There’s an odd undercurrent in MLS, a background noise. There’s nothing insidious about it, just curious. What do I mean?
Historically, MLS sponsors have been weird and, I’d say, obscure for the most part. Every time I introduce friends to watching MLS games I have to field questions like “What the hell is Herbalife/Xango?” or incredulous statements like “Amway? Seriously?” (Fortunately, that particular pyramid scheme is gone). I have to explain that the New York Red Bulls are actually in New Jersey and that Red Bull is the sponsor not so much the team name and that they own several sporting teams. I have to sigh and say, “Yes, Pizza Hut owns the naming rights” or explain how I don’t care who the sponsor is we’re not drinking any beer that looks like urine.
Which is why I kinda like that this season there are a few throwback sponsors, a sort of old-timey commerce. My own Chicago Fire has taken the Wilford Brimley route with their kit sponsor Quaker ; you can’t get much more curmudgeon-y than that. Given the make-over that Quaker is trying to give its mascot, this may be part of a larger scheme to make oats hip to ‘the young people.’ Not to be outdone, Chicago rivals, the Columbus Crew, threw the anachronistic Barbasol on the table as their raise. Barbasol…it’s a product that I didn’t think still existed or only existed in the handful of Ben Franklin five & dime stores that barely continue to exist in far-flung corners of the American Heartland (take note Philadelphia for future sponsorship). But it’s not just kit sponsorship, MLS itself gives its weekly ten performers’ list to Castrol, that motor oil that your dad & grandpa always had half a can of in the garage .
What we have here is a fantasy of masculinity, one that eats heartily, works on machines, and then goes to clean up by shaving ‘like a man.’ I can almost see the sepia super-8 movie reel of a young son looking admiringly at all the things his father is doing. Soccer in America still has to put up with a lot. Most recently, meat-head CEO Dana White gave voice to the mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging masses. So I can see why MLS might be trying to coax this subtle image. I can also see a room full of suits determined to mine the hipster market with its love of retro-kitsch. Whatever it may be, I can chuckle good-naturedly with my new MLS loving friends about it. The fact is, nostalgia is queer and I like it.