How MLS Jersey Design Can Bring the League to an Upper Echelon

With more eyes on the league than ever before, MLS has a golden opportunity to catapult itself and grow at an even faster pace than it has in recent years. One way it can do so is an aggressive approach when it comes to jersey designs. 

The 2024 MLS season is fast approaching. With multiple clubs suiting up for CONCACAF Champions Cup action, some fanbases only need to wait until the first week of February to see their first glimpse of their hometown heroes.

As with any new season, there are heaps of things to be announced, and one that we at Urban Pitch look forward to every year is the kits that each club will don for its season. Unlike many of the major leagues in the world, MLS rolls over one jersey design from the previous year, while adding one new design to replace the repeat kit from the year before.

Five lucky (or successful) MLS teams and their fans will receive third kits, as first reported by Footy Headlines, in 2024 to compliment their home and away getups. These third kits typically feature a design that is tied to cultural symbolism that is attached to their city or region. For example, the New York Red Bulls received their “Freestyle” kits last year, which celebrated 50 years of hip-hop while honoring the genre’s pioneers and innovators.

nyrb third kit

Per the Footy Headlines report, five teams will receive a third kit in 2024 — LA Galaxy, LAFC, Inter Miami, Portland Timbers, and Sporting Kansas City. While not confirmed by the league, it has long been believed that third kits are given to MLS clubs based on shirt sales from the previous season. As of now, these five clubs have reportedly passed the sales threshold, but we may see other clubs receiving an additional celebratory shirt this season, for example, a Vancouver Whitecaps 50th anniversary kit.

So far, we’ve seen two possible third kit designs leak. For LAFC, it has been rumored that the club will go with a retro LA Aztecs-inspired look, which is surprising considering the relatively new history of the club.

Inter Miami’s kit supposedly will share a color scheme with their NFL neighbors, the Miami Dolphins. Whether they will take other design cues from the other football team in town is still to be seen, but either way, the funky addition of teal and orange will certainly stand out under the lights in South Florida.

If we think from a league-wide perspective, it feels slightly odd that only specific teams receive third kits. Looking to other leagues like the NBA for example, we have seen some incentive-based jerseys before, but the threshold was based on team performance rather than overall sales.

nba jerseys

Nike’s jersey deal with the NBA has certainly convoluted the idea of home, away, and alternate uniforms, but every team receives at least four jersey designs per season, with additional special edition jerseys being based on team culture, history, and achievements.

While I understand that the jersey deal that the NBA has is significantly larger than the MLS-adidas deal, it seems odd that adidas basically treats the majority of MLS teams like they are third or fourth division teams in England. Big enough to get a deal, but not quite enough to get more than a standard set of kits. While it must be said that it seems like there has been more effort put into recent MLS kit designs compared to the ultra-templated looks from years past, there is still more room for growth, and now is the perfect time.

MLS and adidas signed a six-year, $830 million extension to their partnership ahead of the 2023 season, and what better way to kick things off than to introduce a more aggressive jersey strategy? While the league and brand decided to take things slow in the first year of the extended partnership, it is no time to settle. Now with Lionel Messi and potentially more stars joining the league, there is a limited window to capitalize on and truly show that MLS is a major sports league in America.

venezia kits

We’ve seen kit design play a major role in football club marketability. Take Venezia FC, for example. The club’s dedication to creating beautiful kits and apparel skyrocketed its popularity across the world, despite being a relatively small team. Coincidentally, it was an American creative agency, Nowhere FC, along with an American ownership group, that spearheaded Venezia’s radical turnaround.

Would Venezia FC be as popular as it was today if its kits weren’t beautiful? Absolutely not. It used one of its tools to build its brand, and MLS and adidas are losing out on a massive opportunity to grow their audience and brands by not taking the most visual part of the game as seriously as they should.

While many will buy a Messi jersey regardless of the quality of its design, the league has an incredibly important opportunity at its hands to avoid a flash-in-the-pan situation. More eyes are on the league than ever before, and if it wants to keep those eyes once a certain player calls it quits, putting an emphasis on league-wide kit designs is a pretty straightforward solution.

The league can use this opportunity to make a change and grab hold of the attention of the people who would’ve only considered paying attention to MLS once Messi arrived.

Staff Writer, Urban Pitch. I am a 24-year-old Marketing Professional from the east coast of Canada. More importantly, I love the beautiful game, fashion, and culture that surrounds the game. I am just hoping to bring some Canadian flair to Urban Pitch!

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