pic of the week 3/10-3/16

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Japan's official 2014 World Cup Mascot... Pikachu

With World Cup 2014 fast approaching, participating teams around the world are making their final preparations for the big dance in Brazil. Finalizing travel plans, plotting training sessions, and most imporatntly figuring out their final roster spots. And national associations forging last-minute marketing partnerships — a.k.a. raking in investment funds — aren’t to be forgotten either. And this week’s “Pic of the Week” is a perfect example of that… albeit a strange one.

Japan’s national association, the JFA, struck a deal last week to have the world-famous video game/cartoon character Pikachu be the official mascot of their national sides. Yes, Japan’s official mascot comes to us from a Japanamation cartoon provider in the Pokémon Company. I’m sure the deal will prove invaluable for the JFA and their players, not to mention to Pokémon… even if it does reinforce an already prevalent ethnic stereotype.

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Columbus Crew Cincinnati Cleveland

while the crew would do well to make sure their new crest represents columbus, there are other cities the club can look to connect with potential fans, too.

There’s a quiet revolution happening in Columbus, Ohio. Despite years of near anonymity and near afterthought status, the city’s soccer franchise may finally be entering a renaissance of sorts. Under the guidance of new owner Anthony Precourt, the Crew are slowly starting to show signs of life after years of stagnation under the former ownership of the Hunt Sports Group.

Long-needed improvements to the stadium — including an updated jumbotron, speakers and upgraded “premier seating” on the stadium’s east side — should help to improve a match day experience that’s grown stale.

A partnership with USLPRO side Dayton Dutch Lions brings them in line with the league-wide development requirement and may pay dividends down the road.

Plus, the technical and playing staff assembled under the newly installed head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter are making some intriguing moves to improve the team’s on-pitch results in the near future.

But the work of Precourt’s making the most waves, at least in the press and on social media, is the Crew’s intentions to revamp their outdated branding. The now quasi-iconic crest featuring three helmeted construction workers — the only untouched original logo to survive since MLS’ inception in 1996 — will finally get an overhaul. And the following quote in a recent interview on mlssoccer.com on the subject was particularly interesting.

“We want to be representative. We don’t see Columbus in the [current] crest. There are many things we can do to represent the capital city better. It’s not a blue-collar, manufacturing, industrial town. It’s a smart, young, progressive university… town. We want it to represent the Columbus we’ve come to know.”

- ANTHONY PRECOURT, COLUMBUS CREW INVESTOR-OPERATOR

And he’s right: their current logo doesn’t even feature the name of the city they call home. That seems almost traitorous. But it’s not just about where their from, but also representing their existing and potential fans.

When I think of Columbus, I think of a city rejuvenated, reborn. Think of the German Village and Short North areas, each seeing an influx of new restaurants, shops and galleries over the last five to ten years. These redevelopments have helped to attract new residents back to the city, which in itself helps to spurn further investment.

And though it shouldn’t matter as much as it does, the Crew conveying themselves as something that many of the city’s young residents are trying to separate themselves from — the proletariat blue-collar workers staring cross-armed from the Crew’s logo — might well be enough to turn off potential fans. So alongside the improvements to the stadium and playing staff mentioned above, Precourt and president Mark McCullers believe that aligning the brand with Columbus and it’s growing young professional demographic will help to put more butts in Crew Stadium seats.

the old “blue collar” logo won’t be phased out until 2015.

Personally, I can’t believe it took the Crew so long to focus on this segment of the fan base. Even under the prior regime of the Hunts, it seemed fairly obvious. All you had to do was look at those packing the house each time the national team came to town. Though the traditionally-targeted “soccer mom” and “entertaining professional” segments were still represented, most of those in attendance were 20 and 30 somethings. The same can be said of the growing crowds filling American pubs for Premier League fixtures each weekend.

And while I agree that putting emphasis on the “Columbus” in Columbus Crew is rightly needed, I think the Precourt and company would be wise to not limit their thoughts to just Ohio’s capital city when trying to reach new fans.

Mr. Precourt: please don’t forget about Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo and the rest of Ohio when trying to grow the club’s support.

As much as the Hunts neglected to invest in the club and it’s infrastructure, efforts to market the team outside the city have received just as little attention. Columbus isn’t an island after all; a good chunk of Ohio’s population is within a reasonable drive.

But driving distance alone isn’t the only reason why the rest of Ohio is important to the Crew. Cincinnati and Cleveland in particular have seen similar revivals to Columbus, especially when looking at their near-downtown districts of Over-the-Rhine and Ohio City. Already existing pockets of Crew supporters at the opposite ends of the state are there to build upon. You’ll find young professionals packing their bars Saturday and Sunday mornings to watch the European football, too. The traditional youth soccer target markets in those and other large Ohio cities are bountiful as well. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that much of the state is already pre-disposed to driving to Columbus to support some other sport’s team.

And yet outside of youth clubs partnering with the academy or the occasional Frankie Hejduk sighting, there have been practically zero attempts by the Crew to reach out to the rest of Ohio.

I live directly off of and commute on the I-71 corridor here in Cincinnati — a highway that literally leads directly to Crew Stadium — every single day. And yet in all my time living in this city, I can’t recall ever seeing a Columbus Crew billboard or advert. Three years spent living in Dayton went the same way. And friends in Cleveland and Toledo confirmed a similar dearth of Crew presence in their cities.

Perhaps we’ll see them reaching out to those of us outside Columbus, but signs of that kind of that haven’t really yet appeared as the upcoming MLS season fast-approaches. The closest I’ve seen to any hints of this kind of effort was in the announcement of the partnership with the Dayton Dutch Lions, which included a few vague statements on marketing cooperation.

Talk of the Crew investigating putting their own USLPRO side in either Cincinnati or Cleveland also shows they’re at least thinking about this subject, but they needn’t go that far to recruit fans to the capital. A cheaper option might be to throw some extra marketing dollars at a few strategically placed billboards and/or commercials in the state’s bigger cities. Additional club outreach — whether the popular “Find Frankie”, player appearances or just further TV/radio spots — might help to remind fans a little further from home base that there’s a professional team just a few hours away. Or if they’re feeling particularly benevolent, maybe throw the entire state a bone in the design of the new crest. That may be a bit much to ask for, but I’d think there’s merit to at least consider it.

It may take some experimentation to find out what’s effective, but it’s a risk worth taking. Just like there are fans that already supporters that come from all across Ohio, the Crew would be wise to attempt to speak to those that they’ve missed in pockets outside of Columbus.

So as Precourt, McCullers and the rest of the Crew front office look to choose a new image to make themselves in, let’s just hope they don’t forget that while Columbus should remain the primary inspiration, taking into account those on the outer fringes of their market deserve and need attention too.

ten words or less #84

2010 World Cup Draw

the brazil 2014 world cup draw is one of just many events taking place this week in the world of football.

Well if anything’s for certain, we’re most definitely in the middle of what you might call a “busy stretch” in the world of soccer. Just have a look at the upcoming calendar for this week: the 2014 World Cup Draw is on Friday (more on that below), the MLS Cup Final is this Saturday (more on that below too), and there are two full rounds of matches for the Premier League to play out (with some of those kicking off as early as today)… not to mention the rest of the club fixtures to play out throughout the rest of the world (nothing here, as I’ve only got so much attention to spread around). Never mind all of the other holiday madness here in the states. To be honest, it’s almost too much to keep up with.

And just to crowd things up a bit more, today’s also one of those rare days where I’ll be posting twice: Episode 16 of the WSOTP Pod will be up later this afternoon. I’ve also got some new shirt designs dropping for the WSOTP Shop later this week, too. Just think of it as the opportunity to enjoy a late Thanksgiving feast of footie.

Watch MLS Cup with me; you might win a shirt! – wrongsideofthepond.com

Some teams are going to get SCREWED by the draw. – forbes.com

It appears that Thomas Gravesen is living the life. – yahoo.com

Why MLS should be looking to add more Eastern teams. – massivereport.com

Nike strikes gold yet again with their latest Brazil ad. – youtube.com

Donovan’s best commentating skill? Impressions. – kckrs.com

FIFA’s beautiful new app is as buggy as you’d expect. – play.google.com

A new USLPRO club in Colorado Springs? Not so fast… – csindy.com

The epic trailer for Bob’s upcoming PBS documentary. – theoffsiderules.com

I wish my child would be born Friday in Brazil. – theoriginalwinger.com

cutting off the nose to spite the face

In a world of ever increasing change, many of the passionate followers of the church of football often depend on their clubs and national teams to be their “ever-constants”.

not all changes are always for the best, even if they’re meant to be.

Particularly in the traditional strongholds of the sport — Europe and South America — many sides are 100-year-old-plus institutions whose fans have long looked to for inspiration, joy and a sense of belonging and camaraderie. So when something about those reliable, long-standing institutions changes, it’s no wonder that supporters might get a bit irritated.

Unsurprisingly, the types of changes that can induce this kind of panicked response are numerous and varied. A new owner, a move to a new home ground and even the dismissal of a popular coach can all taint the comfortable, familiar relationship a fan can have with their team. And that’s when the pitchforks and torches come out. Well, at least snarky banners or scarves in non-ordinary colors.

But every so often clubs make even more drastic modifications — a redesign of a traditional crest, a change in primary colors, or even modifying the official club name — and shit hits the metaphorical fan. And for whatever reason, this summer has seen a slew of clubs opt for radical makeovers in spite of the predictably ire they would inspire.

Continue reading

all eyes on city

Sitting in the league’s swanky 5th Avenue office in New York, Don Garber’s May 29th press conference announcing MLS’ 20th franchise — New York City FC — was a seminal moment in league history. There stood the Soccer Don at his podium, flanked by officials from two of the sporting world’s most prominent figures, boasting to the cameras like a proud, first-time father that his pet project would finally be coming to fruition.

a big announcement with a temporary logo practically begged for freelance designers to offer up their ideas on the new NYCFC’s image.

But a month out from the announcement, there are still more questions than answers about the what’s sure to become one of the league’s marquee sides. While we know when NYCFC will join the league (2015), we don’t know where that will be. There’s still ongoing talk of the Flushing Meadows stadium, but continued local opposition has proven a tricky road block to maneuver around. Claudio Reyna has been named as their first Director of Football, but we don’t know who his first hires and signings will be. We don’t even know yet what we’ll call them in every day conversation… “City”, “City FC”, “New York City”, the “Citizens”, etc. Though with the club not set to begin play for another year and a half, there’s ample time to nail down a lot of these things.

However, there is one important decision that the club does need to nail down, and it needs to do so soon: their brand and identity. Continue reading

ten words or less #71

Champions League Tifo at Borussia Dortmund

believe it or not, the reason dortmund fans put up this awesome tifo was to use the dude’s giant binoculars to see when my last TWOL post was.

It’s been weeks since I put out my last Ten Words or Less, which I suppose is a good thing for you readers considering that means I’ve been dropping original content for you instead of shoveling you content from other sources. But that doesn’t change the fact that I feel like I’m neglecting the long-running links post. Or the fact that some of the links I had originally collected for this have since become irrelevant.

So now that you’re done buying a shirt from the brand new WSOTP Shop, I figured I’d get things back to normal with a freshly updated edition. And if you’re looking for original content, I’ll probably have something else for you before the weekend. In the mean time, enjoy some of my favorite links from around the world of football from the last week or so.

Terrible April Fools joke, but a great idea for real. – qatarliving

A refreshing dose of clarity from Spurs’ wordsmith, Spooky. – dearmrlevy.co.uk

Sexiest Puma shirt they’ve put out in quite a while. – football-shirts.co.uk

The first supporters to ever fly to an away match. – inbedwithmaradona.com

Abou Diaby: the man-made of glass. – talksport.co.uk

Chelsea’s creepy blue man group kit launch. – youtube.com

A very well executed dead horse beating. – regista-blog.com

Those poor globe-trotting scouts have it awful. – guardian.co.uk

One designer’s line inspired by retro soccer design. – hypebeast.com

So, bicycle soccer actually exists. – kckrs.com

pic of the week 3/18-3/24

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David Beckham and his underwear

Yo dawg… I heard you like David Beckham’s new underwear, so we put Beckham in with a bunch of Beckham’s underwear so you can help him earn more money while giving him your money.

Sorry, I had to.

Though I was tempted to use a picture from Friday’s epic battle in the snow in Denver, I’ve already devoted an entire gallery post on the US Mens National Team’s now-protested victory over Costa Rica. No need for overkill there. So instead we get a shot of Golden Balls at an unveiling of his new H&M underwear line in Berlin. He even signed underwear at the event, so his fans could have even more David Beckham in their David Beckham underwear. Xzibit, no doubt, approves. How this guy has time to promote his underpants in Germany, slip and fall on his ass while in China as their “Global Football Ambassador” and play for PSG — all in one week — is a bit beyond me.

ten words or less #66

Tottenham's Clint Dempsey celebrates scoring against Manchester United

deuce earned his stripes against united once again.

From this American fan’s perspective, the long holiday weekend that’s just passed us by was quite a good one.

Saturday’s fixtures were chock full of goals, averaging just over three and half per match. Then on  #EpicSunday2 (© Fox Soccer Channel) with an entertaining Gunners loss to Chelsea and a gutsy, come-from-behind draw for Spurs against Manchester United. And with a whole additional day to recover after spending Sunday at the pub watching it all go down — not to mention being able to squeeze in a few hours of skiing on Saturday night — I would be hard pressed to design a better weekend for myself.

So with some bigger things around the corner still needing some attention and final polish, this seems like the perfect time to share some of my favorite links from the last week.

The European Transfer Market: Visualized. - transferwindow.info

Greeting fans through your car sunroof isn’t the best idea. – theoriginalwinger.com

Il Fenomeno finally get’s his move to England. – guardian.co.uk

Well look who’s decided he wants to play this year. – lagalaxy.com

Footballer lowered into a well to save a little girl. – dailymail.co.uk

Ferguson has bigger issues than Zeki Fryers move to Spurs. – espnfc.com

Like Rapinoe, I wish more USWNT players would move abroad.
- prosoccertalk.nbcsports.com

Ronaldinho get’s his own, footie-themed Bollywood Space Jam. – indiaglitz.com

If MLB ran soccer teams… their kits could be AWESOME. – kckrs.com

Adu now looking for his 9th club in 9 years. – soccerbyives.com

football as a billboard… for politics?

Kit sponsors — at least for as long as I can remember — have always been the subject of much debate within the beautiful game. Is shirt advertising a distraction, or is it beneficial? Will it sully the beauty of the match by effectively turning your favorite players into running billboards on the pitch? What is an inappropriate sponsor and what isn’t?

Romney-sponsored FC New York

a romney sponsorship will net you publicity, if nothing else.

And thanks to an ambitious sponsorship move Stateside, the debate over the merit of displaying another company’s logo on a jersey has been opened once again.

While MLS’ franchise FC Dallas announcing their first major shirt sponsor partnership with nutritional supplement maker AdvoCare might have been the bigger news, the one that should have been making headlines involved the significantly smaller side, FC New York. A member of the fourth-tier National Premier Soccer League – and perhaps the owner of the worst sports franchise website of all time — FC New York recently announced that their newest shirt sponsor would feature the campaign logo and slogan for current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Barring any of the obvious jokes about the ironic nature of a conservative American political candidate having his name emblazoned across the front of a jersey of a team that plays a sport that many Americans consider to be a flag-bearer for socialism, it did seem like a pretty unique move by a member of his supporter base. Note, however that I didn’t say that the Romney campaign purchased the advertising. Instead, it was purchased by anonymous, “unconnected” member of Romney’s wealthy political sympathizers, who had this to say in a statement released by the club:

I love futbol, I love America, I am a proud Latino-American who believes Mitt Romney needs to be our next president.

So even if Mitt didn’t write the sponsorship check himself, you still have to admire the ingenuity in the move in some respects. With television commercials, political rallies, billboards, signs and bumper stickers all starting to feel a little stale, this was a great example of thinking outside the box. Whether it ends up of being of great benefit to Romney’s cause remains to be seen, but it’s still is an interesting way to get the former governor’s name out there.

But thanks to large swaths of the American soccer fan base having liberal leanings, the announcement was quick to receive backlash. Forums and social media sites were up in arms, ready to storm the pitch with pitchforks and torches over the sponsorship. Would they have raised such a storm if an Obama-backing SuperPac had sponsored FCNY? I don’t know that answer, but let’s just say I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

Regardless of which side you support, there’s nothing new about such controversy. We’ve heard this song and dance before, as it’s just another dispute over the moral dilemma of sponsors in the first place.

Eintracht Braunschweig Jagermeister Sponsor

you can credit eintracht braunschweig for dropping the original jäger-bomb.

Even from it’s very beginnings, the idea of slapping a sponsor’s name on a club’s shirt was a controversial one. The first ever shirt sponsor was on the shirt of German side Eintracht Braunschweig in 1973, when they sported the logo of liqueur giant Jägermeister on their chests. Despite shirt sponsorships being outlawed outright at the time,  BTSV were able to circumvent the rules by — get this — temporarily changing their club crest to a version of the Jäger emblem. Now that’s what I call dedication to the dollar.

Kettering Town, the first English side to adopt a sponsor, faced a similar backlash in January of 1976. After brokering a deal with local company Kettering Tyres, the company name appeared on the players’ shirts in a match against Bath City on January 24th. When the FA caught wind of this four days later, they promptly ordered it removed. Not about to give up on the extra income, club chairman/manager/center forward Derek Dougan removed only the final letters, changing the wording on the shirts to “Kettering T”, as if it was to represent the club name. Seeing right through the ploy, the FA countered with a threat of a £1,000 fine, and Dougan succumbed to their pressure. However, he remained undeterred and — having gotten further backing from Bolton and Derby County — successfully convinced the FA to allow shirt sponsors in June 1977. Coincidentally, Dougan and Kettering were unable to secure a sponsor for that season. C’est la vie.

Similar opposition claims that corporate logos don’t belong on an athletic team’s jerseys resonates particularly well here in the States, thanks to our traditional sporting culture frowning upon tainting the “sacred” empty spaces found on our baseball, basketball and football uniforms with ads. Which does seem highly ironic, considering the American sports fan is willing to unnecessarily stop the action repeatedly throughout a match for “TV timeouts” (see: advertising timeouts) to protect the sanctity of the uniform.

But what about political entities: do they have a history of sponsoring football sides?

politics and football

there’s already too much political influence in the beautiful game.

Surprisingly (to me at least), there have actually been very few cases of government or political logos ever ending up on a professional side’s kits. And even then, they’re pretty weak examples or rather roundabout. In fact, the only true examples of a campaigning politician plastering their logos on the uniforms of a sports team come from NASCAR… hardly shocking considering the racing circuit is the undisputed king of over saturated sports advertising.

So with football so popular, especially amongst the legions of impressionable lower classes, why haven’t we seen hopeful politicians using the shirts of various football sides to promote their message? It’s rather simple actually: they’re not really allowed.

For example, many national associations have explicitly banned political sponsorships on their own. Section A, Article 4 of The FA Kit and Advertising Regulations prohibits kit sponsors of a political nature in England. Ditto in the US thanks provisions under Law 4: The Players’ Equipment in USSF legislation. And as you might expect, similar regulations can be found in a plethora of other national associations’ bylaws too. But even more definitively, FIFA weighed in with a comparable ruling of their own in the official Equipment Regulations:

VII.54.1 For all matches, all forms of advertising for sponsors, manufacturers… or any third parties, of political, religious or personal statements and/or other announcements, are strictly prohibited on all playing equipment…

Well, that seems pretty straight forward if you ask me. And luckily, I wasn’t the only one who thought this was a pretty black and white matter. The referee for their next match was quick to advise FCNY that they were in violation of FIFA regulations, and if they took the pitch in their Romney-flavored kits, they would have to forfeit the match. And when the NPSL chairman Andy Zorovich caught wind of the plans, he echoed the world’s governing body with a resounding “[they're] not [wearing them] in an NPSL game”. And since the team are also in hot water with the league over mistreatment of opposing sides, not following league policies, and using deceptive advertising, the potential threat of having their charter pulled over the Romney-sponsorship didn’t seem worth the risk.

Look, football is already overly politically charged. Entire clubs and fan bases the world over have been brought together thanks to their political beliefs. Similarly, politics within the clubs themselves often involves mud-slinging and tomfoolery not too dissimilar from what could be seen during your average presidential campaign. We don’t need politicians — and their (and their supporters) vast sums of money — piling on top of all of that.

And while I admire the ingenuity in the move by FC New York’s mysterious anonymous donor, let’s just say that I’m more than happy to have seen the club lose out on any increased income if that means that they follow the letter of the law instead of pining for those who make them.

ten words or less #43

real madrid christmas marcelo, ramos, perez, mourinho, cassilas, higuain

even the men of real madrid thought it worth celebrating the blog's 20,000th visitor.

Despite the fact that the holidays are generally a festive time of the year, we have extra reason to celebrate on Christmas 2011: wrongsideofthepond.com crossing the 20,000 unique visitor milestone. I devoted an entire post — and even unveiled an official URL — to commemorate eclipsing the 10,000 mark, so I lament to report that I’ve only prepared you a lame-o TWOL post to celebrate this time around. I’m bad with Christmas gifts, what can I say?

I do have to admit that, after looking over that 10k post, I feel like the blog has come lightyears since. I’d like to think that my content has improved, as well as my writing… though I’ll allow you readers to have the final say on that. If nothing else, it’s been pretty cool to see how fast the site’s traffic has actually grown: while it took just under two years to hit 10,000 visitors, it only took around 10 months to double that figure. And I have to thank you, my readers, for the large part you played in helping to spread the word.

So as you gather with family, friends and the like this today, regardless your traditions, just know that whatever parades and celebrations you see on TV today are being thrown to celebrate this blog reaching such “historic” heights… and not some longstanding religious tradition or anything like that. Cheers, and Happy Holidays!

‘Arry get’s busted. Very circuitously. But still busted. – unprofessionalfoul.com

SWRL: the world’s first freestyle soccer lifestyle brand… pretty sick. – swrlworld.com

Seriously. What the hell is wrong with the Belgian league? – cheeseslices.co.uk

Not exactly a normal academy, but a great idea regardless. – kckrs.com

Enrique’s progress on bringing Barcelona to Rome. – zonalmarking.net

The Blizzard… my first digital periodical download. – theblizzard.co.uk

So if I followed, Borges is the Brazilian Darren Bent? – inbedwithmaradona.com

Even if Pepe breaks your leg, he’ll make you cookies. – dirtytackle.net