07 March 2006

New Jersey Public Image Ltd.

Nevermind the Red Bulls, Here's the MetroStars

I've been staying out of the entire "Red Bull to buy New Jersey Metros" debate with my typical dodge of "It ain't about DC United." Still, when the commentary has reached "Battle for Control of the Soul of MLS" proportions, when the very future of the league could be at stake, when no metaphor could be overinflated enough... well, that's when I have to say something. Specifically: It doesn't matter.

For an example of the hyperbole, the normally decent Ives Galarcep goes off the deep-end:

It sounds like the type of progress and evidence of growth the league desperately needs, but at what cost? Is it worth risking the alienating of a fan base for the sake of a big payoff? ... Will this be a new trend for MLS? At what point will the league decide that it cannot sell its history to the highest bidder? Could we see Pepsi United where D.C. once stood? Or how about FC Wendy's where the Columbus Crew now play? The idea would have sounded absurd just a week ago, but the landscape has certainly changed in MLS land.

My feeling is that this is a somewhat naive view of capitalism. Certain teams in the league have a real brand value in and of themselves. We're not going to see Pepsi United (or MasterCard United, or SierraMist United) anytime soon because the name DC United has more goodwill and economic value to potential sponsors. Stadium naming rights, one would hope, would be an attractive way of associating a team with its own brand value with your product. DC United is a successful brand, in addition to being a successful team. Compare this to the LA Galaxy (mediocre brand, good team) and the Columbus Crew (brand image value improving, historical team results not so great.)

The potential sale and renaming of the Metros has less to do with sponsors overtaking MLS and much more to do with how poorly the Metros were marketed and branded in the first place. Or weren't. The very name MetroStars was an awkward mess. The teams colors were not especially attractive. Originally combining MetroStars with "New York / New Jersey" with its unpronouncable slash in the name made the team name sound like it wasn't devised by a marketing team but instead was bred in a lab by rogue geneticists. There are little to no losses if the Metros rebrand. There would be significant losses if Columbus, DC, Chivas, or other teams whose brands are somewhat successful rebranded. So, to answer Ives, I'm not real worried about Pepsi United. And if MLS gets 25-50M USD for the Metros, I think it might be the first great move to have occured in New Jersey since Alecko Eskandarian moved out of there.


At 07 March, 2006 09:47, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that rebranding the Metrostars may not be the end of the world, but I still feel bad about it. Forget the fact that rebranding would never happen to DCU, but imagine that it is going to happen, Red Bull United? How would you feel? I would be disgusted.
Eh, just gives us something else to mock them about I guess.

At 07 March, 2006 09:53, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ives Galarcep is a negative, crazy, fool. He has nothing of value to add to any soccer conversation.

At 07 March, 2006 10:20, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If MLS gets $20-25 Million for the metrostars, it'll go a long way toward paying back the rest of the league for the 10 year subsidy for failed foreign players, rigged lotteries, and the expensive lease at Giants stadium.

At 07 March, 2006 10:34, Blogger D said...

John: It's a valid question, but let me put it this way. I could have become attached to the Clash, the Wizards, the Galaxy, but even when MLS started the name MetroStars sounded awkward to me. Placing product associations aside, the Red Bull ain't bad, even if it is evocative of the FC Dallas logo.

Anon: Bit harsh this morning, aren't we? I think Ives turns in a respectable, though not groundbreaking, column most days. There are so many other people that add little value to the soccer debate that Ives really doesn't merit mention in that category to me.

Oscar: That is truly a brilliant comment.

At 07 March, 2006 11:41, Blogger Mr. Fish said...

D, I think you're off base. While I do consider myself to be a member of the dwindling Metro faithful, and am not looking forward to the impending sale, the idea that this would "never happen to DC United" is extremely short sighted. It's clear that AEG has been presented with a great opporunity to take the money & run, and that's what they're doing. Should FC Barcelona approach AEG with a similar offer for DCU, but with a plan to rename the club the "Mini-Barcas," AEG would take it in a heartbeat. It's all about the all-mighty $, my spoiled DC fans, and if you think it can't happen to you, you're nuts.

At 07 March, 2006 13:08, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is America...money talks.

The MLS should do whatever it takes to make money...and keep the league afloat.

Hey..if Red Bull wants to buy a team in Seattle and name it Seattle Red Bull...I'll take the overly "commercialized" name and won't complain a bit.

NY fans...just be happy you have a team. MLS fans just be happy that we have a league....

At 07 March, 2006 14:38, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Fish, you missed the point. If Barca did make such an offer, sure, AEG would probably take it and run. But even if it happened, Barca would NEVER change the name of the team for all the reasons mentioned in the article. The "DC United" NAME is a significant part of the team's value. Not so with Metros.

At 07 March, 2006 15:15, Blogger D said...

Mr. Fish --

I'm inclined to think you are both right and wrong on this matter. Yes, I have no doubt this is upsetting to NY/NJ fans. And Yes, it could happen to other teams. However, certain teams (like my beloved United) I think have enough brand recognition that the almighty dollar makes it disadvantageous to rename. In short, the almighty dollar makes it more difficult to rename those teams.

At 07 March, 2006 15:16, Blogger D said...

Hah! I see Anon got to the exact point I was trying to make before I did. Note to self: reload more often.

At 07 March, 2006 16:11, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This league is 10 years old. Already, sponsors and owners come and go. Naming stadiums after them is one thing. Naming teams after them is another entirely.

Allowing owners to name teams after themselves is just bad policy. It's just a silly thing to do. The league needs to nip it in the bud here and now, and find some kind of compromise that won't push Red Bull away from buying the club.

At 07 March, 2006 17:23, Blogger MLS Fangirl said...

It would be up to fans/community to act, if they want to try and prevent it. I'm not saying that a fan uprising would necessarily prevent the team from becoming the Red Bulls or whatever, but it couldn't hurt. Fans in my hometown protested a poor corporate naming of a stadium so vehemently that the company worked out a compromise.

That said, I don't hate Red Bulls as a team name. At least it sounds like a team name.

At 08 March, 2006 17:56, Blogger The Metrologist said...

Of course they would re-brand/reclothe DC United in a heartbeat. Thinking otherwise is naive, I'm afriad. That's the point - re-branding, not fixing a less-than-perfect Metrostar image. Look at Salzburg; they had 70 years of existence, multiple championships, a distinctive and well-known color scheme, a good, honest, name - in short, a fine "brand". And all that and 100,000 signatures didn't mean a damn thing, especially when a money crunch hit. Your DC United name will mean nothing if AEG decides it too is a crisis situation, and the next Red Bull - all branding, all perception, all unconventional marketing - comes on the scene.


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