The Cosmos have a new owner, and soon also a new home.
Cable magnate Rocco Commisso was introduced Tuesday as the fledgling soccer team’s majority owner — its “savior,” Cosmos COO Erik Stover said — and Commisso said the team will likely leave Long Island.
Since returning as a professional soccer franchise in 2013, the Cosmos have played home games at Hofstra while awaiting word from New York State’s business-aid development agency on its failed proposal to build a soccer-specific stadium at Belmont.
Starting next season, though, the Cosmos will be elsewhere.
Commisso, who is the CEO of Mediacom Communications Corp., said possible sites are the stadium at Columbia University and Coney Island’s MCU Park, home of the Mets’ minor-league affiliate Brooklyn Cyclones. The Columbia stadium is named for Commisso and he co-captained the Columbia soccer team to its first NCAA appearance in 1970.
The Cosmos’ practice facility is housed at Nassau-owned Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, and County Executive Ed Mangano said Tuesday “we welcome an opportunity to speak with the team about playing home games at Mitchel Athletic Complex.”
But that doesn’t seem likely.
“If we want to go beyond the five boroughs, there’s more stadiums out there,” Commisso said. “But I would say there is a high probability that we’re going to play within the five boroughs.”
That the Cosmos are even preparing to play another season is somewhat of a surprise.
Faced with growing debt and questions about the future of the North American Soccer League, the Cosmos released all but three players in November then stopped paying most staffers in December.
Commisso, 67, agreed to buy the team just before Christmas on one condition — that the NASL must remains a second-division league. That decision came on Friday from U.S. Soccer, albeit on a one-year provisional basis.
Commisso said Tuesday his “first order of business” is to pay the money owed to staffers and debtors. “Let’s get something clear: Rocco is not known for screwing anyone, all right?” Commisso said. He declined to specify how much money is owed.
He also doesn’t foresee unveiling grand plans to build a stadium, like the previous Cosmos ownership attempted to do at Belmont. It’s more likely that he’ll seek to house the team at an already established venue.
The Cosmos are a reboot of the popular soccer franchise that once featured worldwide soccer star Pele and folded in 1985. They initially drew well at Hofstra upon their return in 2013, but attendance dwindled despite three championships in four seasons.
“I think our location was a big part of the problem,” Stover said, referring to Hofstra. “It was a college lacrosse stadium. It wasn’t accessible by subway or train. There was a perception that it wasn’t a good place to go. That was a challenge for us.”
Now Commisso — an Italian immigrant who moved to the Bronx at age 12 — is thinking a pivot to New York City is best for the business of growing the Cosmos and soccer in general.
“I’m getting into this situation with my eyes wide open,” he said. “This is not an easy situation from a financial standpoint. Rarely do sports teams make money and in the case of the Cosmos, even worse.
“We have to accept the fact that in order to make the Cosmos successful again we need to invest resources and money and accept the losses.”