The birth of a franchise is exciting. The announcement, the unveiling, the celebration. It instills hope for the future and sparks dreams of “what if”.
That day back in August 2019 when MLS commissioner Don Garber formalized St. Louis as a member of the premier North American soccer league was a day of celebration. The hurdle had been leaped; the games were coming. The potential heartbreak, or downfalls of the games were too far off to matter. A victory had been staked.
However, as much as the introduction of the team is its literal birth, the branding announcement is when the team takes form. For example, prior to this past week, Seattle NHL had no identity. It had owners, it had staff, but it had no identity. Now, they are the “Kraken”. They have colors to paint the building, to put on flyers and signs. They have merchandise to decorate the people of the city in, and they have a rallying cry to unite their community. You can argue how much you like the name, or the colors and logos. But it is definitive now, they are Kraken.
If the announcement of a franchise is their birth, the branding unveiling is their first steps.
In this paediatric timeline of franchises I have laid out here, MLS4THELOU is just now standing up, and on August 13th, it will take its first step. They will announce their name, color, and crest in a virtual town hall, and we will see exactly who they are.
From that original announcement, the St Louis community has been clear about their expectation for the team’s name. They are uninterested in the formulaic European style team name that leaves very little in terms of uniqueness based on the community’s values. The nightmare scenario for many fans is a name like St. Louis FC (even though they already exist), St. Louis City, or St. Louis United.
The general social media consensus seems to be that they would prefer a more “Americanized” name, where the teams nickname is prominently part of the name rather than implied through brand imaging. STL Post-Dispatches Tom Timmerman suggested St. Louis Stars as an example, and I’ve seen St. Louis Steamers as a popular suggestion on social media.
To this point the only team names that are completely ruled out are a series of joking names and logos that the MLS4THELOU twitter account tweeted out Monday morning, including STL Lazer Snakes, STL Capybaras, Chupacabra FC, Louventus, and Kicky McKickertons Football Club. All of which are, if were being honest, fun at the very least. But obviously not the direction anyone thought the program was going.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) for STL MLS fans, it appears they got a glimpse into what their future may look like, and, to be honest it’s not great.
In 2022, the year before St. Louis begins play in the MLS, Charlotte will enter the league. After a month’s long teasing of their potential name and image, they finally announced their team name, logo, and color this past week.
The most boring, typical, traditional, European name possible. The nightmare scenario for any STL fan.
The name comes as a disappointment for modern American soccer fans for a variety of reasons. The first we’ve discussed, but moreover, it is because the organization teased a variety of extremely interesting names all the way up until the formal announcement. The final options on the table for Charlotte MLS included names like Charlotte Crown, Carolina Gliders FC, Charlotte Monarchs, and All Carolina FC. There were very interesting, unique yet Europeanized and American oriented team names on the table, and they still decided to punt. I’d argue any of these names (and the Lazer Snakes) would have made a better name than Charlotte FC.
On top of all this, the crest the team went for has a striking similarity to English Premier League club Chelsea’s, but I’ll leave that for you to decide.
If it wasn’t obvious before, it is now. The direction the MLS as an organization wants to go with its franchisees branding is to orient itself with the rest of “Football” culture and have similar names to those in the European leagues. The last true expansion franchise to join the MLS with an American style team name was the Seattle Sounders FC, who also include the dreaded Football Club designation. Since then, 12 teams have joined the MLS, and by the time St. Louis kicks off for the first time 16 teams will have entered the fold.
Of the 15 names we know, 12 of them include the monikers of FC, SC, Union, Inter, or United. Portland Timbers being the only stand out, with the other 2 franchises being expanded as direct promotions from the minor league USL in the Vancouver Whitecaps FC (!) and Montreal Impact.
It’s time the St. Louis community come to grips with the reality of the situation. The team will not have a traditional American sports franchise name. Portland is an exception and not the rule. The MLS as a league is pushing for its league to have uniformity in its franchise names, and it’s not just a trend, it’s a clear directive. 86% of expansions having a Euro-style name makes this incredibly clear.
So, what do we do with this information? It is my belief that the ownership group at MLS4THELOU clearly have a beat on what the community wants out of the new franchise. They also want something that will bring the community together. I believe the people in charge of the team, Caroline Kindle Betz and Co, are far too intelligent to start their team’s existence off in a way that would be dissatisfying to their audience. MLS influence or otherwise.
So now the tightrope walk begins. MLS4THELOU must find a way to merge the “traditional values” of MLS’ soccer mission, with the “modern thinking” of the St. Louis public. How do you create a unique identity in the confines of the already oversaturated Euro model of “FC’s” and “United’s”? The only clear solution is finding a name formula that isn’t already taken. Something rooted in European sport culture, but is wholly unique to MLS.
Which, isn’t exactly simple.
A quick look through the team names of all of UEFA’s (Union of European Football Associations) team names reminds you of just how popular and common the term “Football Club” or “City” or “United” really is. Very few franchises don’t have the moniker formally placed in their organizations name. It truly is a way of life in those leagues. Every single club in the English Premier league has Football Club in their name, the Spanish La Liga has more diversity but over 2/3rds of their teams use the terms “Real” or “Club de Futbol” or “Athletico”. Italy prefers simply to just use the name of the city, or “Inter” …or of course Football Club, and Germany has its own style full of German language naming…all of which is unhelpful to naming the St Louis franchise.
The French topflight league, Ligue 1, though provides some very unique opportunities. While Football Club and Sporting Club are still popular names, a new name or moniker makes its debut. Five clubs use the term “Olympique”, all for separate reasons. Two of the most popular clubs in France, Olympique Lyonnais and Olympique de Marseille use the name, in addition to Olympique Gymnaste Club Nice, Lille Olympique Sporting Club, and Nimes Olympique.
Olympique Saint Louis.
A club name that not only harkens back to the 1904 Olympic games in St Louis, the third in the modern Olympiad and first in the United States, but also uniquely stations St Louis’ soccer culture along with its city’s connection with French culture. There isn’t a club in America that could even remotely encroach on that type of identity.
While I am told there may be rights issues with any variation of the Olympic moniker, as the United States National Programs and Olympic Committees may hold any variation of that name. That seems more bureaucratic than anything and potentially navigable.
To the credit of the Euro style name, it does offer some unique identity building opportunities. The Toronto FC opted to go for that name rather than the popular rebirth of the Toronto Blizzard from the NASL. That choice allowed the fan base of the modern team create their own identity, which, now has one of the most passionate supports sections in the league, with unique signs, songs and nicknames. It has grown over time, and adapted with each iteration or era of the club. From “worst club in the world” to winning a Treble. Atlanta United has been a revelation of support for an expansion franchise, selling out Mercedes Benz Stadium where their roommate Falcons often times have trouble doing the same. The community was able to shape the team in a way that “Kraken” will never replicate.
Having a simple, “Euro Name” offers the city of St. Louis a unique chance to put their stamp on the MLS and the world. What city adopted the XFL in such a warm embrace, coined its own phrase (Ka-Kaw), created its own merch, and thrusted a third rate league to first-tier fame. The St. Louligans are ten-thousand strong on twitter (let alone the real world) and are almost more notable that the actual club. St. Louis has the passion to create its own identity and make it work. The city should be excited for a clean slate and an opportunity to create…time and time again they prove they are up to the task.
All in all, in two weeks’ time, we will have a name. The ownership group will do their best and we will have an identity of some kind. And while I’m willing to bet it likely won’t be Olympique Saint Louis, I am warning the STL “American team name” faithful it’s time to stop getting your hopes up, and to start preparing.
Something Euro this way comes.