There was a time when US soccer was a storm of Rowdies and Cosmos, but now United is the name of choice. Whats going on?
Once, pro soccer in the United States firmly espoused the countrys sporting culture. Squads that came to prominence in the 1970 s in the North American Soccer League( NASL) had names that wouldnt sound out of place in the NFL: the New York Cosmos and and Tampa Bays perhaps being the most notable. Cheerleaders wandered the sidelines, and even the foundations of video games such as the offside regulation and the draw were changed to appeal to an audience accustomed to traditional American sports.
But over the last 15 years, Major League Soccer has evolved from a league of squads with names, such as Wizards, Burn and Clash, to something that sounds a lot more, well, European. There are three Uniteds( Atlanta, Minnesota and DC ), two called City( New York whose name is down to their parent club, Manchester City and Orlando ), one Real( Salt Lake) and a Sporting( Kansas City ). Thats not to mention the many lower division sides who have also changed their names in recent years.
In short, they have co-opted the names and traditions of world football for what they hope is a greater share of the domestic and international market.
To understand why this happened you must go back to 1995. Rather than ask the fans to pick their name, the leagues four kit suppliers Nike, Adidas, Reebok and Puma had been given permission by the league to design the brands for the teams the latter are rendering. Its telling that the one exception, DC United, stumbled upon its name almost by accident when United finished second in a fan survey as a write-in. To their credit, the teams management which had considered names, such as Revolution and Justice listened to the fans, choosing a name and crafting an identity that it still uses today.
Still, change came slowly. The San Jose Clash rebranded as the Earthquakes in 1999, a nod to the citys history of professional football. But most names remained unchanged until 2004.
That year, the Dallas Burn announced a major rebrand. Run was the old logo with a horse shooting lightning from its mouth. Gone was the Burn moniker, which former GM Greg Elliott said had less brand recognition in Dallas than the professional indoor soccer squad, the Sidekicks. In its place was a name that Elliott wish i could instantaneously communicate that this was a soccer squad and one that was, in his terms, authentic to the sport.
The identity that he and ownership ultimately agreed on? FC Dallas.
That rebranding proved tremendously influential across the league. Since 2004, seven of the 13 expansion franchises to enter the league have had some fluctuation of FC or SC in their names.
Whats changed over the past decade is the recognition that the game in the US is now a part of a global football marketplace. One in which MLS teams are vying in their own marketplace not only with other American athletics teams but also with global brands, like Manchester United and Real Madrid. This explains why MLS squads have expended so much time and resources on the creation not only of their franchise names but also on their logos. They are trying to compete in an American football marketplace thats oversaturated with strong, historical international brands.
And the attitudes of fans towards these international-style names have rapidly evolved from indifference to acceptance.
In February 2016, MLS threatened Minnesota United FC with a name change, even going so far as to register the name Minnesota FC with the US Trademark and Patent Office. Minnesotas fans were understandably furious. As squad chairwoman Nick Rogers set it to the Guardian:[ T] here are different elements of a brand but theres simply one brand. I think you do a lot of violence to it by trying to alter a part of it[ like the name ]. I think it all hangs together.
But these changes have also come with their fair share of critics. One graphic designer, who asked not to be named due to contractual obligations, variously described the international-style name changes as embarrassing, out of touch, oversaturated and pretty lame.
Thats how Americans interact with athletic, with mascots, and city names with mascots, the designer, who has worked with several MLS teams, told the Guardian. Maybe thats old school of me to say thats how Americans do it, but I personally think its corny when we try to copy the European style. Why dont we just try to do our own thing?
As if anticipating just such a reaction, Rob Heineman, the CEO of Sporting Kansas City, addressed the naysayers unprompted where reference is revealed his teams rebrand in 2010. This, to us, is not European, whatsoever, he said of the Sporting name, adding:[ Its not] a ripoff. Thats the furthest thing from the truth … were not just calling ourselves Real Salt Lake or FC Dallas.
Whether or not these rebranding efforts have contributed to the leagues increased popularity, whats indisputable is that the attitude of the average American soccer fan has changed. Changes that had once been forced on fans from the top down even the be adopted by international-style squad names are now supported by the fans themselves. According to Darren Eales, chairman of Atlanta United FC, 89% of respondents to their naming survey felt that FC should be associated with the teams name and a 91% wanted an international-style of name. The name surely hasnt done any harm to their supporting: Atlanta median home mob is 46, 482, the highest in MLS.
But traditionally bred North American soccer names can and do work. Four recent MLS expansion squads Seattle Sounders FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, the Montreal Impact, and the Portland Timbers have espoused names that, for decades, symbolized professional soccer in their towns and theyve said and done with great success in their communities.
The global ambitions of executives like LAFCs Tom Penn are both new to Major League Soccer and surprising. MLS does not offer global superstars like Ronaldo and Messi, or the quality of play of the Premier League or La Liga. What MLS can offer fans is localism: names and images like those of the Timbers and Sounders that engender community pride.
Perhaps no image more perfectly encapsulates this tension between global ambition and local pride than the sight of LAFCs logo LA in big gold lettering against a black background atop the head of pop star Justin Bieber. The international-style names, it seems, are here to stay.
Read more: www.theguardian.com