The case for MLS’ bulging Adidas logo, a forgettable distraction among real evils

Don't hate the giant Adidas logo superimposed on MLS broadcasts. Embrace it. (Via ESPN/Henry Bushnell)
Don't hate the giant Adidas logo superimposed on MLS broadcasts. Embrace it. (Via ESPN/Henry Bushnell)

Major League Soccer challenged soccer conventions on Wednesday. Some thought it even broke FIFA rules. As far as FIFA rule-breaking goes, it was petty theft at worst. But it was quite blatant petty theft. And since, it’s continued unabashed. On every MLS Is Back Tournament broadcast, a black Adidas logo has bulged from midfield. It isn’t painted on Florida grass. It’s superimposed on TV feeds. And fans don’t like it.

It is, to the soccer purist, corruptive and distracting. It trended on Twitter. It’s too big, too bold. Advertisements have decorated sideline boards and endline patches of grass for years now. The blaring logo, to some, is a decibel too loud, a bridge too far. It’s unavoidable.

It’s also making MLS money — without costing you a dime.

Which is why you should welcome it.

I’m not here to tell you to ignore superimposed sponsor logos on soccer broadcasts. But I am here to tell you that over time, your brain gradually will. That novelty and obtrusiveness go hand in hand. That as one fades, the other does too. That as technology improves, you’ll forget.

And more importantly, that superimposed sponsor logos are better than the alternative — which you don’t see when you watch games, but which your wallet does.

Soccer needs to be inventive to make advertising money

Soccer’s television brilliance is threefold: It’s finite, uninterrupted and plentiful. The games take less than two hours. The halves roll on without commercials. The sport is almost always available; because it’s almost always being played somewhere, and modern technology can almost always find it and bring it to your living room.

Soccer’s television downside, however, is that by major sport standards, it isn’t easy to monetize. The average NFL game features around 60 minutes of commercials. The NBA and MLB come in somewhere above the half-hour mark. Soccer checks in at around 7 minutes per match, or half of halftime. Which is extremely attractive to viewers … and problematic for broadcasters.

And if it’s problematic for broadcasters, it’s problematic for the sport. Money helps the game grow. The more money broadcasters can make on games, the more money they’ll pay leagues for exclusive rights. The more money they pay for rights, the more money leagues have to spend on players and reinvest in the sport.

Both leagues and broadcasters, therefore, have incentive to maximize game-adjacent revenue. And there are essentially two ways to do that. You can sell the platform to brands, who can then sell their products to viewers. And you can sell your own product to viewers.

In other words, you can sell advertising, and you can sell subscriptions.

And American media executives, in recent years, have moved soccer toward the second model. Games have increasingly gone behind paywalls. Next season, some Champions League and NWSL matches will be on CBS All Access. The Bundesliga, Serie A and much more will be on ESPN+. Second-rate Premier League matches will slide to NBC’s Peacock. Being an avid soccer watcher will be more expensive than ever.

And avid soccer watchers will complain about that. In some instances, rightly so. The segmented landscape prices out new fans. It impedes growth. So go on, complain away.

But if you’re going to complain about rising subscription fees, then don’t complain about a damn Adidas logo.

A lesser of many evils

In short, American soccer fans should want American media companies who invest in soccer to make money. And the more they can make from advertisers, the less they’ll need to charge you.

You’ll still have to pay in some capacity. Live sports will never be free. But soccer leagues and their broadcast partners are looking to push revenue boundaries. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated their push.

In search of more revenue, they could ask you to pay more. They could create costly subscription packages. They could introduce mid-half commercial breaks. They could make the sport longer, less uninterrupted, less widely available.

Instead, they’re asking you to tolerate a superimposed logo. Don’t shame them for it. Embrace it. It’s the future – a more economically fruitful future for both you and them.

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