The MLS Name Game is No Laughing Matter

Mattocks, Wenger, Rowe – the names aren’t familiar now and sadly they probably never will be given the current marketing of homegrown soccer players in the U.S.

The three players we just mentioned have been flagged as future superstars of U.S. Soccer and are likely to be in the top few picks of this season’s SuperDraft due to be held in Kansas this Thursday.

If it were any other sport there is no doubt they would be household names within their first season, selling jerseys and signing lucrative endorsement deals. However the reality for MLS players is that they are playing in a totally different sporting environment.

Before we continue, let’s have a quick straw poll (and be honest!). Can you name three players from the NBA? We are sure you can name three in the NFL and MLB too. Now name three players from the EPL, La Liga and Serie A. That was pretty easy, right? Now name three American MLS players. It’s a lot harder, I’m sure you would agree.

In most professional sports, teams have a franchise player. A franchise player is someone who is not simply the best player on their team, but a player that the team can build their “franchise” (team) around for the foreseeable future.

So what’s in a name? In America it’s everything, and it’s much more than that. Players are their own brand and help grow the sport in unparalleled ways.

In the MLS we currently have the designated player rule. A rule brought in predominantly to sign David Beckham from Real Madrid 5 years ago. The ‘Beckham Rule’ – as it is commonly referred to – is in many ways flawed. It rewards players past their prime looking for that final pay check. Name a designated player outside of LA and New York – and our point is proven.

If we were responsible for anything soccer related in the MLS we would look to rectify this situation as soon as possible to save millions of dollars currently being wasted on players that were world class ten years ago. We should be looking at a holistic plan to achieve cultural change in the U.S., not a quick fix to lock in the next networks television rights.

So how about we start with identifying marketable players that personify everything good with the game. Let’s provide them with a comprehensive induction program to professional sport, help them with media and PR, assist them to develop their own personal brand and the confidence to go and sell the sport across the country. Increase their exposure to the fans and the community and watch it play dividends.

Fans can do their part too. They are undeniably the biggest untapped resource in soccer today and many would have a wealth of knowledge about the game with genuine stories to tell about players whether they be established stars or upcoming talent.

We should all commit to sharing our knowledge about the players in a bid to have them become recognizable superstars of the game. Did you go to school with them? Did they come to a charity event you were organizing? Did you meet them at a coffee shop? Tell everyone about that experience.

Let’s start a true grassroots conversation about our homegrown players, so that when you are next asked to name three players in the MLS, you can then say Mattocks, Wenger and Rowe and add that they were drafted to the MLS in 2012.

Proper branding can change the perception about the game and help it realize its potential. Let’s hope it’s acknowledged sooner rather than later so we can take soccer to that next level.

What are your thoughts? Join the conversation now on Twitter with @soccersupport and use the hashtag #growthegame

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