In case you’ve been living under a rock, Orlando is hosting the 2019 MLS All-Star Game. This year’s jerseys were unveiled last week and have appeared to divide online opinion. Some have just flat out hated the design while others have been repulsed by the idea of wearing another team’s colors and doing their best “old man shouts at cloud” impression but regardless of whether you like them or not, it was an inevitable move in keeping the exhibition event relevant in soccer’s increasingly hyperaware commercial landscape.
We’re in the fifth season of the new-look MLS. The league unveiled its new sleek shield logo in 2015. MLS, just like the rest of the world, has become incredibly brand-conscious and the rebrand was part of that. The crest did away with the old awkward foot and ball design, instead allowing for the brand to project a more professional and confident image that soccer no longer needed to explain itself in the US.
It’s no coincidence that since 2015, the league’s All-Star jerseys have been sucked into this one coherent league-centric brand image. Where the team crest would normally be, the MLS shield has appeared instead and the jersey designs themselves have been largely unadventurous in their color scheme, largely sticking to the red, white and blue seen on the MLS logo. 2015’s jersey design was simple and elegant, usually code for plain and boring in this context but for a debut year attempt it was effective in its purpose. By 2018, however, the plain white with minimal red and blue detailing was frankly boring.
It was a world away from the character shown in the All-Star jerseys before the rebrand. Prior to 2015, the All-Star logo was a host-city specific design giving the game a bigger sense of occasion and the jersey much more of an identity, albeit the crests were a bit busy and, at times, ugly. Add to this that the jerseys themselves bore the same color scheme of the respective host team – 2014’s kit had the green and yellow trim of the Portland Timbers while the year before was predominately the two shades of blue from the Sporting Kansas City crest.
Fast-forward to 2019 and the most recent incarnation of the All-Star jersey will see a return to the host city color scheme, proudly bearing the Orlando City purple. And although the team’s crest will remain as the MLS shield, coherent with previous branding, it will adopt a purple façade — something not exactly new with another upside to the league’s minimalist rebrand being its versatility in customizing to each team’s individual colors. Orlando City arguably has one of the strongest identities in the league with the purple distinguishing it from almost any other club on the continent and the league has been shrewd into latching on.
While the purple has garnered much exception, largely from salty rival MLS fans, the reaction is a strong sign that it’s making an impression — something that couldn’t be said for last year’s lackluster effort. I don’t doubt that for every gif of someone throwing up or eyes burning the MLS account receives, there’ll be a purple-crazed Orlando fan, objective MLS fan, or complete neutral just wishing to pick up a souvenir of the game, making a purchase, and taking advantage of its uniqueness.
And it isn’t just the host team that will be reaping rewards either. Since the league’s rebrand, the visiting opponents have only been able to wear their home shirts 50% of the time as opposed to all but once in the preceding five years (Chelsea in Philadelphia, 2012). Last year, Juventus had to do away with their iconic black and white stripes, something which they have ironically now ditched for the first time in 116 years following their 2019-20 kit announcement, and instead had to wear their solid black third kit because of the clash it may have caused against the All-Stars’ white shirts.
In such a widely marketing game in a country that is still learning to love soccer, you can bet that the marketing folks at the Turin giants weren’t best pleased to hear their team wouldn’t be able flaunt their biggest branding asset. And while both Real Madrid and Arsenal were able to wear their home shirts with the All-Stars wearing blue on both those occasions, 2015 saw Tottenham rock up wearing blue so as to again avoid clashing with the All-Stars’ white.
Let’s not be naïve; the primary purpose of the All-Star game is a marketing exercise. With the ever-increasing lucrative financial deals European teams make to travel to foreign continents during preseason and the increasing number of European teams creating U.S.-based offices, comes an inherent interest in increasing their global reach. A large part of that is building up a brand image and there’s no stronger image to send than looking exactly how people expect you to look.
Juventus wear black and white stripes, Real Madrid are all in white, and Manchester United wear red, just like they did in consecutive All-Star games in 2010 and 2011. It’s exactly the situation that Atlético Madrid, who are well-known for playing in red and white stripes, would have found themselves being unable to capitalize on this year were the All-Stars to play in red, white, and blue, but the timely switch to purple would strongly suggest they have a fair shout at donning their customary red and white now after all.