The most recognized and most successful team in Major League Soccer has joined the ranks of the sponsored jersey. Commissioner Don Garberis in Washington, D.C., Tuesday for the formal announcement of a front-jersey sponsorship deal for D.C. United. Volkswagen will pay United between $3.1 million and $3.7 million per year for the next four years to display its logo on the front of the D.C. jersey, which will otherwise remain essentially the same, with the D.C. United crest and four stars - representing its four MLS titles - remaining. Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney provides the details on shirt sponsorship income around the league.
The deal is the second-richest jersey deal negotiated by an MLS team, topping the Best Buy sponsorship of Fire jerseys that pays between $2.3 million and $2.7 annually, and the Comex Group's sponsorship deal with Chivas USA worth a reported $1.5 to $2 million per year. Herbalife's deal with the Galaxy tops the list at $3.5 to $5 million per year.
MLS adopted front-jersey sponsorship guidelines two years ago, setting a $500,000 minimum, after Red Bull, Inc., bought the MetroStars and requested changing the team name and displaying it on the jersey front. (The shirt sponsorship was one component of a deal that included the team and a financial commitment to help build Red Bull Park at a total cost of $100 million.)
Since Red Bull bought into MLS two years ago, eight teams have signed front-jersey sponsorship deals. That designation is important, since corporate logos other than the shirt manufacturer have adorned MLS jerseys since the league began.
"The one thing a lot of people need to remember is that MLS has had corporate identification on the uniforms since day one," points out former chief marketing officer and senior vice president Bernstein, who left MLS in 2000 and now runs his own marketing company, Premier Partnerships. "It's a matter of re-positioning the location.
"We had the sleeve, the shorts, and under the number on the back, so there are multiple spots, but at the time our decision was to not go on the front because we were trying to establish brand identification and brand equity in the logo and the name of the team. That was something that was evaluated and put into action.
"For better or worse, we got to a point where the league needed to be, and it was time to modify to a crest position and corporate identification, like the rest of the world."
The other deals and their approximate price tags are: Toronto, BMO, $1 million to 1.5 million per year; Columbus, Glidden, $800,000; Houston, Amigo Energy, $7.5 million over four years, and XanGo, Real Salt Lake, $1 million to $1.25 million per year.
The Sports Business Daily reported last week that the deal also makes Volkswagen the official automotive sponsor of MLS at a payment of between $1 million and $2 million per season. Last year, Honda ended a sponsorship deal with MLS that had begun with the league's startup in 1996.
Bernstein, who spearheaded the marketing efforts for the 1994 World Cup before helping launch MLS, believes the integration of sponsor names onto MLS jerseys hasn't been a jarring disruption as teams try to establish their brands and identities.
"The transition has been seamless and there's been no over-commercialization of the process at all," he says. "It's graphically appealing and without a doubt is serving the shirt sponsors as it's been presented.
"From Volkswagen to Herbalife to Glidden to XanGo, it's been an eclectic group of companies that kind of crosses many different boundaries. Aside from the revenues, that range shows how many different kinds of businesses are looking at soccer for opportunities."