See, my son, if these have any smell.
So said the emperor Vespasian, defending the Amway sponsorship of the San Jose Earthquakes a little over nineteen centuries before the fact.
He makes a good point, for a dead Italian. Its 14.2857% partnership in Seven Deadly Sins Inc. notwithstanding, the love of money has a storied past and a promising future. Who are we, after all, to argue with both Gordon Gekko and Eric Idle's "Money Makes the World Go Round"? The United Federation of Planets has an economy that transcends money, but notice there's no Major League Soccer in "Star Trek."
On a personal level, since I have spent so many blog posts justifying MLS decisions on cold, dead-eyed financial grounds, it's not necessarily easy for me to oppose this one. We don't have a single table because of money. We don't have promotion and relegation because of money. We don't have reserve leagues because of money. We don't have the Fusion or Mutiny anymore because of money. We have to read about David Freaking Beckham every god-damned day because of money.
And now Amway is sponsoring the Earthquakes, and I've got the Edward G. Robinson look from "Ten Commandments" when Heston comes down the mountain with his mad on. "What, this golden calf? No, can't imagine where it came from. That's a very nice robe, by the way, Moses." Gee, who'd have thought years and years of snotty, strident columns and blog posts would ever backfire?
Nevertheless. There is money that smells.
Amway, for want of a more polite and less accurate description, is a nationwide joke. It is a byword for shoddy products pushed by weasels upon suckers. It is capitalism's answer to the Jehovah's Witnesses, minus the dignity and respect. This isn't the place to trash Amway, although one certainly could. However, it's an interesting mental exercise to come up with a more disreputable company.
The question is, is the money that Amway is putting into the Earthquakes enough to balance out the damage being done to the Earthquakes brand?
It's too late to do anything about sponsorship in MLS, but let's remember what Earthquakes shirts now look like to the wider sporting public. AMWAY in huge letters, and a little picture of a soccer ball and a sun over the portside nipple with "Earthquakes" in smaller letters than "Adidas." Hey, remember how proud you all were that "SAN JOSE" was shown in bold letters on the home jersey, as a sign of the commitment of the new franchise to the community?
Most of the rest of the league's team sponsors are perfectly acceptable products that can be sold legally over a counter or in a store - so while the good name of DC United is overshadowed and diluted by Volkswagen, the association doesn't actually tar either party with any pre-existing negative baggage. While it's crass commercialism, that's where it begins and ends, and if anything Volkswagen probably has more to lose among Red Bull fans than DC had to lose among its fan base who detest German cars. (And I wonder if Red Bull energy drink sales have fallen at all in the DC area.)
Salt Lake and the Galaxy are saddled with multi-level marketers, but while reprehensible, they are thankfully far more obscure than Amway. It's still possible to live your entire life without bumping into Xango in any meaningful way, and since you can't buy the drink (it is a drink, right?) without knowing someone who has bought into it and is trying to push it onto you, it's fairly easy to pretend Xango is a video game or a car company.
Of course, it will be you, the fan, who bears the brunt. People will see you coming in your Earthquake jerseys, San Jose fans, and run quickly in the other direction. And, for a change, it won't be because you're going to rant to them about how evil AEG is. (If Anschutz Entertainment were your sponsor, THEN how would you feel?) You will look like you're selling Amway. You won't look like a soccer fan. Just like Galaxy fans don't look like soccer fans, although "Beckham 23" sort of gives that away a lot of the time.
Honestly, what would be a worse thing to wear out in public? Enzyte and Smilin' Bob, maybe. Or Vivid Video. Even if those absurdities were to happen - and I have every confidence that MLS is working on those as we speak - those simply lead to value judgments about the people in the shirts. Who would you rather sit next to on a plane flight - someone insecure about the size of their little pants puppet, or someone who has a great business opportunity for you? At least the Vivid Video fan enjoys the products in private.
Amway is different. As a long-standing punch line, Amway is getting rehabilitated by its association with a company that has never done harm to anyone. The Galaxy conferred undeserved legitimacy on Herbalife (or would have, if they had bothered to win more than five games or so in the past two years), but the Amway brand in the public eye is beyond saving. The Earthquakes have simply been dragged down into the mire.
Temporarily, one hopes. All Lew Wolff and MLS have to do is calculate whether that damage is worth $2 million a year.
Hey, it may well be worth it. Nobody holds Enron Field against the Houston Astros anymore. This may simply be short-term embarrassment to cover what look to be fairly lean times in Buck Shaw. Sometimes you have to do porn in order to pay tuition, I suppose.
But it's worth looking at big-time American team sports, and pondering why the New York Yankees have never had a sponsor. The Dallas Cowboys have never had a sponsor. The New York Giants, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Toronto Maple Leafs, down to the Houston Texans and the Tampa Bay Lightning. It's not because these are teams and leagues run by dew-eyed innocents living in a gumdrop fairyland. But for decades, these successful teams have left money on the table that MLS is now desperately grabbing. I wonder why that is.
Maybe it's the smell.