The L.A. Galaxy have long been kings of Southern California soccer, at least in the branding and marketing world for MLS. From David Beckham to Landon Donovan, the Galaxy, with all due respect to the mega-franchises like the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers, are probably the casual sports fan team of choice when people think MLS.
So as the team heads towards the playoffs again, solidly in second place, and with Donovan’s retirement on the horizon, they are taking steps to further entrench themselves not just as an elite soccer club but as an elite LA-based sports and entertainment brand as the late fall and winter comes along. Hence this past week the club assembled a very unique kit, labeled “Handcrafted in Los Angeles,” that went out to select business and community leaders and national media. It was much less about promoting the Galaxy on its own, although there was the very cool Galaxy lunch box thrown in; it was much more about promoting brand soccer and the club’s place as a solid and authentic LA business than everything else. There were lots of mentions of supporting local soccer and all things about LA, and much less about just the players on the field.
Why do this now? Several reasons come to mind. First, with the demise of Chivas USA, the Galaxy have a very unique opportunity to expand their presence as the soccer club of choice to all fans in Southern California. Positioning the club as THE soccer destination now gives little choice going forward as to who a fan may support. Second, the club has made great strides with their academy program and with their developmental team in a highly competitive marketplace, so branding the Galaxy as all things soccer, not just MLS, can help draw in supporters who may be on the fringe and may consider going elsewhere to drop their kids in a program. Third, it is an investment in future business at a time when the Galaxy season is winding down. Instead of waiting til the offseason to go after businesses and garner new interest, the club is taking an aggressive and very proactive stance now to capture excitement and attention as the playoffs come and before discretionary dollars may get spent elsewhere. LA is a large market with lots of distractions. So getting out in front for 2015 is very smart, and no better time to do it than now.
Is there a cost or risk to becoming more hometown as soccer gets more global from a US perspective? Not really. The items in the kit were very subtle in messaging but still include sponsors like Herbalife and American Apparel so the cost was probably minimal, and the upside in engagement is very high. While some may say the Galaxy own the soccer market from an MLS perspective, there is always room to grow, and growing as a brand and evolving into a larger partner with new brands is key regardless of the success on the pitch or not. Nice move by the franchise, spending a little money in an old school way to grow with the times as the season winds down.