New York (AFP) – The New York Cosmos on Tuesday confirmed that media tycoon Rocco Commisso had bought a majority ownership stake in the club, confirming the franchise’s future after weeks of uncertainty.
Italy-born Commisso, the chairman of US cable TV provider Mediacom, told reporters on a conference call he hoped to help put the club and the North American Soccer League (NASL) on a firm footing which would lead to an expanded competition.
The Cosmos’ future had been shrouded in conjecture after the club furloughed staff and released players from contracts last month, effectively ceasing operations.
Those decisions were prompted by the crisis affecting the NASL, which had been hit by a wave of clubs defecting to other competitions.
However the league was thrown a lifeline by the United States Soccer Federation, which last week announced the NASL would retain its Division Two status.
“We’ve worked hard to secure a positive future for the club and Rocco is the perfect person to lead the continued renaissance,” Seamus O’Brien, outgoing Chairman of the Cosmos ownership group, said in a statement.
“He is not only extremely knowledgeable about the beautiful game as it is played worldwide, but brings extensive entrepreneurial experience in the media and communications business to the organization.”
Commisso, 67, told reporters he envisioned a long-term involvement with the Cosmos but steered clear of setting lofty targets for the legendary club, which became an iconic franchise during the 1970s when the likes of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto all played for the team.
“I plan to be here for a long time,” Commisso said. “You’re never going to hear me over promise on something.”
However he confirmed he hoped to help the NASL grow in size from the current group of eight teams who will kick off the 2017 season in April.
– Growing the league –
“The expectation with respect to the league is to go out on a mission with the other owners in the league to expand the numbers from where they are,” he said.
“We’re going into this thing come April 1 with eight teams. The expectation is we want to try and bring more teams into a league that’s sustainable, national and professional.”
Commisso said he was already committed to settling any outstanding debts and unpaid wages carried over from the previous ownership.
“Let’s get one thing clear — Rocco is not known for screwing anybody, if I can put it in the English language,” Commisso said, referring to himself in the third person. “Rocco does not have that reputation, Rocco’s never had that reputation.
“First order of business is to take care of all the employees that we may owe some money. You heard that from me and you can write it.”
Commisso would not be drawn on the possible prospect of the Cosmos eventually angling for a place in Major League Soccer. Asked if that was an ambition, he said: “That’s to be seen over time.
“But I know that I have the best brand in professional American soccer. Everybody knows about the Cosmos.”
Cosmos chief executive Erik Stover meanwhile admitted the Cosmos had faced a grim future in the weeks leading up to the new ownership deal as crisis engulfed the NASL.
“We had a difficult time. Players were cut, employees were furloughed and eventually laid off,” he said. “There were dire negotiations on a league level. I think a lot of credit has to go to the league for keeping the discussion going which gave us enough time for Rocco to appear.
“It was thin ice for a while, but we’re looking forward to 2017 now.”