The North American Soccer League (NASL) filed a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation on September 19, 2017. Today in the latest filing from the case, NASL Commissioner and current New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso provided evidence that Soccer United Marketing (SUM), the marketing arm of MLS made an offer to buy the Cosmos via an email sent from New York City FC President Jon Patricof.
In the affidavit submitted to the court Commisso provided a copy of the emailed offer from SUM sent by NYCFC President Patricof to the then owner of the Cosmos Seamus O’Brien, including MLS President and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott on the email. The email, dated December 15, 2016, from Patricof was brief, only asking Seamus to “Please see attached” with the term sheet attached.
According to the term sheet in Patricof’s email to O’Brien, MLS’s marketing arm SUM would own the rights to the New York Cosmos entire history. Everything from the logo, to the trophies and images of Pelé for marketing purposes would be wholly owned by SUM. A non-compete clause would have meant O’Brien and the rest of the Cosmos ownership would not be allowed to own or run a team in the New York metropolitan area for a decade following the sale of the team.
The timing of the email is conspicuous, coming two days after a December 13th interview in the Guardian with Cosmos owner O’Brien where O’Brien refused to call money lost and owed by the club a debt, believed to be in the neighborhood of $30 million, labeling it as “an investment in a business.”
On December 9th, 2016 MLS Commissioner Don Garber held a conference call with media members during which he stated “As it relates to the Cosmos, it’s a great brand,” in regards to a question about the Cosmos joining MLS as the NASL as a league was believed to be in dire straights at the time. “We have two teams in MLS in New York. We are not going to have a third team.”
Garber’s past attempts to bring the Cosmos in as the second NY area team have been well documented and he repeated them that day. “I spoke to the original purchaser of the brand many, many years ago. I had numerous conversations before NYCFC came in.”
The email is, as of now, is the known extent of Patricof’s or NYCFC’s connection to this lawsuit or to buy the Cosmos. SUM’s plans for the Cosmos intellectual property is not publicly known at the moment. As per Commissioner Garber’s earlier in December 2016, one can speculate that SUM would have mothballed the club, perhaps leaving available for a re-brand of either NYCFC or the New York Red Bulls in the future as other MLS teams had previously been rebranded, such as the San Jose Clash being rebranded as the San Jose Earthquakes. Commissioner Garber had made it clear that he did not intend to bring in a third New York area club to MLS, so a USL team could have also been an option. Unfortunately without any further statements from either side it is impossible to know SUM’s full intentions at the moment
Rocco Commisso saw a different rationale behind the offer from SUM, labeling it an “intent to terminate the franchise and eliminate the organization as a competitor”. He also stated there were “several competing offers” to acquire the Cosmos but did not name them.
Commisso bought the Cosmos from O’Brien and his investors on January 10, 2017 ending speculation of a buyout from SUM and bringing both the team and the NASL back from the abyss. The current lawsuit is ongoing and set to be back in front of the judge in the coming weeks.
SUM issued a statement to Sports Illustrated regarding the email exchange between Mr. Patricof and Mr. O’Brien.
“The facts behind that bid are that SUM, the marketing, licensing and commercial affiliate of Major League Soccer, was informed that the Cosmos were going out of business and were trying to sell its commercial assets for as much money as possible to pay its creditors. Those assets included the Cosmos name, a film library, the use of Pele’s likeness in connection with Cosmos-related merchandise, etc. As one of the leading soccer commercial companies in the United States representing a wide variety of soccer properties, SUM placed a bid for these soccer-related commercial opportunities with the view that it could develop merchandise and other products for the public.
“As a part of its bid, SUM included common provisions that the seller–the prior owner of the Cosmos–would not devalue those assets and create consumer confusion by operating a new team in the New York metropolitan area for 10 years. SUM’s bid was not successful, and it made no further efforts to buy the assets. Any suggestion by Mr. Commisso that SUM’s conduct was in any way improper is without any merit.”