Sounders Already Scoring
Steve Pastorino gives us an insider look at the naming process for Major League Soccer clubs, having been through it in Chicago and Salt Lake City.
By Steve Pastorino
SALT LAKE CITY, UT (Apr 10, 2008) USSoccerPlayers -- Score another goal for Seattle Sounders FC. Poised to start play in 2009, the expansion team acknowledged a wave of fan support from across Puget Sound to choose the right name for a franchise that so far, has done everything right.
Having been in the decision-making process twice for MLS team names (and twice for minor league baseball teams), I know it wasn’t an easy decision.
Sounders part-owner Drew Carey said as much. He was quoted in Soccer America this week as saying, “Can’t we talk about … something that won’t cause such a fight when I get together with the owners?”
When I joined the Chicago Fire in late September 1997, Peter Wilt was almost single-handedly preparing to unveil the Chicago Fire’s name, logo and colors. The first staff joined the team in September, just weeks before the October 8th announcement – timed to coincide with the 126th anniversary of the fire that engulfed the city. By then, the final derivations of Nike’s choice for the team name, the Chicago Rhythm, were being systematically dismantled. In its place, we saw many versions of what became the first Fire logo.
In this case, it was an easy call. Nike’s two-headed snake shield in turquoise, black and green wasn't working. Then there was the League.
Major League Soccer offered significant support for the process, including the suggestion that logos NOT contain a soccer ball. “How many NFL teams have a football in the logo?” was the rhetorical question. With the then-USISL having flames in the multiple team and league logos, we also wanted to convey “fire” without stereotypical yellow-and-red blaze look.
So the Fire badge evolved, intended to look “classic” from day one. The name evoked not one of the biggest tragedies in city history, but the sense of rebirth that bloomed following the Great Fire of 1871. In a city with iconic team logos (think Cubs and Bears, for example) and a palpable sense of history and tradition, anything but a classic look would have been mocked. The true creative genius lies in the details - a six-pointed star just like the Chicago flag (each star representing a seminal event), a firehouse red “C” and a badge shape that soccer fans and firemen alike could be proud of.
In the case of the much-maligned name, Real Salt Lake, I think history will bear out that the ultimate decision-maker, Dave Checketts, chose well in selecting the team’s final marks and colors. An assist goes, it must be said, to his wife, Deb, who was intimately involved in the decision-making process.
In September 2004, Real was a finalist along with derivations of Salt Lake City Highlanders, Salt Lake Soccer Club, Alliance Soccer Club and Union SLC. I leaned towards Union, Alliance or Real because I thought each could be easily be translated to reach the state’s exploding Spanish-speaking population. Plus, I thought the name should reflect the fact that Utah was a far more cosmopolitan and diverse place than anyone thought – a byproduct of the 2002 Olympics and a predominant faith that sends many of its young people overseas on missions.
Highlanders was dismissed because of a prominent local high school (Highland) – we wouldn’t necessarily own the name.
Union worked because we wanted the team to be a “great unifier” for fans of all faiths, backgrounds and ethnicities. Union could successfully convey the importance of the connection of transcontinental railroads in the United States – the golden spike having been driven less than 100 miles north of the Salt Lake City. One logo depicted the stylized front of a locomotive. Finally, Union is a somewhat common club name around the world – and the team was desperate to position itself as a viable participant in global soccer.
Alliance was similarly versatile. The Salt Lake soccer team could aspire to a club like Alianza Lima, a 100-year-old club with 22 national titles. But I think, in the end, both Alliance and Union were just a little too obscure.
My concerns related to Real primarily centered on Checketts’ assumption that we would develop a relationship with Real Madrid – a thought that seemed preposterous to me at the time. When he assured me that we would work with the “Galacticos”, train in Madrid and host the team in Salt Lake City some day, I was won over.
We then moved on to creating the “mythology” of the logo – cobalt blue for Utah’s mountains, lakes and natural beauty. Claret red (“cabernet” was my favorite) stood for passion. Gold represented royalty – RSL had global, glittering aspirations.
This “meaning” behind the name is where Adrian Hanauer was on target with the Sounders’ name and logo. Sure, several “Sounders” have struggled or failed, but the name represents the stubborn determination of soccer enthusiasts in the northwest to promote and grow “the beautiful game.”
You have to love the color scheme – unique in MLS and closely linked to Seattle’s sports heritage. Sounder Blue evokes the aqua of the NASL days, according to a team release. Rave Green is “just a tick up from the accent popular among Seahawks faithful” and the Space Needle is the international symbol for the city.
I’m sure he then added “FC” to differentiate the club, just slightly, from its “minor league” predecessor of the past decade. It’s a wise move, and one that will pay off in thousands of jersey sales to a fan base that truly believes its voice has been heard.