New York City FC isn’t the only MLS expansion club with a PR problem

New York City FC isn’t the only MLS expansion club with a PR problem

MLS expansion outfit New York City FC has already earned the ire of fans ahead of its inaugural season by parading Frank Lampard as its marquee signing, loaning him to Manchester City and then losing him to the Premier League for the start of the MLS season. But it seems PR growing pains may be a rite of passage in MLS. Fellow expansion side Orlando City SC has created an outcry of its own on social media by announcing a partnership with Chick-fil-A.

The fast-food chain, known for its anti-gay politics, will “become a Proud Partner of Orlando City during its inaugural Major League Soccer (MLS) season,” according to a statement on the club’s website.

While the club hasn’t revealed the terms of the deal, according to the Orlando Weekly, the partnership enables fans that wear their Orlando City jerseys to Chick-fil-A on game day to eat for free. Unsurprisingly, Twitter blew up in response to the announced partnership.

Comments on a Facebook post announcing the partnership were similarly damning.

With reigning MLS champion LA Galaxy’s jersey sponsor Herbalife currently under multiple regulatory investigations, controversy is really nothing new in MLS sponsorships. In Europe, it’s even worse. Barcelona’s jerseys are essentially sponsored by the government of Qatar, a country that treats workers appallingly and has alleged terror ties. Bundesliga side Schalke 04 is sponsored by Gazprom, a massive oil company, once dubbed Russia’s “most notorious.”

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But for a new team in a town like Orlando, which has one of the top 10 gay populations in the U.S., to choose a partner that will alienate huge numbers of the local population doesn’t seem like the smartest way to grow the league. Nevermind that it reflects badly on MLS as a whole.

“This move calls into question the club’s values and willingness to put money over its supporters,” said Kartik Krishnaiyer, Florida-based former Communications Director for the NASL.

A MLS spokesman pointed out the league's policy of "zero tolerance for discrimination or prejudice of any kind" as stated in its Don't Cross the Line campaign. MLS was also the first American pro sports league to have an openly gay male athlete in Galaxy midfielder/defender Robbie Rogers.

Whether or not a protest is organized in Orlando remains to be seen. But surely there are soccer fans who were curious about this attractive new MLS franchise – with a marquee Brazilian star in Kaka – who might stay away now.

It seems that Orlando City, like NYCFC to a certain extent, has put itself in a position where it may need to mend fences with certain fans before having even kicked a ball.