wherein DF travels to Deutschland for the 2006 world cup to follow the US men's national soccer team

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Metros sell out

Nothing’s been cracking in the US camp for the past few days, so let me again briefly turn my attention to a name-related development from MLS. AEG, the group that owns several MLS franchises and manages much of the league, announced the sale of the NY/NJ MetroStars to the Austrian company Red Bull. Yes, the same Red Bull that gives you wings, or at least a tooth-grindingly intense caffeine buzz.

The team will be officially known as Red Bull New York, though they’ll be informally called the New York Red Bulls, in a concession to US sports culture.

It’s hard to know what to think of this. In a sense, I’m glad that there’s any interest in foreign investment in MLS, though if the ownership decides to shortchange the team through lack of interest (or to use the Bulls as a farm team for the Austrian team they also own), that could be a real problem.

Then there’s the concern about the team’s image, and about MLS’s image more generally. It’s aesthetic but far from trivial. With all the soccer haters out there licking their chops to get in their digs at soccer (the media equivalent of bravely picking on someone half your size), they’ll have a field day with anything that makes MLS look foolish.

But how will this move play with the American sports public? It’s hard to say. In other countries, sponsorship is familiar for teams—if you buy a Roma or Inter jersey, you’re shelling out eighty bucks for an enormous ad for Diadora or Pirelli. The sponsor’s name makes a bigger splash than the team logo. On the other hand, with the exception of Red Bull Salzburg, I can’t think of another example of a team that’s named after their owner’s company (I remain unsure about the origins of the name of Artmedia Petrzalka, the team that embarrassed FC Porto in the Champion’s League this year).

In America, there’s no shortage of sponsor-whoring. Stadiums are the obvious example; few of them remain un-sold-out to some wealthy corporation. Even abstractions have sponsors (the Nokia halftime show at the Superbowl). And the more successful MLS teams have had uniform sponsors as well (DC hawking Bud, LA shilling for Sierra Mist). But this really does seem to take sponsorship to another level, and in a way that requires a weird elision of fan support and product support (can you like the team Red Bulls even if you hate the beverage Red Bull?).

But maybe this is just a matter of getting used to something novel. In Chicago, the Sox used to play at Comiskey Park. It was a classic stadium with a classic name that honored one of the early greats of the game. Then Comiskey was demolished to make way for US Cellular Field, a bland modern stadium honoring a telecommunications concern. Yet this name has become widely accepted, and now Sox fans affectionately refer to attending games at “the Cell” without any consciousness that they’re selling out in the process.

The verdict on Red Bull New York? I’m going to wait and see. As a DC United supporter, though, I feel obligated never to drink that beverage again.


Blogger mirarchi said...

Like you, I couldn't think of any soccer teams other than the Austrian red bull club named after a corporation. Then this article on cnnsi


reminded me of one more: Bayer Leverkusen.

4:13 PM, March 15, 2006

Blogger DF said...

Right, of course--and wasn't there a team in Wales for a couple years named after some awful corporate acronym--something like "TRM" for "Total Research Management"? I checked the current Welsh league tables and if they were ever there, they don't appear to be anymore.

5:43 PM, March 15, 2006

Blogger DF said...

I started a thread on the topic of teams named after companies, and there are some interesting results. Can't believe I didn't think of PSV (Phillips Electronics).

10:05 PM, March 15, 2006


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