MLS embarked on a quest to find itself over the past couple of years. The games continued as the discussions raged, but the introspection always lingered in the background. There were difficult and essential questions asked about the bedrock of the league, the elements comprising it and the constituencies supporting it.
The emergence of the new brand and the new logo started with those inquiries and ended with the unveiling on Thursday. The answers turned up along the way guided the league through a comprehensive and exhaustive process designed to produce a symbol to represent its present and its future.
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"How do we position our league? Where are we going? Who do we want to be? You have to ask the most fundamental questions," MLS chief marketing officer Howard Handler told Inside MLS on Thursday. "That’s what started the process. If you’re going at it and you’re going that logo isn’t cool, this one’s cool, then you’re kind of missing the point. This is about identity and ambition and where you believe you’re heading."
All of those ideas sound lofty — and the concepts manifested in the explanations and the rhetoric behind the new crest — and yet they cut straight to the heart of the matter. The logo, for better or for worse, is the most readily identifiable symbol for the league. It should embody the core values identified during the process. And it does.
Each of its components is designed to represent the underpinnings without adopting them literally. There is room for adaptation from constituency to constituency, room for nods to the energy and the upward trajectory inherent to future growth and room for three stars to reflect the professed pillars of club, country and community. It does not, however, leave any room for the more literal ball and cleat used to capture the essence of the league for its first 20 years.
"We spent a lot of time thinking about whether to put a ball in the logo," MLS commissioner Don Garber said. "If you look at all of the league logos around the world, they all have a ball in it. The shield represents an identity that we think is very soccer or football oriented. We don’t believe that we need to take elements of the game to tell the world or our fans that we are a soccer league. It’s what we do in our stadiums, it’s what we do with our media partners, it’s what we do in our community that will reflect our connection to the global game."
Each MLS club has its own version of the new logo to reflect its own identity
In a way, MLS is devolving some of its identity to those foundational pieces. MLS isn’t represented by one fixed mark any more. It is instead represented by a foundation constructed to stand on its own and take the identity of its components. The pliable logo is appropriate for both the single-entity structure of the league (the clubs and the league are one, after all) and the relevance of the teams comprising it. It also underscores the need for the clubs — not to the league itself — to drive the proceedings forward during the next phase.
"We believe the clubs are the heroes," Handler said. "We believe the deepest emotional connection exists between fans, clubs and players. We wanted to celebrate that. It wasn’t about us putting our stamp on everything whether it fit or not. It was about us amplifying and elevating and celebrating our clubs."
Those gestures create a contrast with other brands and leagues around the world. The components are just as important as the central body. MLS hopes its new brand and new logo reflect the next phase of its development, a sort of modernity capable of enduring for years to come.
"The new logo represents our commitment to what’s next," Garber said. "And what’s next is a great connection between our fans, our clubs and our community. The logo – and the adaptation of it – provides for that connection."
By identifying and enshrining those links in its new logo, MLS concluded its self-evaluation and created a representation of its findings with the help of external experts, involved investor/operators and a host of people willing to contribute to the extensive debate. The usual range of reactions from admiration to disgust swirled around the new logo in its first hours, but the true measure of the end product will come with the passage of time.
"Getting it out there, you’re finally like, OK, here it is and we finally get to explain it, which is fantastic," Handler said. "But I want to be judged a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now. It’s not today. Today, nobody has enough perspective. We sense that we did something that will be classic and enduring and very modern for a long time to come, but who knows? We’ll see."