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Rumor: New York Red Bulls to be bought and re-branded by new Cosmos ownership in 2018


Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Cosmos appear to be about to enter another period of hibernation. It is not Once A Metro's place to comment on the Cosmos' misfortune, which is being followed closely by Empire of Soccer and Big Apple Soccer and to whose exemplary reporting OaM has nothing at all to add.

OaM focuses on the New York Red Bulls. In that regard, it is this blog's duty to note that Big Apple Soccer's Michael Lewis - a man who has written and reported more stories about soccer in the USA than OaM has published in its entire existence - saw fit to mention a bizarre rumor that has emerged from the ongoing Cosmos debacle:

One intriguing rumor bouncing around has new owners acquiring the team. They would then have the club stay out of competitive soccer for a year and then purchase the Red Bulls to perform in Major League Soccer in 2018.

Great. Now RBNY is getting dragged into the Cosmos' sorry saga.

Pointedly, Lewis isn't saying he thinks that rumor is true, or that he has a source who thinks that rumor is true. He's just saying the rumor exists, and he places it between a sourced suggestion that the Cosmos are in negotiation with potential new investors and an account of the failure of Cosmos Chairman Seamus O'Brien to respond to request for comment.

What should we make of this rumor of an impending Cosmos takeover of RBNY? Not a lot.

It is a persistent fever dream of a cross-section of MLS and NASL fans and observers that the best-known US soccer brand will one day muscle its way into the best-known US soccer league. And it wasn't even two years ago that RBNY fans were renting billboard space to demand Red Bull abandon its investment in American soccer. So, sure: there is some traction for the idea of Red Bull selling up and Cosmos taking over the vacant slot marked "MLS team in New York".

It's fair to assume Red Bull won't remain invested in soccer forever. New York Cosmos doesn't seem to be quite as powerful a brand as many seem to think (cf: the club's current predicament), but if it reverts back to being nothing but a logo and a memory, it will be presumably be available when called upon by another enterprising investor to once again try to turn it into a functional soccer team. Third time is the charm, we're told.

But that is not really a rumor, it's just a loose assortment of hypotheticals.

If one wanted to stoke the fires of speculation, one could note that Red Bull Head of Global Soccer, Oliver Mintzlaff, did not quite deny the possibility of selling RB's MLS team when asked about the persistent rumor by Bild at the end of 2015:

We reduced the total bill by several million dollars (over 20 millions dollars, the Red), have successfully played football with the lowest team budget of the $3.6 million league. We want to continue along the paved path, although there is great interest from English clubs and investors.

You bring these stories on yourself, Red Bull. Trumpeting your cost-cutting measures and making teasing comments about interested investors is no way to kill a rumor. (And Oliver Mintzlaff knows how to kill a rumor.)

Red-Bull-is-ready-to-sell gossip seems to crop up reliably at least once a year. In October 2014, for example, Gant Wahl was telling Sports Illustrated's readers that Red Bull would sell "within 48 hours" if it received an offer of $300 million for its MLS assets.

The bigger question is which MLS owners wouldn't sell if offered $300 million (the next round of expansion will cost the relatively modest sum of $150 million per team), but Wahl was convinced, offering a concluding statement on the matter which is almost impossible to refute:

Long story short: Don't look for Red Bull to be involved in MLS in the long-term future.

Ok, Grant. We won't.

Though one might note MLS has only recently ticked past its 20th year of existence and Red Bull made its investment in 2006, so it's already a "long-term" investor in the league by the league's own standards. But Red Bull GmbH can change its priorities any time it wants, and one day those priorities could very well stop including the funding of owner Dietrich Mateschitz's sporting side projects.

On the flip-side, however, it can be pointed out that Red Bull has already point-blank refused the advances of at least one suitor: Jason Ader - who once was connected to a $350 million plan to bring MLS to Las Vegas, so would seem to meet Wahl's reported standard for the ideal RBNY buyer.

And while there is no question that Red Bull has cut costs in New York, it has also conspicuously engaged in an effort to make RBNY look more like all the other Red Bull soccer clubs - and not playing at the top end of the transfer market for players is a key part of the strategy across the entire suite of RB teams.

Thrift is a virtue within Red Bull soccer. In the same Bild interview in which he didn't deny RBNY could be sold, Mintzlaff was asked about cost-cutting measures (including the decision not to rent space for the club's Christmas party that year) at RB Leipzig. RB Global Soccer very much wants to be seen as financially prudent:

I want us to pay attention. Every euro that we spend is treated as if it were our own. In addition, the Christmas party at our Red Bull Arena was one of the most beautiful in recent years. It does not always have to do with money, but the attention to detail is crucial.

And the fact controlled costs keep a business attractive to potential buyers or investors is no doubt simply an unintended consequence of RB Global Soccer's self-imposed spending constraints.

All of which is to say that Red-Bull-is-ready-to-sell-RBNY rumors don't come out of nowhere: they come of out of the fact that a number of people actively want Red Bull to sell RBNY, and Red Bull doesn't always do the best job of convincing anyone that it isn't sort of thinking about cashing in its soccer chips.

What of the rumor passed on by Michael Lewis? To re-state it:

One intriguing rumor bouncing around has new owners acquiring the team. They would then have the club stay out of competitive soccer for a year and then purchase the Red Bulls to perform in Major League Soccer in 2018.

That is an ambitious string of three things that haven't happened and aren't inevitably connected.

No one has officially stepped forward to buy the Cosmos, and the current chairman is publicly insisting that a soccer team with no players is not a sign of a club in crisis. It does seem likely the Cosmos will need new leadership and investment, but more urgently there needs to be a reason for that new leadership and investment: a league to play in (they look to be withdrawing from NASL, which itself seems to be struggling to remain in existence). So new owners acquiring the team is merely what most assume has to happen for the club to right itself, but it's not inevitable.

Next, there is the suggestion new owners would hold the Cosmos "out of competitive soccer for a year". This begs a question: why? Why only a year? Why any time at all? If you're buying a soccer team, why not set it to play right away? If it cannot do that for 12 months, what suggests it will only take 12 months for the soccer-preventing issues to be resolved?

The rumor offers the answer to those questions: Red Bull will sell to the new Cosmos ownership in 2018.

Again, questions: what's so special about 2018? Why would Red Bull sell then and not either before or after? And if Red Bull is ready to sell, why is it assumed the new Cosmos ownership will have the most attractive bid?

Many things are possible, but a rumor should at least try to be plausible - which means it should strive to have at least some part of it be demonstrably true. In this case, a conclusion some are actively rooting for (Cosmos replace RBNY in MLS) simply cannot be supported by three progressively less plausible assumptions.

tl; dr: lol, rumor mill, lol.