LAFC enters 2021 season flexing new look, evolving brand
During its first three seasons in Major League Soccer, LAFC had a look and a feel that mirrored the way the club saw its fan base.
The iconic YouTube TV logo was splashed across the front of the team’s jerseys and its games were streamed on YouTubeTV’s digital platform while the team played in Banc of California Stadium, a name that reflected the city’s multicultural, multilingual population.
But now, as LAFC prepares to begin its fourth MLS season Saturday, it’s taking that branding in a different direction. And the shift has been tectonic.
The front of the jerseys now reads Flex Power Tools in bold block letters and the team is still searching for an English-language broadcast partner to replace YouTube. LAFC’s practice kits and training center are sponsored by Nectar, a mattress maker, and, though the Banc of California logo remains atop the stadium, last year the company gave LAFC $20.1 million to leave its name there until a replacement is found.
For Larry Freedman, LAFC’s co-president and chief business officer, that’s all a normal part of the club’s evolution.
“Just look around the league right now,” he said. “You see a handful of folks having new partners.”
Power tools may not be as popular or socially relevant as YouTube, Freedman concedes, but you can’t build a club without them.
“If you look at our fan base, yes there are some millennials. There’s some tech guys in the fan base, plus techies in ownership,” he said. “But there’s also a good segment of our fan base that are tradesmen, who are on job sites day in, day out.
“So I think this brand is going to really resonate.”
Freedman said YouTube’s contract with LAFC expired after three seasons and the company decided not to renew. That opened the way for Flex, a German company whose ad agency, Freedman said, is run by an original LAFC season-ticket member who saw potential in introducing the two.
“It all starts with what are the partner’s objectives,” Freedman said. “Are they looking for brand awareness in the soccer community? Are they looking for brand awareness in Los Angeles? Is it that they want to establish a foothold in the United States?”
For Flex, the answers to all three questions was yes, so the company agreed to put its name on LAFC’s jerseys for at least three seasons, the minimum length of an MLS kit sponsorship. Freedman would not discuss the financial terms of the agreement with Flex, but when LAFC became the first MLS team to sign a sleeve sponsorship contract in 2019, the value of that multiyear deal with Target was put at nearly $1 million per season.
YouTubeTV’s decision to end its historic jersey and TV deal also left LAFC without a broadcast partner, and Freedman wants to fill that void with traditional cable and broadcast outlets, believing casual channel-surfing viewers are more likely to find games that way than on a streaming subscription service.
“It’s a great way to gain exposure to folks that didn’t find us before,” he said. The team has had discussions with several suitors, and while the talks were once said to be advanced, complications have slowed things and no deal is expected to be announced soon.
The financial terms of the broadcast agreements, once they’re done, will be short-lived and are unlikely to be lucrative since MLS has mandated that local rights deals must expire after next season to give the league more leverage in negotiating a new national TV contract beginning in 2023. LAFC said on Tuesday it has renewed its local broadcast relationship with Estrella (KRCA-TV Channel 62) to air the team’s games in Spanish this season.
Nectar’s sponsorship of the practice jersey and training grounds is found money for LAFC since players had previously worn YouTubeTV shirts in practice while the facility was simply known as the Performance Center. And there’s more to be made from the naming rights of the team’s 22,500-seat home in Exposition Park once a new partner is found.
Banc of California’s original deal was worth $100 million over 15 seasons, or about $6.7 million annually, but that price is certain to go up, given that the stadium will have a second tenant next season in Angel City FC, a high-profile National Women’s Soccer League expansion franchise. The venue has also been used for the CONCACAF Gold Cup and by the U.S. women’s national team and may get additional exposure when the World Cup comes to the United States in 2026.
“The building is a very known quantity. Brands know it and are interested in it,” said Freedman, who hopes to find a new sponsor by the end of the season.
But until that happens, he’s content to leave the bank’s name, in massive letters, atop the white canopy roofs on the east and west sides of the stadium.
“As you can imagine, taking the lettering, especially off of the top of the building — you and I aren’t hopping up on a ladder and going up there doing it on the weekend,” Freedman said. “It’s a bit of a production. In a perfect world, we’d take their name off at the same time we’re putting the new name on.”
What better way to mark LAFC’s evolution.