On Feb. 25, New York Cosmos COO Erik Stover took time away from a packed agenda to speak candidly with me about the club’s proposed $400 million, 25,000-seat stadium and mixed-used development on Long Island.
Under head coach Giovanni Savarese, the New York Cosmos kicks off its inaugural season in the division two North American Soccer League (NASL) in the second-half of the League’s new split-season in its third year of operation.
Now, the NY Cosmos are in the process of signing players and building a relationship with the local community.
Interview with Erik Stover
LE: The New York Cosmos proposed $400 million stadium is ambitious for a second division team and rivals those in MLS. Given that the New York Red Bulls already play in the area and a second New York MLS team is in the works, the New York Cosmos, by definition, will be a rival of the Red Bulls. Do you expect that inter-league rivalry to increase overall interest in pro soccer in the area?
Stover: Competition in any form in any business is best. Our participation will force the Red Bulls to work harder and the fact that the Red Bulls are already here in this market forces us to work harder. Ultimately, it’s good for this sport in this country.
LE: Can you see that inter-league rivalry being replicated in other MLS markets?
Stover: Well, we’re very excited about the opportunity to play in the U.S. Open Cup, we think it’s an important tournament for our organization. Unfortunately, we’re not going to be able to participate in it this year, but next year we’ll take it very seriously and it’s an opportunity to show soccer fans in this country what we’re all about. If you want to take that to other markets I think it applies, but for us it certainly makes sense.
LE: So, the Open Cup will be a big priority for the Cosmos?
LE: Who are the investors in the proposed stadium?
Stover: At this point, we have not released that information.
LE: How far along in the approval process is the stadium?
Stover: We haven’t put a guideline on the process because obviously we don’t have control of it. But we are encouraged that the property that we’ve put a bid in on has been zoned for professional sports, obviously being adjacent to the racetrack. The area traffic-wise with the LlRR [Long Island Rail Road] there, they’re accustomed to having over one hundred thousand people attend the stakes every year, so for zoning and usage, we’re already over one hurdle. The fact that the Empire State Development Corporation was issued an RFP for state-owned land is another hurdle, so the land is provisioned for mixed-use development, so we’re pretty far along in our process. Right now, we’re focused on supporting our bid and answering any questions we get and hopefully they select the proposed venue.
It’s very important that people understand that it’s a mixed-use development - it’s not just a stadium and it will have an economic impact. We have use 365 days out of the year, it’s not just a stadium, it’s a hotel, a shopping plaza, there’s retail, there’s restaurants, those are all things that will create jobs, full-time jobs and have a meaningful economic impact on the community. A lot of the headlines focus on the stadium and that’s only a portion of the project, certainly the portion that we’re responsible for, but the partnership creates jobs, provides a five-acre park back to the community and we’ll donate soccer pitches, so there’s a lot of give-back there. We think it’s a very strong bid and hopefully we’re successful.
LE: In the mixed-use portion of the venue, will there be some connection with the Cosmos, such as a Cosmos-themed bar? In the hugely successful New Bedford/Rhode Island ethnic leagues in the 70s and 80s, those teams were associated with clubs that people also frequented for social occasions and that contributed to their relevance in the community.
Stover: Yes, there’s integration between the mixed-used of the stadium and our organization. One example of that is an area that has been identified as a Hall of Fame and museum. It’s in the very early days of the design and construction process, but it’s been identified and we’re working forward.
LE: Weren’t many of those Hall of Fame artifacts displayed in the National Hall of Fame that was shuttered and now are stored in a Eurosport warehouse in North Carolina? Will you be able to get access to those items to bring them back to the Cosmos?
Stover: That’s certainly something that’s controlled by the Soccer Foundation. We have a lot of history and memorabilia from the original era of the Cosmos going back to the 70s and 80s. We hope to have a discussion with U.S. Soccer about the whole thing, but it’s premature to speculate on that beyond the desire.
LE: The Cosmos talk a lot about connecting with the community. How are you going to do that in a genuine way?
Stover: It’s in every conversation we have - everybody in our organization down to the coaching staff. Throughout this organization, we’re sincere in our desire to be supportive of the New York community. It’s in every conversation we have, it’s in every action we do.
We put that in action with our first player signed - Carlos Mendes, a Long Island native. From there, it’s a core foundation and it’s part of our DNA. And we take that to the youth organizations and to support charities and every conversation has to be done in a credible, honest way.
LE: For the Cosmos, what's the best way to recruit players?
Stover: I see tremendous interest not only domestically, but internationally. Certainly the name and the history of the organization carries a lot of weight. Players and agents have been reaching out to us constantly about what we’re doing. The strength of our ownership and our vision, certainly the Pele/Beckenbauer/Chinaglia era opens the door, but we’re also telling a very good story and people have been very receptive to that. So, recruiting players is not a big concern for us at all.
LE: MLS relies heavily on the college draft. Should there be some inter-league cooperation in the draft process or is the draft process something the Cosmos would rather not use?
Stover: There are talented players at the college level in the United States and the structure of MLS and the draft has a priority for those players. Our focus is managing the system that we have in the United States and we’re not thinking about any kind of partnership for various drafts. It’s not our call anyway. If the NASL wanted to focus on that it would be up to them.
LE: The Cosmos has rostered nine players so far. Tell me about the international acquisitions. [NASL teams can each roster seven internationals.]
Stover: We just signed a player who played in La Liga for five or six seasons, a 27 year-old Spanish midfielder named Ayoze. We also signed Guatemalan national team player Henry Lopez. There’s a lot of interest domestically and internationally.
LE: Globally, many second divisions have been affected by match fixing and the U.S. has been named as a market that could be vulnerable. How safe is the U.S. second division?
Stover: I don’t think the second division in the United States is as vulnerable to match fixing right now as you might see around the world. The proliferation of betting halls around Europe and Asia, we just don’t have that here. Legalized sports betting is very restricted in this country. There are outlets that track the leagues to see if there’s any irregularities in betting, but I don’t think there are any betting lines on NASL right now.
LE: Are there international friendlies being scheduled for the Cosmos?
Stover: Yes, we have an announcement coming up shortly in the next couple weeks.