Q&A: The New York Cosmos’ Rocco Commisso kicks off his first season as owner
When the New York Cosmos were on the verge of financial collapse, Rocco Commisso swooped in earlier this year to save the North American Soccer League squad. Commisso, who played soccer at Columbia University, knows a few things about how the game should be played. And as the CEO of Mediacom, he knows a few things about running a successful business.
In an interview with City & State’s Jon Lentz, Commisso talked about why he decided to acquire the team, the relocation from Long Island to Brooklyn and whether he’ll eventually build a new stadium in the city.
C&S: Why did you acquire the soccer team this year?
RC: The team was going to get shut down. They were in a precarious state. The entire front office pretty much had been laid off. And the team was disbanded. Given the fact that I came to this country when I was 12, grew up in the Bronx, went to Columbia, played soccer for Columbia ...
C&S: And you had a lot of success playing at Columbia.
RC: Well, soccer has been very helpful to me to get to where I am. I was given scholarships at a time that I could not afford to go to school. The rest is history. So from my perspective, by my age, it’s a way to get back to the game that’s meant so much to me.
C&S: The season starts on March 25, with a home opener on April 1 in Brooklyn. The team won the league title two of the last three years. What are you expecting this year?
RC: The story of the Cosmos goes back to those times when I was at Columbia. In 1971 they got started, they played at Yankee Stadium. When they played their last season in 1976, before they went to (New) Jersey, it was also at Yankee Stadium. In between, they played on Long Island. They also introduced Pelé, on Randall’s Island. There’s no other city in the country that could claim that they’re the birth of soccer in the USA like New York City – because of ethnicity, because all these immigrants came to New York. In fact, Columbia University had a team in the early 1900s. Then for the next 40 years, we didn’t have anything and we started in 1956. Really professional, amateur and college soccer got started in the New York metropolitan area, with the German-American leagues, the Italians, the old ethnics from Europe. My intention of doing the deal with the team from the get-go was bringing it back to the city where it belongs.
C&S: You’ll be playing at MCU Park in Brooklyn, at least to start out.
RC: Right. The problem with New York is all these stadiums that we have built for the professional teams with their money or with city money, whatever, they don’t easily accommodate a soccer club the way soccer should be watched. Even at Yankee Stadium, where New York (City) F.C. plays, it takes a lot of time to turn the field around from a soccer field to a baseball field. So we truly don’t have much left in the city where a professional soccer team can play, unless they build their own stadium. So consequently, when I was searching for something, we looked at Columbia and a few other university venues, but we didn’t really have other alternatives other than building our own stadium for a stadium-quality facility. Now in Brooklyn – I must say I’m very happy in Brooklyn, and you may want to ask me the reasons why and I will tell you.
C&S: Go ahead.
RC: It’s an entertainment place. Just in the borough of Brooklyn, you’ve got (2.6 million) people. In Queens we’ve got 2.3 (million people), in Staten Island we’ve got (500,000), in Manhattan we’ve got 1.6 (million) – you already have 7 million people. I only need to bring hopefully 7,000, 8,000 people to the stadium, which is what the stadium holds, to make it successful. Unlike Long Island, at Hofstra University, (MCU Park) has access to public transportation like the subway lines, which are very, very important in the city, and most of our fans will be living in the city. And it’s a fun venue. You have aquariums, you have the Luna Park, you have fireworks during the summer, you have breweries, you have pubs, you have restaurants – it’s a truly stadium feel unlike anything else other than the big stadiums like the Mets’ Citi Field and Yankee Stadium within the city.
C&S: Would you like to build a soccer stadium?
RC: Absolutely, but let me do this job first. There’s other alternatives. Whether those alternatives could be put to use immediately, I don’t think so. The process of building a stadium is difficult. I’m saying it to you because you have a political slant, it’s almost impossible to find a location in New York City … where everybody’s happy, the community, the government, public transportation. It’s very difficult. That’s not what I’m there for today. Tomorrow, clearly we have to look at all our alternatives. But today, my focus is to fill up the stadium with fans on April 1.
C&S: Have New York City officials been supportive of the team’s move from Long Island to Brooklyn?
RC: Oh, absolutely, starting with Mayor (Bill) de Blasio. By the way, the Mets organization has a minor league baseball team that is the primary user of that stadium, even though it’s city-owned. The mayor had all kind of great things to say, the borough president, Eric Adams, had nice things, the councilmen in that area, Vincent Gentile and Mark Treyger. In addition to all the local businessmen. Think about it, Coney Island really gets its start in the summer, not in April. We’re going to be able at the very least over the next six months to bring an additional 100,000 people for the area.