major metro areas) and minimum financial guidelines for team owners. While USSF has granted waivers for the leagues in the past, it said it would work with NASL and USL to meet the necessary criteria.
According to reports, Division II status brings public relations and marketing benefits from the perception that play is more competitive, which also could lead to better TV deals and bigger crowds. Division-two teams also get to appear later in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a single-elimination tournament that includes teams from all three divisions, including MLS, as well as from amateur leagues.