Monday, May 15, 2006

What's In A Name? Pt 1

Major League Soccer has a new franchise - Toronto FC. There's been much discussion over at JABS, a Toronto sports blog, regarding the choice of the name. Some think that it won't catch on, and something more exciting was needed to attract fans. Others (including the author) disagree, arguing that it is a name that respects the traditions of football, and has the particular benefit of not been contrived in any way.

I have to agree with such an analysis. One of the difficulties that North America has always had as regards being taken seriously in world football is the fact that any attempt to market it has been in a recognisably "American" format, leading to bizarre team names like the Kansas City Wiz. That, combined with their calling the game "soccer", leads them to be viewed as slightly backward cousins (tying in with a regular stereotype of 'across the pond', of course). It's even worse when they try and can European traditions and place them in an American format. Real Salt Lake? Not a chance. What links does Utah have to the Spanish monarchy!

This, I think, is one of the problems that the US has in making greater strides in world football. Partly the problem is one of the locus of power, which rests firmly in the European club structure. Without exposure to European teams, then North American football will struggle, because it will be unable to test itself against the strongest teams. Moreover, a league system based on a salary cap, and marketing techniques that de-emphasise football itself as entertainment, means that players will only go to America for a lucrative pay-day at the end of their career. This is not to say that there is not a lot of talent in North America - far from it; the US played some of the most exciting football of the last World Cup and really only lacked a striker.

The choice of names for teams, however, is interesting in the way that it can reflect the culture that people want to create. Calling the new franchise Toronto FC suggests to me that there is a desire to place an emphasis on the key selling point, the football. No frills, no nonsense, just pure football. The thrill of the competition is good enough.