Credit: New York Shamrocks
The Cosmopolitan Soccer League, situated in the metropolitan New York City area, is one of the oldest amauter leagues in the United States. Founded in 1923 and inclusive of over one hundred clubs throughout the five boroughs (and one club in New Jersey because of historical reasons - Hoboken FC), it exudes legitimacy. The weight of its member clubs' history and continuity, heightened by it use of sporting merit and a system of promotion and relegation to determine excellence, provides it with a rare perspective. When it comes to representing American soccer, the CSC punches above its weight and is the secret envy of far more professional clubs, leagues and MLS entities. It's also been somewhat of a mystery even to supporters of community soccer.
Each year the league holds its AGM (annual general meeting). Member clubs gather to report on the current state of the league, to vote on board members and rule changes, and to plan the future of the league. First Team Podcast obtained a document from last summer's AGM documenting some 2019 budget information. Certain details help to set some parameters around the footprint of an organization that is more known for its historical ties than for its transparency.
According to a budget summary, the league's reserves sit at approximately six hundred thousand dollars. Most of this sum is divided across several investment funds, with forty two thousand dollars kept liquid at the time.
A source with club ownership and league membership experience, who requested anonymity, was asked what this might suggest about the CSL's status and level of engagement with its members.“The question is not whether it’s a lot of money or not. It’s the league’s priority what they want to do with that money," they said. "The members trust the board. However the board doesn’t do anything. I’m not saying waste it all but let’s use it to grow the organization, they don’t want to”.
Every club in the league is a grassroots organization, with slim to negligible resources. Representative of a local metro NYC ethnic or geographic community, striving for improvement but also for the thrill of winning matches and trophies on their behalf. The league collects annual dues, secures playing fields, collects fees and sets the stage for the season. Currently, it charges clubs approx. $75/hour for field time on Randalls Island (up from $30), as per a source. it suggests a question: what the CSL is prioritizing in the way of league and member development?
First Team Podcast reached out to the CSC for a statement on their surplus plans and general priorities. Bill Marth, the General Secretary of the Cosmopolitan Soccer League, said:
“The league’s plan is to eventually either directly buy property and build a field, or find an existing field that is now mostly dirt and pay to have it turfed and sign a long- term lease where the, league would have access to the field every Sunday and some weeknights. Having a field which the league was to totally control, would be a plus because we could potentially open a concession and merchandise stand and sell advertising."
New York City is one of the harded places to source an appropriate lot for purchase or rent at a reasonable price, for which access by mass transit isn't an issue. The New York Cosmos and MLS/CFG-NYCFC can both attest to that. A league-controlled field would give CSL increased traction with local youth club organizations. though some advantages may be more difficult to equally share across all members. A greater plan that included purchasing/leasing fields across the metro area would be necessary to do that. How would the benefits and the operating costs be distributed? Should they make progress, questions would need to be answered and socialized. But what is the likelihood?
Per a league source, over a million dollars would be needed to turf a field and install seating. So, for now, the Cosmopolitan Soccer League continues to save and pin hopes on the possibility of receiving a matching grant from the U.S Soccer Foundation.
For most amauter clubs and leagues, it is a constant struggle to secure funding, maintain a deep roster for the campaign, and demonstrate progress and success on and off the field. Detroit City FC and Chattanooga FC are popular stories that show it is possible to grow, but due to the regulatory environment managed by the US Soccer Federation, with its tight, no-bid ties to MLS and Soccer United Marketing, they stubbornly remain rare exceptions to the rule. Many clubs focus on their playing role and often feel it necessary to leave aside or prioritize the community component of what it means to be a club.
Amongst leagues however, the Cosmopolitan Soccer League also stands out as rare. “The league has been fiscally smart over the last couple decades and earned a slight profit - probably around ten thousand or so off of its operating budget; over time that grows even more”, said General Secretary Bill Marth.
But what is the role of an institution like the Cosmopolitan League? Owning or exclusively controlling fields in metro NYC would certainly be a powerful force multiplier. Its stability, as its approaches its centennial, should not be overlooked. But without access to inexpensive capital or a well-funded benefactor, it does seem unlikely that any such ambition plan is likely to pay off in the medium-term; possibly even in the long-term. One field would not be enough. It would have to have a small necklace of facilities, and it would have to have been purchased cheaply enough so as to not pass unsustainable costs down onto its members - most without an active fanbase upon which to fall back on.
In an asset-rich CSL, the member clubs may not be the ones winning as they may define it today. Throughout our various conversations with league management, we were told, 'we are very transparent', 'each club doesn't have one individual owner'; 'they are all clubs with members'.
I think the most valuable thing would be to decide what is it they are here to do. Does the CSL exist to promote its clubs, coaches and players, to enable them to better capture sponsorship deals? Does it intend to be a facility management company making a profit off its subscribers? Is it there to provide excellence and connect with other, more accessible corners of US soccer? Which path best serves its legacy and future in the sport in America?
What the clubs want as members is also of vital importance. Do they want to focus on play quality within their closed pyramid, or is that just the choice available within the status quo? Raising one's community profile creates new options for clubs, but it also means more overhead to manage. Events, meetings, festivals, etc., even when managed by volunteers still don't happen cost-free.
Baseline, sustainable standards could be implemented. Is it advantageous to a club to have quasi-professional trappings? Examples include consolidated digital infrastructure (webhost, design); livestreams or recordings of matches; an active social media presence; a community coordinator.
With all that money sitting in the bank, a rich history that could be promoted and celebrated, and a diverse city that will embrace the beautiful game and the uniqueness of the league. The league board is missing out. Hopefully the older members of the board will embrace change, when the time comes.
Full Disclosure: Your writer has enjoyed following the exploits of the Lansdowne Bhoys (Up the Bhoys!) and more recently that of the Pancyprian Freedoms.
James Izurieta contributed to the writing and reporting of this article.