His World Cup debut stubs and others from his most famous appearances sell for big bucks, but the only PSA graded ticket stub from an important milestone in the career of soccer legend Pele is now on the market.
The Brazilian superstar made international headlines in 1975 when he came out of retirement and agreed to a deal with the New York Cosmos of the fledgling North American Soccer League. His debut game was on June 15 before 21,278 fans at Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island in New York. To date, few ticket stubs from the game have surfaced, however.
Heritage Auctions is offering one in its current catalog with bidding set to close Friday night, July 22.
The consignor of the stub, graded 1 (Poor) by PSA is Chris Lauber, who attended the game while in high school. Lauber told SC Daily he’d kept the stub in an envelope with some other personal souvenirs before it was sent off to be encapsulated.
Pele Makes Waves in a New Land
Pele had actually retired and was in his mid-30s when the suited up for the Cosmos, in part to help the advancement of the sport in North America but also for a $1.4 million per year contract, a shocking amount at the time for any athlete, let alone a soccer player in a country where the sport was widely ignored. The Cosmos worked out a unique contract where he was registered as holding several jobs in order to minimize his taxes. He was even listed as a Warner recording artist.
At the news conference where 34-year-old Pele signed his contract, there were about 200 members of the world media crowded into a small room, whereas only a handful of news rookies and interns were the regulars covering the Cosmos prior to Pele’s arrival.
Considered the greatest soccer player of all time, Pele had led Brazil to three World Cup titles, the first in 1958 when he was only 17 years old.
Big Welcome, but Modest Pitch for Soccer Legend
Fans lined up several hours early to get a ticket to Pele’s debut, with scalpers tripling their money outside the gates. With an international TV broadcast planned, Cosmos employees resorted to painting the dusty, barren surface green to disguise the lack of actual grass on the playing surface. After the game, Pele’s shoes were covered with splotches of green paint.
The game was televised to 13 countries, including the USA by CBS, which attracted about 10 million viewers on Father’s Day, a record American TV audience for soccer. Attendance for the game was 21,278, nearly triple the average for a Cosmo home game prior to Pele’s arrival and about 300 media members from 22 countries also jammed into the stadium that day.
Dave Hirshey of the New York Daily News commented, “Officially, the game with the Dallas Tornado had been billed as an exhibition. But if it was that, then it was perhaps the most meaningful exhibition ever played.”
The Cosmos set several attendance records during Pele’s three years with the club.
By the time he retired in 1977, average attendance for the league had almost doubled from 7,642 to 13,558.
Youth soccer leagues for boys and girls began popping up and the sport’s increased popularity eventually led to more college soccer programs.
The stub is the first from Pele’s Cosmos debut –graded or ungraded—ever to be offered by Heritage. The Summer Sports Auction encompasses three nights, July 21-23.