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Wacky MLS branding strikes again in Miami

September 7, 2018

The new MLS team in Miami finally has a name: Club Internacional de Fanduacute;tbol Miami. Its a mouthful, but not to worry. Theyre shortening it to Inter Miami for a nickname.

So youve got a club in the United States with a Spanish-language name, whose nickname refers to either Italian giants Internazionale or Brazilian heavyweights Internacional. Thats three, perhaps four languages involved in one club nickname. A new record for nonsensical MLS branding.

If you look at the leagues history, nonsensical branding is a category with an awful lot of competition.

Its hard to top the original MLS teams for wacky branding. Marketing folks, with free rein with the new league, got a little carried away with the idea that soccer was a new counter-cultural thing in the U.S. and thus needed a whole new style of branding. Remember, this was the mid-1990s, when the next big thing in sports was roller hockey teams with neon colors and non-plural names (bonus points if you remember the Minnesota Arctic Blast or the Minnesota Blue Ox).

In the new league, D.C. United was the only team with a normal name. The other seven featured such hard-to-take-seriously team names as the Kansas City Wiz and the Dallas Burn. The New York/New Jersey MetroStars might have been the most labored team name in the history of professional sports, roller hockey or not. The worst might have been the Tampa Bay Mutiny, which featured a bat-like character as the team logo because the marketing person in charge got the word mutiny confused with the word mutant.

When the league began to expand in 2004, a new trend emerged: stealing authentic European-style names. This is why a team in Salt Lake City named itself Real, as if it were a Spanish club; why Houston borrowed its Dynamo nickname from either Moscow or Kiev, and why Kansas City took on the Sporting nickname of a famed Portuguese side.

The effect was less authentic and more Soccer Mad Libs, like a FIFA video game had developed a glitch and started randomly renaming American soccer teams.

Miamis new name is in that vein, a tradition thats mostly died out in MLS naming. But even so, it sometimes feels like branding is the chief product of MLS. Inter Miami released a one-page sheet detailing every element of its new logo, containing such nonsense phrases as The Heron Legs communicate our unity.

Austin FC, the theoretical new home for the Columbus Crew, did the same, releasing a windy explanation of its new tree-focused logo an unfortunate symbol, given owner Anthony Precourts desire to uproot the Crew from Columbus.

All that branding doesnt feel authentic. The effect is, well, Astroturf . Its imitating something it isnt, and the harder it tries to match the real thing, the further from the real thing it becomes.

The fakeness of Astroturf is why so many soccer players dont like playing on it. MLS teams make huge efforts to brand themselves in an authentic manner and come up with names that are both exciting and traditional. But the harder they try, the more theyre in danger of going the same way as Astroturf, and feeling more and more fake.

Writer Jon Marthaler gives you a recap of recent events and previews the week ahead. jmarthaler@gmail.com

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