One of the announcements that fluttered out during the buildup to the MLS Cup was that the Kansas City Wizards would christen their new stadium with a new brand name for their franchise. The name they picked? Sporting Kansas City.
“Our mission is to connect Kansas City to the premier professional sports experiences in the Midwest,” Sporting President Robb Heineman said. “We look forward to sharing more exciting news about future events and to hosting all our great fans in our new home upon its opening in June.”
By now, many bloggers and pundits have dogged the rebrand. In fact, I do find myself saying, “What kind of sense does that name make?” Is the entire city, “Sporting?” Are they out hitting the golf ball, or throwing the bocce ball? Are they wearing clothes (I hope)?
Upon further review, the name is a reference to “Sporting Lisbon,” as those outside of the Portuguese-speaking world call it. Of course, the literal translation of the official name of the model club is, “Sports Club Of Portugal,” or in the colloquial sense, “Portugal Sports Club.”
Suffice it to say, the name “Kansas City Sports Club,” would ring much truer to American sensibilities. In fact, in this age of Europeanized names in American soccer, the only one that works for me is “Football Club.” It’s easy. People understand “Football Club,” they know it’s not pigskin and goalposts. They know that they won’t have to pay $1,500 application deposit, followed by another $1,000 for an initiation fee, and finally the $10,000 yearly dues to maintain their membership. It’s a team. (If Sporting KC is going to be a club where you have to pay that much, then I wish them good luck!)
What this boils down to is what appears to be a desire within the MLS to set itself apart from normal American sports nomenclature, while also paying homage to cultures where soccer works (and works very well). Unfortunately, it’s setting itself apart in a way that alienates rather than incorporates.
Take the Philadelphia Union for example. The Union has been a model for incorporating fans into the heart and soul of the franchise. By the time the Union took the field, the supporters had united to a front which allowed the team to open PPL Park to filled seats and boisterous fans. It also helps that the name makes sense for the city in the grand scheme, given its place in American history.
In the case of Kansas City, maybe the same type of initiative is coming aground. To me, Sporting KC doesn’t sound like something you’d find in Midwestern US. Can it really connect with the population? There has to be some local flair that would integrate the regional culture, and thus endear the club to its audience. If the MLS wants to succeed in reaching people, that should be the formula.