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MLS Lovin' The Jersey Score As 2013 Season Prepares To Hit The Pitch

By Barry Janoff

February 26, 2013: Jerseys are an important part of Major League Soccer, not just because they define the team's they represent, but also because of the revenue they generate in sales and, of at least equal importance, jersey-front sponsorships.

Entering the 2013 MLS season, which begins this weekend, 16 of the league's 19 clubs have jersey sponsorship deals in place. And the Houston Dynamo, which lost its jersey deal earlier this month when the sponsoring company was sold, said they expect to have a new deal in place soon after the beginning of the season.

All MLS jerseys have the logo of corporate partner and official uniform provider adidas.

“Soccer supporters are extremely passionate about everything involving their club,” Maribeth Towers, svp-consumer products for MLS, said in a statement. “But the jersey might be first and foremost. It is the crest that is closest to their heart. Jersey Week will celebrate the soccer jersey. Every stitch, every minor detail, every shade is designed in collaboration between the club and our partner at adidas.”

Jersey-sponsorship deals in MLS run between $1 million-$4 million per season, according to industry analysts. In addition, almost all of those deals are part of larger team alliances that encompass marketing, in-stadium activations and community programs.

A ten-year deal signed last year between the defending MLS champion Los Angeles Galaxy and Herbalife, for example, was valued at more than $44 million, which includes the global nutrition company continuing as the official presenting sponsor and jersey sponsor of the Galaxy. The alliance, which will run through the 2022 MLS season, is the single largest and longest sponsorship agreement for an MLS club in league history, according to MLS.

In launching its 18th season and is putting a lot of weight behind it jersey connections, and not just the New York Red Bulls, a franchise that makes its home in Harrison, NJ.

During the league's self-proclaimed "March to Soccer: Jersey Week," the emphasis for MLS is on the jerseys of all the league's clubs, each of which will be participating in events  that celebrate "the art, detail and nuance behind every club’s jersey and the passion that supporters have for their club."

Among the jersey sponsors entering the 2013 season is Sporting Kansas City's new multi-year alliance with investment firm Ivy Funds, a deal that actually was cut in the wake of the fallout between Lance Armstrong and his LiveStrong Foundation. LiveStrong's logo had been on the team's soccer-specific stadium as part of an umbrella deal that marketing and soccer activations, under which the team would donate a portion of its income to LiveStrong.

That alliance was severed after Armstrong was charged with the illegal use of PEDs during his Tour de France races, which he later acknowledged, and which in turn led to Sporting Kansas City and Livestrong severing ties.

The 2013 MLS All-Star Game is scheduled for July 31 at the renamed Sporting Park.

Other MLS jersey-front sponsors include: Chicago Fire-Quaker, Chivas USA-Corona, Columbus Crew-Barbasol, FC Dallas-Advocare, DC United-Volkswagen, Los Angeles Galaxy-Herbalife, Montreal Impact-Bank of Montreal, New England Revolution-United Healthcare, New York Red Bulls-Red Bull, Philadelphia United-Bimbo, Portland Timbers-Alaska Airlines, Real Salt Lake-XanGO, Seattle Sounders-Xbox, Toronto FC-Bank of Montreal and Vancouver Whitecaps-Bell Canada.

The Houston Dynamo said they are in discussions with other companies to fill the space on their jerseys vacated when an alliance with Greenstar Recycling ended.

"Soccer supporters are extremely passionate about everything involving their club. But the jersey might be first. It is the crest that is closest to their heart."

The Colorado Rapids do not have a jersey sponsor, nor do the San Jose Earthquakes. San Jose's jersey was sponsored by Amway (2009-11) but the club did not have a sponsor last season and none was signed entering 2013. A new deal could be tied in to the club's new stadium, currently being built in San Jose for the 2014 season.

The league said that 12 MLS clubs will unveil at least one new jersey in 2013. Starting in 2014, all 19 MLS clubs will unveil at least one new jersey (home, away or third kit) every year.

According to Ernesto Bruce, adidas' MLS manager, "Working in partnership with MLS and each of the clubs, we have designed and produced new uniforms that not only respect the authenticity of the game, the teams and their supporters but enable each athlete to perform at their highest level."

MLS also hits the 2013 campaign with a solid roster of marketing partners. In addition to adidas, they include Allstate, Aquafina, AT&T, Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), Bimbo, Castrol, Continental Tire, Gatorade, The Home Depot, Xbox 360, Panasonic, Pepsi, Quaker, Red Bull, Visa and Volkswagen. Broadcast partners include NBC, ESPN and Univision.

Teams that play in soccer-specific stadiums or venues with naming rights deals include Colorado Rapids-Dick's Sports Goods, Chicago Fire-Toyota, Houston Dynamo-BBVA Compass, Montreal Impact-Saputo, New England Revolution-Gillette, New York Red Bulls-Red Bull, Philadelphia Union-PPL, Toronto FC-BMO,  Portland Timbers-JeidWen, Real Salt Lake-Rio Tinto and the Seattle Sounders-CenturyLink.

Chivas and Los Angeles Galaxy are seeking a new stadium naming rights partner after The Home Depot said it would not renew its ten-year deal, estimated at $70 million by analysts, when it expires this May.

MLS commissioner Don Garber is scheduled to give his "March to Soccer" state of the league address on Wednesday (Feb. 27). The event, to place in New York at the officies of Google, will be streamed live on MLSsoccer.com, the MLS YouTube Channel and the MLS Google+ page. Previously, the commissioner's annual address had been done via teleconference.

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