Connect with us

Sporting KC

The Argument Against Jersey Sponsorships

While it’s become common place in American soccer and around the world, that doesn’t mean it’s how it should be.



Credit: Thad Bell

There’s been some excited chatter recently about Sporting Kansas City likely getting a third kit for 2024 and I’m right there for it. My son is a big jersey collector and it’s fun to peek into his closet and see a mint green Chelsea top next to a Man City kit with lightning bolts. As much as third kits can sometimes be confusing (let’s completely disregard any color scheme normally associated with our team), more often than not they are fun and distinctive and create ever more diverse ways to show your fandom.

But lost in any discussion of third kits, or just professional soccer jerseys in general, is the element that is usually most visible front and center: the sponsorship. I know that soccer is a business, and most businesses are interested in whatever is going to increase revenue. And so, from that perspective, if a company is willing to pay a team $X to splash their logo across the chests of athletes, it’s logical for the team to take them up on that offer.

What I don’t understand is why that became the virtual rule for soccer clubs across the world. I remember in the earlier days for SKC, fans were eager for the team to get a jersey sponsor; it was almost like the team wasn’t legitimate until they were running around with “Ivy Funds” scrawled across their torso.

Again, I ask the question of why? This isn’t a thing in other sports. Yes, the Chiefs now play at GEHA field, but their jerseys aren’t brought to us by, say, Skittles. Lebron has won championships wearing several different outfits, but none of them sported the Geico gecko. Really, the closest thing we find (at least with domestic sports) to soccer’s jersey sponsorships is with auto sports. A NASCAR vehicle is so covered in ads that they’re sometimes even referenced that way (as in “the Bass Pro car edged out the Monster energy drink”). Do soccer teams really want to have car racing as their closest comparison?

I mentioned that my son collects jerseys and there is a part of me that cringes when he gets one that has, for example, Emirates or Qatar Airways sprawled across it. Not only is he, in effect, becoming a walking advertisement for an oil-rich country, he’s participating, in a small way, in the ever-increasing practice of sportswashing. That’s a whole different article for another time, but needless to say it feels like a different line could be drawn regarding what sort of companies are allowed to sponsor kits. There already exists some delineation with sponsors (we don’t have any Marlboro teams out there), but perhaps what’s currently permitted should be reconsidered.

This flipside of the conversation surrounding morally complicated sponsorships, would be the direction that Sporting KC initially seemed to be heading. If a team is determined to plaster some third party on their tops, they could go the route of supporting an organization doing good in the world. While it never resulted in actual jersey sponsorship, SKC was connected to Livestrong (before all of Lance’s misdeeds were known), their own Victory Project and now to Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Sporting Kansas City’s 2021 Primary kit with the Victory Project as their lead sponsor. | Credit: Sporting Kansas City

While my preference would always be to simply have a team represented on their athletic wear, the next best option would be to go with something else I could be proud to support. In a small way, the NFL is doing this by allowing athletes to include Black Lives Matter statements on their helmets. Not that I’m going to be walking around with a football helmet anytime soon, but if I did, I wouldn’t mind if it read “Stop Hate” across the back.

I get that jersey sponsorships are a European thing (sports beyond soccer have kit sponsors on the continent), and I get that because the best soccer in the world is played in Europe, it results in other leagues/teams copying what they’re doing.

When MLS started nearly 30 years ago, it was its own thing. None of the teams had jersey sponsorships, except perhaps, a Mastercard logo appearing on D.C. United’s shorts, and only the United had a name that likened itself to teams across the pond. Well, that independence from European influence didn’t last as less than a third of MLS teams now have a name that isn’t a direct connection to some sort of European naming style or team. And…every team has a jersey sponsor. As much as it amuses me every time SKC plays against the Philadelphia Bimbos, it’s also just a reminder of something that, at its foundation, is simply corporate greed.

Recent Comments

KC Soccer Journal in your Inbox!

Be the first to know when news breaks, sign up to get all of our posts sent directly to your inbox.


Follow us on Twitter