If you can't sell out, sell out; or, how two MLS teams can survive in the same market

Sorry it's been a week.  Anyway, I was going to talk about teams that pretty much come pre-sponsored.  By the way, no longer do I feel that silly that I forgot about PSV until Roger Allaway reminded me, because so did Wikipedia.  I don't know whether that's the best possible outcome, or the worst, but apparently some names end up transcending the the sponsorship.  Eventually you say the name without thinking about the product, at least not consciously.  The Detroit Pistons come to mind, although whenever I buy pistons I always make sure they're Zollner. The Wikipedia list barely touches Japanese teams - the Nippon Ham Fighters name makes more sense when you realize there's a company called Nippon Ham.  They make kosher matzoh crackers.

Also, I had no idea that the New Orleans Shell Shockers had anything to do with oil.  I thought it was about oysters.

So once upon a time a corporation sponsored a New York-area team in an up-and-coming American soccer league.  They named the entire team after the company, and even caused some geographical confusion.  The team, despite high hopes and big names, was never more than a slightly-below average team.

That team was Indiana Flooring, which played four seasons in the 1920's ASL.  So old are the most unwelcome recent innovations.

The punch lines about Red Bull buying the Metrostars have been writing themselves since 2006.  It's forgotten now that the Metrostars name itself was a corporate tribute to Metromedia, but where before it was entirely possible assume the Metrostars were only about sportsmanship and the love of soccer (chortle), Red Bull don't do subtle.

Except the name of the product lends itself easily to sports nicknames.  Perhaps one day MLS will return to the South with Coca-Cola Atlanta and Cheerwine Charlotte, but New York Red Bulls could pass for a real team name.  Interestingly, the real branding controversy over changing the team name was about "New York," not "Red Bulls."

But that, too, was about marketing, wasn't it?  Red Bull thought New York sounded better than New Jersey.  To who?  Not to fans - it's doubtful that a single fan from the five boroughs, let alone upstate or Long Island, made the trek to East Rutherford or Harrison because the team was called New York, and would have stayed home if they had been called New Jersey.  This was about seeming to be a big, important team from a big important town (like Green Bay), and about making advertisers and sponsors think they would reach a huge market.  Note carefully in Ziegler's 2006 article the emptiness of the threats New Jersey politicians made towards Mateschitz and Red Bull - the team was not thrown out of New York Giants Stadium, and Red Bull Arena was built in New Jersey for this New York team.

So this is why Red Bull and MLS haven't shot down the idea of a second New York team - nay, they've encouraged it at every turn, short of letting in the clowns behind the New New York Cosmos.  And why wouldn't Red Bull let in a second New York team?  Another New York Whatevers would legitimize their enterprise still further, and get their team name spoken even more.  What would they lose - their Jersey-based fans are over a barrel, and city-based Red Bulls fans might not find it that much more convenient to go wherever the new team plays anyway.  And it isn't like fan attendance is the major driver of sports league revenues these days.  As long as you can pan across the field without having to avoid huge sections of empty seats, that will do for the TV audience.

Which brings us to Chivas USA.

Perhaps one day MLS will be so big that teams in LA and New York can not only share markets, but stadiums.  That day is not in the foreseeable, though, nor is it likely to be.  So why is Chivas USA trying to get a slice of such a small pie?

(Also - how do New York-based NFL fans go about choosing between the Giants and the Jets?  Once upon a time it might have been based on which borough you preferred, but now?  I know why LA fans choose between Lakers or Clippers - it's based on whoever's doing better and what tickets you can afford.  I guess people choose between Liverpool and Everton based on something, too, so who knows.)

It probably makes sense to think of Chivas USA purely as a brand extension.  The Chivas name pops up more frequently in American sports pages than otherwise, it appears during months when the Guadalajara club isn't playing, and the team name markets a location much further away than the distance between New York and New Jersey.

Yes, it's sort of like Pepsi advertising on Coke cans, but I can't think of another purpose for Chivas USA at this point. Since the Galaxy just fired Tom Payne for not selling out the Home Depot Center, though, it's hard to see why AEG would tolerate a rival that made a truly serious effort towards their fan base.  It's hilarious to think that when Chivas USA joined the league, they were going to drive the Galaxy out of business.

Chivas USA as a marketing exercise, rather than as a viable MLS team, means, as with Red Bull, it really doesn't matter where the team plays, let alone how well they do on the field or whether anyone shows up to games.  Apparently "brand awareness" right now is worth the expense of fielding an entire MLS team, including building a soccer-specific stadium.

So New York, as well as Los Angeles, can "support" two teams indefinitely - provided one of those teams is a glorified sandwich board.

And provided the corporate parents have unlimited funds and equally unlimited patience.  I'd hate to be a fan of such a monstrosity, though - and my team starts David Beckham wearing an Herbalife shirt, so I know my monstrosities.