Latest "innovation" in the US
27 February ~ On Tuesday MLS team Colorado Rapids embarked on a "Jersey Caravan" around landmarks of the Denver region. The night before, New York Red Bulls hosted a party on a Manhattan pier. And all this week embarrassed MLS players from 12 clubs will be shuffling round bars, museums and a train station wearing new shirts and saying mundane things about the season ahead. This is MLS Jersey Week, a marketing experiment and the latest "tradition" invented by the league. The actual football, which kicks off on Saturday, can’t come soon enough.
Not content with one innovation for 2013 – a Rivalry Week will be played on the third weekend of the season – MLS publicised this series of kit launches earlier in February. Not every club has taken part this year but in 2014 all 19 clubs will be required to unveil a new kit (home, away or third) every single season.
With prices running at $85 (£56) for a standard shirt or $120 for an "authentic" as-worn-on-the-pitch version, it’s an expensive business. MLS and Adidas, who will produce every kit in the league until 2018, stand to make a lot of money from shirt sales. Yet when Jersey Week was first announced Maribeth Towers, senior vice president of consumer products for MLS, had the gall to suggest it was all for the benefit of fans.
"Soccer supporters are extremely passionate about everything involving their club," she said. "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. We’re excited to unveil Jersey Week for our supporters."
The new Colorado Rapids home shirt does at least specifically acknowledge their fans. The names of all 1,451 season-ticket holders at Dick's Sporting Goods Park are printed in darker hoops round the burgundy kit. Houston Dynamo’s new top has the team slogan "Forever Orange" printed "near the neck". There are sure to be plenty of surprises as Jersey Week progresses.
At the New York Red Bulls launch, Tim Cahill seemed appreciative of this year’s shirt. "It's just overwhelming to see what goes into a jersey, not only the stitching and the fabric but erm, no, all the players are happy," he said. Thierry Henry added: "I'll be able to tell you a bit more when I sweat in it."
"The great thing working with Red Bull is that they're a global brand as well," Mike Walker, a product manager at Adidas, said. "And we made sure that the five Red Bull teams kind of look alike as much as we can within the different leagues." I’m sure fans of SV Austria Salzburg, the breakaway team formed after the drink company stole the identity of the original club in 2005, would fervently agree. Ed Upright