Cosmos COO Erik Stover says a stadium bid isn't about leverage
New York Cosmos chief operating officer Erik Stover denies that the New York Cosmos, a new team playing in a minor professional league, are using a $400 million stadium proposal to convince Major League Soccer to award them a franchise in New York.
"This is a project that we fully expect to move ahead with assuming we win the R.F.P. process," he told me this afternoon in a phone interview. "And you don't put that much effort into leverage."
Today the Cosmos formally announced that they had submitted a bid to the state to build a 25,000-seat $400 million stadium, retail and hotel complex on the south lot of the Belmont Racetrack in Elmont, Long Island, just a dozen miles from Flushing Meadows Corona Park, where Major League Soccer is trying very hard to build a 25,000-seat, $300 million stadium of its own.
As my colleague Howard Megdal wrote in an analysis of the Cosmos' proposal, the plan took M.L.S. by surprise, and is essentially predicated on the failure of its own plans for a stadium, and a new franchise, in Queens.
Certainly, it's an unusual play: a new team without a guaranteed berth in a major league promising to spend major-league money in a market in which the one existing team, the New York Red Bulls in Harrison, N.J., has had trouble selling out, to put a stadium 12 miles from the spot where the major league wants to put a second New York team.
The North American Soccer League is explicitly a feeder league. So either the Cosmos and their deep-pocketed backers are content to be a giant, expensive team in a league not built to accommodate them, or the Belmont exercise is actually about something else: the terms on which they'll be negotiating for entry with Major League Soccer in the future.
Stover says the plans are all in earnest, and that the club can thrive outside the established league if necessary.
"We're not afraid of competition, and we think the North American Soccer League has a lot of growth potential with new owners coming in with ambitious plans, so we're very confident that our development will be commerically viable," he said.
He also said, "We're not coordinating with Major League Soccer. This is our project solely, and we're 100 percent focused on this development."
How does this relate to the possibility of the team ultimately joining M.L.S.?
"For right now, certainly going into 2013, we're about the N.A.S.L. and being ready to continue in that league," he said. "As far as what path we go down and where we ultimately end up in a few years, we're not sure. ... Ultimately we want to be at the top of the soccer pyramid in this country."
The state is likely to award the development site within 90 days, according to Stover.