A Tale of Two Expansion Cities

The 2017 MLS season is up and running and as expected, the two expansion teams are dominating league headlines, yet the two sides are off to vastly different starts.  On one hand, Atlanta United FC has opened its inaugural season with tremendous success both on and off the pitch, but on the other hand, Minnesota United FC is experiencing the growing pains of transitioning from the NASL to a major league level.

From the start it looks like Atlanta United has struck gold by acquiring Josef Martinez from Torino, Italy who already has the first hat trick in club history as well as providing exciting celebrations for the fans.  The opening loss to the NY Red Bulls drew a sell-out crowd of 55,297 to Bobby Dodd Stadium and the club reportedly sold out tickets for its second straight match against Chicago as well, a 4-0 victory.  With two wins in its first three games, and reason to believe more wins are coming, fans of Atlanta United have every reason to be happy.

On the flip side, Minnesota United FC seems to have struck nothing but coal with its current lineup.  While a promising start is not expected for any expansion side, starting off the season with 5-1 and 6-1 losses arguably fall below the already low expectations needed to be considered an inaugural season success.  The home opener of 35,043 was the largest crowd for a soccer game in Minnesota since May 1984, and the snow in the forecast made for an interesting optic on television.  However the result left a lot to be desired from the expansion side that is sadly showing why it finished in 8th place out of 12 teams in the minor league NASL last season.

Intriguingly, Minnesota has acquired a much bigger brand name as a shirt sponsor in Target, and the public opinion of the team’s new logo and kits has been extremely positive overall.  While financial details were not disclosed for the deals, Atlanta’s shirt sponsor American Family Insurance is nothing to sneeze at either.  In addition, the red and black striped jerseys are a kit combination that has not been used in MLS for years.

As it is only Week 4 of MLS action, it is still early to speculate which team will finish its inaugural season with more success, but for now, give the advantage to Atlanta.







Are We Becoming Too European?

mls-atlanta-lalas-scarfLast week, MLS made the announcement that the newest soccer franchise in Atlanta will be called Atlanta United FC.  This was reportedly decided after a survey was sent out to members of the team’s 21,000 plus supporters in its Founder’s Club, focus groups were tested, and intense brainstorming was conducted behind the scenes.  Club President Darren Eales claimed that the surveys had a 70 percent response rate, with 91 percent of respondents “wanting to follow international soccer customs” with the name, and 50 percent of respondents wanting an internationally-inspired name.  Yet in the end, many of the supporters that supposedly had a say in the name took to social media to voice their disappointment.  Some argued that this new name was too “cookie-cutter” and not unique enough to Atlanta.

The terms United and FC has become very common in naming American teams these days, with notable names such as New York City FC, DC United, FC Dallas, Toronto FC, and presumably soon to be promoted Minnesota United.  Even this blog is called Marketing United FC, paying homage to how prevalent both terms are in today’s American soccer scene. Out of the 20 teams currently in the league, 12 have names that you might expect to see overseas such as “Real” Salt Lake, “Sporting” Kansas City, and Houston “Dynamo.”

Some Americans could understandably find this confusing.  Why is a team called “New York City Football Club” when in this country, football means something else? What is so Real (Spanish for royal) about Salt Lake City? Orlando City SC and Columbus Crew SC have arguably earned kudos in the originality category by Americanizing the FC suffix and evolving it into SC for “Soccer Club.”

According to a recent article by Brian Trusdell of the New York Times, when asked why the MLS has changed from more American sounding monikers like “Jets” or “Eagles,” David Carter, the Executive Director of the Sports Business Institute at USC suggested that Major League Soccer is targeting the 20 to 30 year old Americans that grew up playing FIFA video games with increased exposure to European soccer through television and internet. As a result, this target market views European sounding names as more authentic which is a pivotal selling point for a league that is trying to increase quality and authenticity from a marketing standpoint.

In the end, soccer fans shouldn’t be too worried about the “Europeanization” of the league.  Yes, there are certain teams like Red Bull New York owned by European businesses, but if we look across the pond, there are British teams like Liverpool owned by the American Fenway Sports Group.  On top of that, there are teams such as the UEFA Champions League Finalist Juventus from Italy, with such peculiar names that make no sense in Europe or the U.S (the letter “J” isn’t even in the Italian alphabet).  As we adopt more and more European customs here and our similarities make the soccer world seem smaller, one can only hope that this will translate to more similarities on the field when it comes to quality of play.