By Graham Ruthven (@grahamruthven)
It was somewhat befitting of MLS’s most fledgling of fledging teams have set for themselves that Will Ferrell had to clarify his involvement in the club as “not a joke.” In their ambiguity Los Angeles Football Club have faced more than their fair share of derision - and so unveiling a comedic actor best known for his surreal style and lurid catchphrases probably wasn’t the best move to dispel that.
But beyond Ferrell’s show-stealing cameo at Thursday’s press conference to reveal the franchise’s new logo and brand identity, there was much to praise. More than two years have to elapse before LAFC take to a Major League Soccer field for the first time, but the outlook is now somewhat clearer.
Boasting an ownership group that counts the likes of Magic Johnson, Mia Hamm, Tony Robbins and now Ferrell among their ranks, LAFC’s publicity strategy has been clear from the very day they were announced as MLS’s latest franchise. Glitz and glamour in the city of glitz and glamour has coloured everything they have done so far.
“Our promise is to unite the world’s city with the world’s game,” LAFC president Tom Penn said at Thursday’s press conference, but such sentiment doesn’t quite fit with the most important task the franchise must undertake. Their ambitions - at least to begin with - must be more local.
LAFC cannot ignore where their failed predecessors, Chivas USA, went so badly wrong. They must also take lessons from the LA Galaxy - a franchise that hasn’t quite managed to translate their glittering on-the-field success into off-the-field prosperity. That’s where Los Angeles’ second club can capitalise.
Los Angeles, as one of North America’s biggest cities, has a cosmopolitan composition like few others - lending itself to MLS becoming a truly major league there. But Carson has been a challenging base for the LA Galaxy to find a fanbase from, with although their crowds remain respectable given Stub Hub Center’s location in the suburbs.
Chivas USA’s spectacular failure to capture Los Angeles’ demand for top-level soccer serves as an even graver warning for LAFC, though. For as long as MLS exists and thrives, the case of how a club used as a sister team by a bigger organisation flopped so badly will offered up as an example of what not to do. Chivas USA will forever more provide the greatest indignation of MLS.
Indeed, the Mexican-owned franchise - used as an outpost by Liga MX outfit Chivas Guadalajara - was the embodiment of MLS at its very worst. Chivas USA’s crowds in Carson dropped to an unprecedented level towards the end of the franchise’s lifespan, with less than 2,000 fans turning up to some of their games in their final season. Chivas USA’s parent club treated their MLS franchise with utter disdain.
Of course, this is why LAFC came to exist in the first instance. MLS’s hierarchy simply grew tired of the way Chivas Guadalajara offered so little to the division - and to the city of Los Angeles. It’s part of the implied deal taken up by LAFC that the same mistakes won’t be made again.
But before the franchise can capitalise on its local market, it must find a foothold first. According to the club, the approval process for the team’s stadium - to sit on the site of the LA Sports Arena - is 90 percent complete. "Over the next two to three months we'll have the finalisation of our design, and once that gets approved, we should expect full entitlement by the spring," team president Tom Penn explained. "Once we get that we can start taking down the LA Sports Arena."
LAFC have prioritised distinguishing themselves from the LA Galaxy - something Chivas USA failed to do. Going on their brand identity unveiled this week, they have done a good job - with the black and gold colour scheme giving the franchise an iconic look. There are no players, no coach and no fans - but at least there is now a clearer notion of what needs to be done.