The monopolization an entire professional sports league has become the American way of doing things. In the National Football League, Reebok has lay claim to its thirty-two teams, as it has with the National Hockey League. Majestic has secured rights to teams in Major League Baseball as Adidas has with the National Basketball Association. The four major sports leagues in the United States have each reached substantial agreements with one official producer of apparel. Major League Soccer is not different as it continues to grow and begin to rival the likes of the NBA and NHL in terms of attendance in some markets, it comes as no surprise that MLS, too, has an apparel contract with a sole company, Adidas.
Despite agreement between the United States Soccer Federation and Nike for the national teams, it is even less of a surprise that Adidas is aware of the importance of retaining MLS, as it has since its inception. The deal has been renewed and expanded upon multiple times, though with few specifics disclosed to the public. The benefits, however, satisfy the needs of the league and the importance of its development not only in the professional ranks with the first teams but at its foundation - the youth level of the game.
The topic is revisited in light of Liverpool’s massive kit sponsorship that was announced late last week. The $41.3 million per year deal more than doubles the clubs current agreement with Reebok (owned by Adidas) and surpasses Nike’s contract with Manchester United. As reported by Goal.com last week and according to PR Marketing in Germany, Liverpool sells an estimated 900,000 jerseys per year. However, stateside more than 40,000 jerseys of New York Red Bull’s #14, Thierry Henry, alone were sold last season, leading Major League Soccer.
MLS still appears to receive minimal recognition through Adidas’ marketing efforts. As a part of the new deal, was the effort to increase player and team exposure through campaigns. Its ‘All in’ marketing flashes the likes of Los Angeles Galaxy’s David Beckham and Philadelphia Union’s Danny Mwanga. It is a start for the league’s marketing, which began in mid-March, but much more is crucial to increase the awareness of Major League Soccer, particularly in smaller and struggling markets.
Without competition, it is difficult to criticize Adidas’ efforts, but the downside to any exclusive agreement is clear. Some of the most effective marketing has occurred during a match between clubs of different apparel manufacturers. The FIFA World Cup set the bar high in this regard, as it drew passion and fan loyalty not only to the club, but also to the brand as apparel companies competed through means of commercials vying for the best advertisement using sponsored players to market the team and products.
As Nike has successfully been able to do with clubs such as Manchester United (formerly with Umbro) and Adidas has with Chelsea, it is doubtful that other than by lack of choice, Adidas will create the same cult-like following with teams in the MLS. When the time comes and the Adidas’ exclusivity runs out, the cries of few fans will be heard, as clubs’ kits will see new designs and technology. Every apparel company is different, bringing with it various benefits for the entire club.
Unsuccessful in finding other soccer leagues with sole apparel providers, it is clear that this is not a sustainable route. The top soccer teams and leagues in the world thrive on the competition created by dealing directly with apparel and kit sponsors. As the league continues to expand to upwards of twenty teams and the nineteenth club in Montreal makes its debut in 2012, the selling power of MLS kits will also increase. It will be interesting to see to if the current deal between Adidas and MLS survives through 2018. Despite the lack of public information related to the agreement, it is likely that the potential for options and extensions exist, ones that Adidas would be wise to hold on to given the league’s increasing rate of growth.
Christopher Savino is a columnist for Goal.com. His feature, "Business Off The Pitch" appears every Monday. Contact Chris at email@example.com with questions, comments and concerns or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/chrissavino