The Galaxy will have a new look when it plays its first competitive game of 2016 on Wednesday at the StubHub Center. And we're not just talking about the lineup, which could feature as many as seven starters who weren't even on the team at the start of last season.
Because in addition to new players, the Galaxy will also debut new uniforms. On this season's jersey, the traditional broken blue slash across the front has been replaced with solid blue and gold bars that run from the left shoulder to the right hip. Shirt sponsor Herbalife has added the word "nutrition" below the company name, part of a wide-ranging rebrand by the $4-billion business which was formerly described as a multilevel marketing corporation but which now wants to be known as a global supplier of nutrition and dietary supplements.
The Galaxy generally tweaks its uniform design slightly every season, partly to drive shirt sales. But this winter's makeover was the most dramatic in several years.
"It was a big shift for us. It also allowed us to kind of refresh the relationship," said Brian McKinley, Herbalife's vice president of sports marketing. "What I'm very proud of with our relationship with the Galaxy is it's so much more than just a name on a jersey. It's a true and dynamic partnership."
It's also the longest-running and most lucrative such partnership in Major League Soccer history. When Herbalife paid to put its name on the Galaxy's jersey in 2007, the company became just the second shirt sponsor of an MLS team following Xango, a juice and nutritional-supplement company in Utah that had partnered with Real Salt Lake months earlier.
But while that relationship ended after the 2013 season, Herbalife agreed to a $44-million extension of its Galaxy deal, taking it through 2022.
"This is certainly one of our bigger brand investments," said McKinley, whose company says it also has deals with soccer teams in nine other countries, including Mexico, as well as a personal sponsorship agreement with Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo.
But the partnership with the Galaxy has been more charmed then the others, since it was signed at about the same time the team announced it had acquired David Beckham.
"It was bigger than anybody here imagined it would be," McKinley said. "There are very few opportunities in sports where you can get involved in something that's truly going to have a global brand impact. And this was one of those things.
"We woke up in July of 2007 and our brand was everything."
Richard Kenyon, marketing and communications director for Everton of the English Premier League, says that kind of global reach is unique to soccer shirt sponsorships – which is why multinational corporations are willing to pay top dollar for the real estate. Four years ago EPL rival Manchester United signed a seven-year jersey deal with Chevrolet that will pay the team $560 million – despite the fact General Motors is pulling Chevy out of Europe.
"The [money] paid – or that was published at least – some of them sound like a lot of money," Kenyon said. "But when you see what, in return, those brands get in terms of global media value, it's enormous. Absolutely enormous.
"For brands that want a global profile, it's almost a perfect platform."
In the case of the Galaxy, the relationship with Herbalife has been overwhelmingly positive despite a recent rough patch for the company. Over the last five years Herbalife has seen its business practices investigated in a Belgian court, where it was cleared of charges it was a pyramid scheme, and by the Federal Trade Commission, which has yet to conclude its inquiry.
Herbalife, which is based in Los Angeles but incorporated in the Cayman Islands, says it welcomes the scrutiny. And the Galaxy says it has no problem putting the company's name on its chest.
"Obviously the money is great. But any partnership that lasts this long goes beyond money for us," team president Chris Klein said. "In the beginning they were a partner that paid us to put their name on our jersey. It's transformed over time to become a true partnership where we're able to take advantages of the strengths that they have as a nutrition company and they're able to make it worth it because of our worldwide brand.
"And that has evolved over time to benefit both parties."