Only two and a half months ago, the new owner of the New York Cosmos, Rocco Commisso, had a long list of things he didn’t have.
No TV deal.
And no season tickets.
But his long to-do list didn’t deter the CEO of cable giant Mediacom from buying the team. And now, things on his list are crossed off. The Cosmos, whose home season starts tomorrow, April 1, will play at MCU Park in Coney Island, also home to the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team. So far, Commisso said, the team has sold more tickets than it did last year when it played at Hofstra University’s Schuart Stadium, averaging just 3,775 tickets per game.
For Commisso, that’s the part he’s most proud of. But even so, he knows his next steps to making this a sustainable business: “tickets, tickets, tickets,” he said. “We’re soliciting everyone within Brooklyn and given time, we’ll do a much better job,” Commisso told The Bridge. His potential fanbase includes soccer clubs and friends and family. It’s a suitably do-it-yourself strategy for a team in the North American Soccer League (NASL), a scrappy, second tier to Major League Soccer.
For Commisso, what he’s referred to as his “obligation” to help out the Cosmos was not an impulse purchase, but the result of a lifelong connection with the game. As a youth, the future banker and cable mogul got a full-ride soccer scholarship to Columbia University, despite never having played in a formal soccer program at his high school.
In fact, he grew up as a child in Italy playing soccer with a ball made out of household items like underwear and rags. “We didn’t have the money to buy a soccer ball so we improvised…whatever you could find, wrapped it up and that was the soccer ball for the moment,” he said. “That was the only sport that we played, unlike America where you go from one season sport to the other.”
Coming to America
When he came to the U.S. at age 12, he saw the sports landscape was different. Kids played different sports: baseball, football and basketball. Commisso calls it the best year of his life. “I fell in love with frankly the America sports scene as a young person, but unfortunately nobody played soccer at that time,” he said.
That’s no longer the case. After graduating from Columbia, Commisso got involved in youth soccer and has supported the university’s soccer teams. In 2013, the school’s soccer stadium at West 218th Street was named after him.
Over the years. Commisso said he was approached several times about getting involved in professional soccer, both in the U.S. and overseas. The time, however, just wasn’t right until the opportunity with the Cosmos came along. He wanted to give something back, and the Cosmos were a team that needed saving. Despite their position as the league’s marquee franchise and holder of three league titles since 2013, the team was in financial straits.
Late last year, according to NBC, the Cosmos imposed furlough days on staff members and laid off players. The league itself was having trouble staying alive, with some of its 12 teams deserting to MLS or the third-tier league, ESPN FC previously reported. Commisso believes some interests in the professional sport were happy to undermine the league. “There were competing leagues, competing agendas, people with U.S. soccer that wanted to see the NASL and the Cosmos disappear from the face of the earth,” he said. “I created some problems for them.”
He could see the timing was right for a decisive move. “If it wasn’t for me, the league would’ve been probably destroyed,” Commisso said of the Division 2 league, which this year will have eight teams. “For sure the Cosmos would not have ever played [again].”
An Extended Team of Helpers
But April 1 marks a new era on the team’s new home turf. And part of that is due to Commisso’s role at the helm of Mediacom, the fifth-largest cable company in the U.S., which he founded in 1995. Mediacom is based in Orange County, NY, but largely serves smaller markets in the Midwest and Southeast. “Mediacom’s given me the money,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve been able to get all the senior resources at Mediacom to help out during this period,” something he notes would’ve been much harder to do if his company were publicly held, as it was until he took it private in 2011. Commisso said he’s gotten help for the team from a range of Mediacom employees, from social-media experts to the CFO to a secretary who has pitched in.
“You have no idea how much work has had to be done in such a short period of time,” he said. “That’s all I do, day and night.” But now he’s playing on a far more refined field than when he was kicking around that home-made soccer ball.
Update: at their first home match, the Cosmos drew a crowd of 6,204, but lost 3-0 to Miami FC.