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MLS teams should pick a jersey look and stick with it

Why MLS teams should strive for brand consistency.

SOCCER: OCT 26 MLS Cup Playoffs - Columbus Crew at Atlanta United Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

At a time where we are starved for new sports content, even the most seemingly-mundane new nugget of sports is welcomed. E-sports is now covered live on major sports networks and you can wager on them in Las Vegas. Documentaries and retrospectives are must-see TV. And, of course, professional teams are rebranding.

Seven NFL franchises are revamping their look, and European soccer clubs are starting to debut their kits for next year. As a Liverpool supporter, the last month-plus has been filled with leaks, fan concepts and speculation as to what the first-ever Nike kit for the English Premier League champions-in-waiting will look like.

MLS supporters experience the same type of rebranding routine in the winter offseason, with Crew supporters waiting on bated breath for what the next iteration of black and gold will look like (or some sort of God-awful powder blue and white monstrosity!). And it’s obvious why teams do this: the bump in revenue that a brand new look provides helps a club financially, but why don’t all professional and major sports teams do this?

The New York Yankees have kept the pinstripes and the same logo since before Babe Ruth put the uniform on for the first time, and they certainly don’t seem to struggle financially. Alabama has experienced two major runs of success wearing almost the exact (and extremely underdeveloped) look, and are routinely top in recruiting. The Los Angeles Lakers, the Chicago Bulls, the Detroit Redwings, and the Dallas Cowboys have all maintained at least a relatively similar look for long periods of their history, while also making plenty of money. Slight tweaks and updates notwithstanding, the uniform Magic Johnson wore is not significantly different than the one LeBron James wore this season with the Lakers. Those of us around central-Ohio are all too familiar with the frenzy that occurs when Ohio State changes their uniforms for a one-off game.

Consistency in look has become a priority to many major sports entities. Even in soccer, giant clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus maintained consistent looks until the finances became so great they had to change. So why do so many clubs and teams feel the need to change almost every year?

Obviously there are some financial upsides to creating a new look. New-look jerseys will always lead to increased revenue from fans and supporters who want the latest jersey, but at what cost? If you aren’t a global name like Barcelona or Liverpool, how do you increase your brand awareness? Brand consistency.

No one can dispute the iconic imagery of the Pinstripes or the Purple and Gold. Yes, a lot of success was experienced to help cement the legendary status, but most unchanged uniforms have also been worn by mediocrity. But through the lean years and the big wins, the identity has survived.

The best thing Major League Soccer clubs could do to further their status as legitimate sports entities is to stop the rebranding every year. Pick a look, an identity, a brand and stick with it. By creating consistent imagery and branding associated with each team, MLS franchises would go a long way to boot-strap brand recognition. I even have a plan to phase this policy in.

There’s no surprise that, for most fans, the most iconic and loved teams are those that are the most successful. The 2008 MLS Cup-winning Columbus Crew SC team is full of local legends. So what if, when a team wins the MLS Cup, the jersey they win it in becomes their permanent look? Teams would need to be careful with design and rebrand, and yes, minor tweaks could happen throughout history, but the overall look would stay consistent. Teams still working to build towards success could still lean on the excess revenue generated from yearly rebrands and when they do make it to the top, the look will be iconic.

MLS struggles with legitimacy as a major sports league. There’s no doubt it is rarely included with the “Big Three” or “Big Four” of American sports, and among many reasons, a lack of brand awareness doesn’t help. If MLS teams leaned into their success when they achieved it, honoring cup-winning teams by making those jerseys the permanent look for the team. Building the fanbase, signing new stars and overall success will generate the revenue a team might lose by redesigning over and over again.

Besides, Ohio State seems to sell plenty of jerseys, even though they haven’t significantly changed in nearly 60 years. And this doesn’t mean the revenue train has to stop entirely. A timeless look enables teams to honor it’s past (read sell old names on new jerseys) by creating a legends series.

MLS could lend a lot of legitimacy to its presence in the sports culture in America by simply solidifying brand consistency. Especially having the most successful franchises sticking with a jersey look and helping to build recognition.

And, the Crew should’ve stuck with the 2017 yellow jerseys with the Ohio flag for eternity.