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In the absence of paying customers, Major League Soccer promised to enhance its broadcast product during the MLS is Back Tournament, that kicked off on a practice field in Orlando on Wednesday night.
There was talk of more cameras. More microphones. More bells and whistles. What the league didn’t say is that they would superimpose a mammoth Adidas logo across the center of the field for its nationally-televised reopening match between Orlando City and expansion side Inter Miami.
For those watching at home, the look was jarring. FIFA rules prohibit team branding or advertising of any sort to be painted on the playing surface. Games at the highest level are staged on immaculate, un-defaced carpets of grass. But MLS, which is projecting a billion dollar hit because of the impact of COVID-19, appears to have found a loophole by digitally adding longtime sponsor Adidas’s brand mark to the presentation.
The German sportswear giant has been a league sponsor since its inaugural season in 1996 and its exclusive equipment supplier since 2006. In 2017, it inked a $700 million extension to that pact, one MLS commissioner Don Garber called “by far the biggest deal in the history of our league” at the time.
Not surprisingly, MLS were quickly taken to task on social media for the move. Former United States national team player turned commentator Janusz Michallik wondered what might be next.
Sports Business reporter Bob Williams pointed out that the subject was trending on Twitter in the U.S.
FC Yahoo contributor Graham Ruthven, watching the match from Scotland, noted that the logo was not included on the international broadcast feed:
And USA Today reporter Andrew Joseph pointed out the dichotomy of the logo appearing moments after a lengthy and powerful protest by the players against systemic racism directed at Black people.
For all of those that hated the logo, there is some hope. Joseph pointed out that FIFA’s rules also prohibit virtual advertising on the field of play. World soccer’s governing body has let MLS slide on the letter of the law in the past, so it remains to be seen if they’ll force the league to nix the distracting image.
In the court of public opinion, though, the verdict is already in.
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