East Rutherford, New Jersey | Names for Major League Soccer clubs these days appear to have all the staying power of names for PGA Tour events. Last week Red Bull New York—which, confusingly, will compete as the New York Red Bulls—supplanted the MetroStars with the latter’s acquisition by Red Bull GmbH of Austria. This follows the rebranding exercise undertaken in Houston (see Mar 6), where city fathers and team officials appear to have settled on Houston Dynamo, the club’s fourth identity since 1996 (following Houston 1836, San Jose Earthquakes and San Jose Clash).
Identity has been a similar struggle for the MetroStars, an amorphous team in the country’s largest media market, toiling in the shadows of the gridiron-football Giants and Jets in its present stadium as well as the shadow from posterity of the North American Soccer League’s Cosmos. Jack Bell of the New York Times labels the club “terminally mediocre.” It has never played for the MLS championship, which is not surprising until one considers that the league in 10 seasons has never had more than 12 teams and that nearly every side makes the end-of-season playoffs. Former MetroStar Tab Ramos, the first player signed by MLS, says he has lost all affiliation with the club.
The identity has been lost. In Europe, there are plenty of teams that haven’t won a championship in 100 years and they are still around with all their history. I wanted to win a championship here. We tried as hard as we could. You look at all the work that has been done for 10 years, and that’s gone.
Also stirring ill feeling is the exclusion of “New Jersey” from the team’s new name. The marketing-driven oversight, pioneered by the New Jersey–based Giants and Jets, has drawn the ire of the governor’s office, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the state legislature and the head of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. The latter administers the Meadowlands, Red Bull New York’s current home ground until they can locate to a smaller stadium of their own in New Jersey’s Hudson County.
The Times‘s Bell points out that previous North American professional teams have adopted the moniker of corporate owners. He cites the Decatur (Ill.) Staleys, forerunners of the National Football League’s Chicago Bears. The equation of sponsorship with team identity certainly exists in world soccer, as one must squint to find a team logo on jerseys dominated by names of financial concerns, mobile-phone networks, beers and websites. For New Jersey, though, this latest affront to the state’s existence sticks in the craw. Writes the Bergen County Record‘s Jeffrey Page:
In that refusal to acknowledge the name of this state is a message to New Jerseyans. That is that the NFL can deal with a team that doesn’t inform anyone which Carolina the Panthers play in and a team based in Tampa, a place where the favorite pastime is perspiring. But somehow there would be disorder and confusion if a team bore the word “Jersey”—admittedly a place where the favorite activity is road rage.
And now, another professional sports team is dissing Jersey.
Ever optimistic, Red Bull New York president and general manager Alexi Lalas says the investment—the Red Bull concern is said to have paid more than $100 million for the club and for naming rights to and half-interest in the new stadium—will boost the domestic game and create “America’s first superclub.” They will surely be super if they can combine the following Red Bull formula for success, in order of appearance on a recently acquired 8.3-oz. can (bearing the legend, “With Taurine. Vitalizes body and mind.”):
1 Carbonated water
4 Sodium citrate
5 Taurine (C2H7NO3S, claimed to enhance caffeine’s effects)
6 Glucuronolactone (said to fight fatigue)
11 Pyridoxine HCL
12 Vitamin B12
13 Artificial flavors
14 [Artificial] colors
What a team!
Update: The blatant rebranding of the MetroStars has fostered ill will among some supporters, who would rather back a team than a beverage. Although the Green Bay Packers (NFL), Anaheim Mighty Ducks (NHL) and Connecticut Sun (WNBA) take their names from commercial interests, the Red Bull identity shift strikes sports-marketing experts as more brash. “It’s sort of the last bastion in American sports,” says Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. “We haven’t been willing to accept it. I’m not sure if that’s right or wrong, it’s just not been done.”
Bethlehem Steel Soccer Club, 11 July 1921.
In U.S. soccer, though, Bell of the New York Times calls attention to the amalgam of club origins in the early days. Clubs frequently had their backgrounds in ethnic societies or in business. Bell lists 10 U.S. clubs with company affiliations from before World War II, most notably Bethlehem Steel of Pennsylvania, “arguably the most winning soccer team in US history.”