By Barry Janoff
June 5, 2013: From 1971 through 1984, the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League found fame, some fortune and glory worldwide, winning five league championships and boasting a roster that included, at various times, Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Shep Messing, Werner Roth and the man regarded as the sport's all-time greatest player, Pelé.
Some 20 years later, the resurrected Cosmos of the rebooted NASL seek to reclaim some of the glory but none of the misfortune that led to the demise of both the team and the league. Pelé has also come back, as "honorary president" of the club, which put him front and center of a media conference in New York on Tuesday, during which the Cosmos unveiled a multi-layered deal, including jersey-front sponsorship, with Emirates Air.
"I played 25 years for Santos of Brazil, and 15 years with the Brazil National Team, but if I go to China or Germany, people ask me, 'When are the Cosmos coming back?'" Pelé, who was introduced by Messing, said at the media conference. "When the [new ownership of the] Cosmos called me to come back [as honorary president] and help to make them the best soccer team in the world, I did. Now, we are here to do that."
Pelé's presence attracted a room filled with cameras and reporters, reminiscent of the Cosmos' hey-days. Whether or not the club can reclaim some of its once royal status remains to be seen. But signing a deal with Emirates Air is a major step in the right direction, according to team and league officials.
"This is a big move for the NASL," said league commissioner Bill Petersen. "The deal with Emirates will have an impact not just in the U.S. but globally. We already have other strategic partners, but this will continue to open new marketing and sponsorship opportunities for the NASL and also continue to strengthen our credibility with companies and fans."
Terms of the Cosmos-Emirates Air deal were not revealed. Nabil Sultan, Emirates divisional svp-revenue optimization and distribution for Emirates Air, said the alliance would not be short-term.
"This is an important alliance for us, to be associated with the Cosmos, Pelé and soccer in the United States," said Sultan. Emirates Air already has alliances with sports worldwide, including jersey-front and stadium naming rights with Arsenal FC and title sponsorship of the U.S. Open Tennis Series, a six-week event leading up to the U.S. Tennis Open Grand Slam in late August.
"As with our sponsorship of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Emirates views our partnership with the Cosmos as a way to thank the people of New York for making Emirates one of the world's fastest growing airlines," said Sultan. "Along with their fans all across the region, we look forward to watching the Cosmos reclaim their title as New York's legendary soccer team."
Cosmos marketing has been acknowledging the team's past while looking to the future via the message, "Don't call it a comeback. Call it a reboot." Images have included Chinaglia and Pelé, and the press conference was adorned with NASL championship trophies and photos depicting the the club's former glory.
The New York area is already home to the Red Bulls of Major League Soccer, which just unveiled an expansion team headed by Manchester City and the New York Yankees, scheduled to begin play in 2015. Seamus O'Brien, Cosmos chairman, said that talks with MLS were still on-going, and that the area could support three pro soccer clubs.
The Red Bulls play in their own 25,000-seat stadium in Harrison, NJ. The new MLS team, NYCFC, will begin play in Yankee Stadium. The Cosmos, regarded as a second division club, will play on the campus of Hofstra University in Hempstead, Long Island, about 20 miles east of New York City.
"From our near-term home, with our friends at Hofstra [University on Long Island] to hopefully our long-term home in Belmont [Queens, site of a proposed new stadium], the Cosmos have made a strong and clear commitment to the local community," said O'Brien. "We fully intend to be part of the global game and international soccer economy. That is why we have made the decisions that we have to date; and the basis of decisions we'll make in the future.
The Cosmos begin play in August, joining eight other clubs. Three more franchises are scheduled to begin play in 2014.
Q&A: Does The NASL Have The Balls To Reboot?
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