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Pelé, The New York Cosmos, And How Atari Sank America's Soccer League


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I recently posted a Blog entry about Atari's role in sinking the first popular American Soccer club. It involves Pelé, Atari, and big egos. It's remarkable to think how big the New York Cosmos were at one time, and to be so forgotten by history.

 

For the full article check out the Blog entry: http://www.atari.io/?p=1057

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The conclusion in the article that Atari played any such role is nothing short of ridiculous.

 

First, while the Cosmos may indeed have played a large role in the culture of NYC at the time, that's not same thing as playing a large role financially. Steve Ross poured a tremendous amount of money into the team that was simply never justified by any revenue the team generated.

 

The reason that pro soccer failed was simply that nobody was going to the games. The Cosmos enjoyed some decent crowds while Pele was still playing but most of the other teams in the league never drew much more than three or four thousand people per game.

 

Even that meager attendance declined sharply after Pele retired in 1977. Also known as the year BEFORE Warner bought Atari.

 

So... The most successful team in the league was a money pit and nobody was going to the games. Of course it died. And unless you're trying to claim that people were staying home to play video games, there's just no way it makes any sense at all to even mention Atari in the discussion.

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You are absolutely right in much of what you're saying. Seems to me that we agree on most points! The Cosmos were a "hobby" for Steve Ross and operated at a substantial loss. As you've said, Ross poured a tremendous amount of Warner's money into the team that was never justified by the team's revenue. Agreed! Warner covered this loss during many of the years when Atari was responsible for much of Warner's windfall profits, sometimes accounting for two-thirds of their annual profits. This wasn't always the case, but true for some of the most notable years.

 

You're also right in that pro soccer failed because nobody was going to the games. Agreed! They weren't watching it on TV either. Seems like pro soccer has always faced this problem in the US, and had nothing to do with Atari. You're right to say the Cosmos enjoyed decent crowds, filling Giants Stadium. Much of that was built on the Cosmos' star power and the tastes of New Yorkers, and once Pele left attendance declined. We agree on this as well.

 

You said 1977 was the year before Warner bought Atari. That is wrong, Warner purchased Atari in 1976 when Pele was at the height of his popularity with the Cosmos. But that's neither here nor there. The conclusion of the article was not that Atari was responsible for the Cosmos' success, nor solely responsible for their failure. But Atari contributed greatly to Warner's financial woes and need to quickly rid themselves of subsidiaries that operated at a substantial loss at the time the Cosmos were let go.

 

It's historical fact that Atari put Warner in a precarious position. When Atari collapsed it was hemorrhaging hundreds of millions of dollars for Warner. With those kinds of losses Ross would no longer sink money into "hobbies" like the New York Cosmos. Not to mention Ross was fending off a hostile takeover from Rupert Murdoch (which as of this week he is attempting once again). This triggered Ross quickly selling off assets that were an albatross to their books and had to go.

 

Yes, the Cosmos were a failing enterprise, and Atari was not responsible for the drop in attendance. Had the Cosmos become profitable, had the league been stronger, or had Ross been successful in bringing the '86 World Cup to America, things may have been different. Atari certainly played its role in Warner's well running dry. Had Atari not accrued such huge losses, Warner wouldn't have been so quick to abandon the Cosmos, despite declining attendance post-Pele. It's not my conclusion, it's the conclusion of Cosmos management and sports journalists as shown in the documentary "Once In A Lifetime". It's currently running on Netflix.

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The article, at least the headline, suggests that Atari sunk the entire league, not just the Cosmos. If you want to make the argument that the entire league's success hinged on the Cosmos, you're only further illustrating how fragile it was.

 

Basically, you're suggesting that if Atari hadn't been pissing away money, then Warner would've been able to throw even more money at the Cosmos.

 

Maybe that's true, as far as it goes, but the league had been in a death spiral for half a decade already by the time Atari hit its financial bumps. Even if the Cosmos survived, it wouldn't have been long before there wasn't anybody else to play. Really, the only reason the league was still around at all was because most of the teams were owned by people with more enthusiasm than business sense. Just like Steve Ross.

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I watched Once In A Lifetime this weekend. It seemed low budget, but I enjoyed it. It definitely gave you the feeling that the Cosmos guys held some animosity about what happened with Atari. Pele is a turd though for not giving an interview.

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I watched Once In A Lifetime this weekend. It seemed low budget, but I enjoyed it. It definitely gave you the feeling that the Cosmos guys held some animosity about what happened with Atari. Pele is a turd though for not giving an interview.

Why would Pele give an interview about things that happened 6 years after he retired?

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