St. Louis City SC adds to a trend in Major League Soccer's expansion branding

St. Louis’ expansion Major League Soccer team won’t play until 2023, but on Thursday they revealed their branding.

The team will be known as St. Louis City SC, with red as a primary color and a crest featuring the St. Louis Arch. The logo has some nice touches, they get minor bonus points for going with SC instead of FC, but the color scheme seems to echo the St. Louis Cardinals a bit too much.

It’s inoffensive overall, and maybe that’s all they were going for, but it does continue a frustrating trend within MLS. The City part of the name is forced and generic, joining a number of forced and generic MLS names in recent years.

Since 2015, there have been 12 expansion teams that entered MLS or are set to enter in the coming years: Orlando City, New York City FC, Minnesota United, Atlanta United, Los Angeles FC, FC Cincinnati, Inter Miami, Nashville SC, Austin FC, Charlotte FC, Sacramento Republic and now St. Louis City SC.

Only Sacramento Republic enters with a name that isn’t a ripoff of a traditional European naming convention, a name they are bringing with them from the USL. Sacramento had that name in 2014, when they started playing in the USL.

Inter Miami is the only one in this group with a name that isn’t specifically English, and they got sued by their Italian counterparts in Milan.

St. Louis is the third “City” in this period. Sporting Kansas City doesn’t count because they are more about Sporting in their branding and city is in the name of the actual city. Sporting is another typical European naming convention, but that’s another story. New York City FC at least makes sense because, again, city is in New York City’s name and they are referencing their parent club, Manchester City.

Orlando and NYCFC gave us two “City” teams in the same year. Minnesota and Atlanta gave us two “United” teams in the same year. Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Nashville, Austin and Charlotte elected to not even pick a name, which isn’t the worst thing, but is fairly meek.

The logic behind this trend doesn’t resonate with me. Knowing enough about how MLS works, they found market research to support this trend, but it doesn’t make much sense. Who are they trying to appeal to with these generic names?

People who grew up playing soccer in this country, a group that is most likely to be among your fanbase, are so used to American naming conventions and terminology that I don’t think European names carry extra weight with them. The suburban family with kids currently playing likely doesn’t care about FC, United or City names. If you’re trying to reach the “Euro snob” crowd, odds are they aren’t going to suddenly appreciate MLS because of names they will easily identify as ripoffs. Why cater to them?

To be clear, I don’t think these names are harmful. They aren’t bad enough to turn people away, but they also fail to create individual identities for these teams, which is always something you want in any form of marketing.

St. Louis City SC is in a good position to succeed in MLS regardless of the team’s branding. Overall, the branding is more good than bad. I just don’t see the need for generic branding in a league where two of the most popular teams are the Sounders and Timbers. They have names and it didn’t stop them from succeeding. Why can’t we pick actual names for new expansion teams?

When NYCFC or Minnesota United (where the United can be a reference to the twin cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul uniting) roll along with a good explanation for the name, fine, go for it. But most do not have a good explanation and when they all do it, it becomes exhausting.

MLS has ambitions to be better than a generic ripoff of European soccer. Their branding should reflect it.

Filed under: MLS

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