With all its marketing might, why did LAFC take safe route?

By Ridge Mahoney

The next expansion team in Los Angeles won’t play a real game for three more years, and yet already it is infused with anticlimax, not to mention redundancy.

Los Angeles Football Club, or LAFC, has been promoted from "placeholder" name to the real thing. The official announcement came Tuesday and didn’t carry much pop, as is always the case when the public is told what it more or less already knew. The same was true in May, when a search for a stadium site ended when the site on which currently stands the Los Angeles Sports Arena was confirmed as the location of a 22,000-capacity facility.

News that isn’t really news isn’t the fault of the team, but it’s disturbing that a powerful, ambitious ownership group that will be going head-to-head with the Galaxy -- not to mention the Dodgers, Kings, Lakers, USC and UCLA – has followed in the path of so many teams by dubbing itself “FC”.

Does MLS need another FC, or "United," for that matter. No, not really. But surely there are some thinkers in team and league offices who believe that seeing a bunch of FC’s in the standings -- FC Dallas, Toronto FC, etc. -- brings credibility to the league. (They may or may not know that Liverpool is officially known as Liverpool FC, and Chelsea is really Chelsea FC, but those tags are seldom used. Of course, also seldom used are nicknames, which for these clubs are the very unimaginative “Reds” and ‘Blues,” respectively.)

Not every team can have both a great name such as Tottenham Hotspur FC, and a cool nickname: "Spurs." Orlando City SC deviated somewhat by using SC for “soccer club” instead of FC (“football club”), plus it retained “Lions” as its nickname when it stepped up from USL to MLS for the 2015 season. Timbers fans chant "PT! FC! PT! FC!" -- along with many other things -- so there are ways to mix and match the best of both worlds. 

I find it absurd that Major League Soccer has a bunch of football clubs, but there’s no doubt that a movement fueled by ESPN -- which renamed its soccer site years ago -- has taken root. And considering the league was borne of teams dubbed Clash, Burn, Mutiny and Wiz, improvement has to be acknowledged even if the trend is becoming tiresome. 

But with all the supposed marketing might at its disposal, the brain trust of LAFC couldn’t come up with something edgy enough and clever enough to tag onto LAFC? LAFC? That’s it? Like New York City FC, only on the opposite coast? That team is owned by the same group that runs Manchester City FC, and wears the same colors, so its name makes sense. Yet there’s also a sense that rather than force a contrived nickname onto its fan base, LAFC has taken a route that has resonated with at least a portion of fans bases in other cities.

Still, I read with astonishment a quote from Rich Orosco, the head of marketing for culture and community. “Our opportunity in L.A. is how do we tell the story differently,” he said in a statement released on Tuesday regarding the team name. “We're going to be big into music, art and fashion. The design aesthetic. We're going to be a great outlet for creativity. It's one of our club pillars.”

The very fact that a professional soccer team needs a “head of marketing for culture and community” is a bit jarring, but teams tap into a lot of different veins to build and maintain support. MLS teams have been very proactive in building community support through outreach programs and few places in the world offer up such a range of cultural influences as does the vast area referred to as “L.A.”

I don’t see a lot of creativity in marching along the same path as several other teams, but to its credit, LAFC has its own market to conquer at first. And that will take some doing; the Galaxy has hammered out a devoted following by not only signing huge European stars such as David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard, but by cranking out attractive, successful teams year after year since Bruce Arena took over as head coach in 2008. He has guided the Galaxy to titles in 2011, 2013 and 2014, and has revamped the team in the wake of Landon Donovan’s retirement to again rank among the serious championship contenders. The Galaxy is also one of the few original MLS teams adorned with a good nickname, so much so that “Los Angeles” was dropped several years ago from the official name, which is L.A. Galaxy.

Chivas USA, which lurched through several re-shuffles of competitive and business personnel before being terminated at the end of the 2014 season, failed miserably to generate strong support among the huge CD Guadalajara fan base in Southern California, but it did draw a small core of loyalists that, for whatever reasons, refused to support the Galaxy. Simply marketing itself as the anti-Galaxy won’t be sufficient yet taking a few potshots at the glamorous rival is to be expected, and encouraged. If a rivalry is to be established it must be done at many levels. And with a Southern California population base in the low eight figures, there are plenty of potential soccer fans to be wooed.

But LA is still LA, and the owners of LAFC will need to attract at least a few big names if they want their fans to lustily chant “LA! FC! LA! FC!” game after game. If they do, following a tradition that is already looking tired won’t matter so much. They are being asked for their opinions about nicknames and team colors so in those areas, there's hope.

And I guess in one sense we should be thankful. Remember just two months ago, in a splendid display of overkill, came the official announcement of Atlanta United FC. Seriously? What, no Real?

21 comments about "With all its marketing might, why did LAFC take safe route?".
  1. Randy Vogt, September 17, 2015 at 7:45 p.m.

    With new team names such as Los Angeles FC, New York City FC, Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC, maybe MLS now stands for Marketing-Less Soccer.

  2. Santiago 1314, September 17, 2015 at 9:44 p.m.

    Ridiculous...Boring...FIRE The Marketing person for Lack of Originality...**Re-Post**..Santiago 1314 commented on: September 15, 2015 at 10:18 a.m...How about "The WOWLaxy".!?!?...Sounds Like they are going to be more into Glitz than Football... I'm so Tired of FC this and UNITED that.!!!... Santiago 1314 commented on: September 16, 2015 at 10:28 a.m...It's not hard to Build a Competitive Team in MLS, in the First Year...Especially In LA...Look at Orlando and NYFC...The Level of MLS Players is pretty Standard, as are their Prices...Plug in Ronaldo and a Few other Underwear Models and BINGO...Team-in-a Box.!!!

  3. R2 Dad, September 17, 2015 at 9:58 p.m.

    MLS thinks that lining up an ownership group bereft of local hispanics will prevent this team from becoming El Tri Norte, but the smartest strategy is embracing the local Mexican-Americans. Marketing isn't even needed. Coach: Herrera. Sign a bunch of young mexican guns: Damm, Reyes, Corona, Jimenez, Salcedo, Pineda, Gonzalez, Bueno--some of these guys will want to go to LA. Throw in a bunch of homegrown talent from the Kleiban tribe (if they landed at LAFC), talent from Texas and SoCal, stir, and instant team. Building a white-guy kickball team with old MLS coaches is a recipe for disaster in that market. You don't have to be a rocket surgeon, but I'm curious how this new ownership group will make hard work of the whole process.

  4. Santiago 1314 replied, September 17, 2015 at 10:22 p.m.

    Chivas Got Shut Down because they were RACIST!!!...FIRED all the Gringo coaches and Players...This is America...No Americans should be excluded for Selections Based on RACE, RELIGION, CREED or NATIONAL ORIGIN...(Now Sexual Orientation)...

  5. R2 Dad replied, September 18, 2015 at 9:47 p.m.

    Racist or not, they failed because LA is filled with Mexican-Americans but only a minority of them are Chivas fans. Vergara could have embraced a more generic mexican fan and succeeded (before he fired the white coaches).

  6. Ric Fonseca, September 17, 2015 at 10:52 p.m.

    Oh ye guys of little faith and it's fearless leader Ragin' Ridge! It seems to me that y'all be much against anything written and appearing in these sage pages! Again, I'll take y'all back to the early 70's to then nascent yet "stillborn birth" of the old NAPSL/NASL and the cute names they gave their teams, and yes to include the old MISL and the old LA LAzers that played in the old LA Forum. Yep, and then when the Los Angeles Aztecs came into town former UCLA head coach Terry Fisher was signed by the Aztecs,the inaugural college draft started oh, FYI, Sigi Schmid and Steve Sampson played for Terry Fisher at UCLA) But,I digress, suffice to say that the old LA Aztecs moniker did not sit too well with the other soccer playing communities of this vast metropolis, why? 'cause they cried out in this wilderness, that why appeal only to the Mexican/Latino community? Well pilgrim, in the late '70s Televisa and it (LA AZtecs were to mirror Club America) bought the team, and went on to play at the Rose Bowl, and then the LA Coliseum but still they couldn't do diddly and eventually closed shop. So what about the newest addition to MLS? So what if they opted to be called the LAFC? And know what, pilgrims? They whittled down the suggested names to three: LAFC, Futbol Club de Los Angeles, and.... ready for this? LA Aztecs! And R2Dad, as for having "an ownership bereft of local hispanics..." you don't include Nomar Garciaparra (and his wife Mia Hamm) - ok, ok, so he's a retired MLB player, so what!? 'Sides, they were looking for some local Hispanics with a lot of dinero and maybe there are some that we don't know about or heard from? One of the strongest suits going with the marketing group it has, is that they will do everything to attract a wide Latino AND futbol-soccer fan base, and for sure, despite the LAG's appeal and locale in the southwestern part of the county, is that there aren't many Hispanics/Latinos that are attracted by the LAG brand, ok, maybe now that they've got Gio DS. In my conversations with some LAFC head honchos, I feel strongly that they WILL BE an attractive team and brand. And for goodness sake, Ridge, they've still some to go before they will even sign a large front office staff, head coach, players, etc. As for the future site for their stadium, come on now, the old LA Sports Arena has been talked about for many years as a possible site for a futbol-soccer only venue, and even old man Vergara (Chivas USA owner) wanted to build another "Rebano" a-la-a his Chivas Omnilife Stadium in Guadalajara in that location, but his timing was way off (as if it isn't still?). And IMO, so what if they decided to be called Los Angeles Football Club? Let's just let them get ready to PLAY ON!!! Saludos, y'all!

  7. Ric Fonseca, September 17, 2015 at 10:56 p.m.

    > Senor Santiago 1314, Chivas USA's franchise was bought out for many other reasons than just the one you mention above!

  8. Raymond Weigand, September 18, 2015 at 1:40 p.m.

    hahaha ... Los Angeles 2018 ... in the spirit of the german clubs. And they could sign 20 + 18 year olds and really match the words of player development with the actions of player development. So Cal has hundreds of thousands of players ... no need to go too far to find a group worthy of a coach. It is the coach that will become key to how well a group of So Cal kids will navigate the various expectations. And ... as a backup ... LA Fitness ... once we get a long term sponsorship deal ... no need to argue the benefit (bene - Fit) of a team that can play at pace for 45 minutes X 2 sets. 3rd idea for Magic and Nomar and Mia ... More ... Further ... East ... to Riverside, CA ... and the name shall be = Travelling Blues and we crank Led Zeppelin after every goal! And we get sponsored by Blimpies !! That would be ... Awesome! hahaha

  9. Ric Fonseca, September 18, 2015 at 2:04 p.m.

    Hey Raymond Weigand, like your post! I couldn't agree with you more since we're actually in LA Live land, and also the land of LZ, Blimpies, tacos, and bacon wrapped hotdogs smothered in caramelized onions after every game, then meander over to Staple Centerland, and partake in good suds at the Yard House or then go for some sushi or dance the rest of the night away at a Latino club. So, can anyone say LA-FC??!!!

  10. Raymond Weigand, September 18, 2015 at 2:21 p.m.

    I forgot to mention ... Tacos! The supermarket taco of choice ... Cardenas!
    Those guys do it up right ... they got the TV playing a game while you wait ... and then you hang out until half time. hah!

  11. Max Neuberger, September 18, 2015 at 2:24 p.m.

    Well, it could be worse. They could have named themselves Football Union Los Angeles.

  12. Ric Fonseca, September 18, 2015 at 4:31 p.m.

    Hola Max, where in heck did you come up with "Football Union Los Angeles???" Also another tidbit of information re: the early planning stages (1993-94) for the to be born MLS, I vividly recall one day at the WCUSA Headquarters - in Century City (LA)- being summoned by Mark Abbott (now a big honcho within MLS)with the purpose of discussing about my experiences with the LA Aztecs - what worked and what did not with the LA futbol-soccer communities; the chat lasted almost two hours and we covered many topics from the youth scene to the collegiate to the local Latino oriented leagues - affiliated and unaffiliated, the officiating groups, etc. Fast forward to another meeting with the new LAG owners, and way before the old Home Depot (now Stub Hub) stadium was built, and spoke with Danny Villanueva Jr, about the same topics I chatted with Mark Abbott. The point is that while the new and small and young "Marketing" group of the LAFC may sound a bit "off the wall," as indicated in Ridge's piece above, in my humble opinion, Los Angeles is a helluva place to start up anything, much less "another pro soccer" yet IT IS doable and I firmly believe that the owners of the LAFC are doing their work and due diligence, and all I can say, is just wait, all the glitz, pomp and circumstance. youth groups old and young futbol-soccer playing men and women, mariachis, tacos al carbon, cerveza fir and a-la-UK,(warmish ales)search lights, Magic Johnson, Mia Hamm and Nomar, and all the dancing groups will be out there, and of course, we cannot omit the delicious aroma of bacon-wrapped hot dogs smothered in onions!!! And I bet Kobe Bryant will also show up and who know who else, maybe Chicharito? Just wait, it WILL happen!!!

  13. Max Neuberger replied, September 18, 2015 at 4:44 p.m.

    It would end up being FU LA, which being a SF Giants fan would be fine with me.

  14. aaron dutch, September 18, 2015 at 10:30 p.m.

    Ric, i didnt know you were from LA, your knowledge is great. As a little kid growing up in Boyle Heights in the 1970's going to Las Aztecez matches with taco's & my drunk uncles was a great time. I still have at my moms house George Best & Johan Cruyff signed jerseys i got at the matches at the LA Coliseum & Rose Bowl. They also played indoors which was crazy as a kid to see. I played on AYSO team and Rinus Michels ran a practice which my mom still has a polaroid (remember those:)

  15. Santiago 1314 replied, September 19, 2015 at 7:13 a.m.

    Nice,...Cruijff is my Hero Player...and Michels for Coach of the History...

  16. aaron dutch, September 19, 2015 at 8:07 a.m.

    Santiago 1314 -- I wish i really understood all that as a kid:) When i saw the Cosmos come to LA i did realize this was massive between the 2 teams.

  17. aaron dutch, September 19, 2015 at 8:17 a.m.

    I will say if they dont get an Academy up and buy a USL, NPSL teams ASAP cut some IMG in LA deal for top notch pay to play kids, build the Sr. Academy for free (college kids) USC, UCLA, Cal State Long Beach, Peperdine, etc.. to build a quick funnel of local pay to play prospects which you could do in a year to 2 as an easy start. That there avg playing high end part taken care of.

    Then you could have open tryout NPSL teams for local youths and high end youth club players to build their dynamic youth academy . Then they could raid Mexico for top youth (14-17 yrs old) to fill their new Mexico Academy in TJ. Lastly they could start prepping a real partnership with big euro clubs for feeder of oldies but goodies (Bayern & Barca would be great for this if you understand the LA market)

  18. Santiago 1314, September 20, 2015 at 1:47 a.m.

    Bayer LAverkausen...That would have been a Perfect name!!!

  19. aaron dutch, September 20, 2015 at 2:54 p.m.

    good one, not the worst idea given all the weird ideas we will see in the next 5 years

  20. Ric Fonseca, September 21, 2015 at 10:25 p.m.

    Aaron Dutch, boy you bring up some very interesting names. I do have to throw some caution into the wind, vis-a-vis building "... the Sr. Academy for free...") 'cause only and unless the NCAA changes its antiquated and pollyanish rules, being connected to a pro-team will not happen. The LA Aztecs tried it one season and it failed miserably. As for raiding Mexico for top youth, if and a big IF the Alianza group is still in operation in three years, heck have the LAFC use them since they - Alianza - take "great pride" in conducting tryouts for not only LIGA MX teams, but also for some Saldavorean and Honduran pro teams, and as for building "their new Mexico Academy in TJ..." only would this happen if the big shots of the Mexzican Football Federation and LIGA MX team owners with the Xolos, will get a piece of the $$$action. But I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that the small cadre of LAFC front office staff is looking deeply into this and other possibilities!!! Saludos desde Los Angeles, Califaztlan!!!

  21. Ric Fonseca, September 21, 2015 at 10:27 p.m.

    Hey Aaron, don't forget that the LA Aztecs started out playing at El Camino College, the team owned then by a guy named John Chaffetz (sp?) and I also remember them drafting several players out of UCLA, including the trading of six players for a newbie out of UCLA that had been drafted by a Texan team.

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