Since returning to MLS in 2008, the San Jose Earthquakes have struck a jersey sponsorship deal only once, a three-year agreement with Amway that ran from 2009 through 2011. Reported as a multimillion dollar deal, which provided the organization a sizable cash infusion, it was less than popular with fans who did not like having the name of a multi-level marketing company splashed across the chest of their souvenir jerseys.
And so it was met with some applause when the 2012 Earthquakes home and away jerseys were released, sans sponsorship graphics, and the all-black and all-blue designs proved very popular. Last January, the club introduced a new logo as part of its 40 years since its founding celebration, and with it a radical new design to the jerseys, but again absent was a sponsor. Supporters began to ask when the Quakes would again go the jersey sponsorship route.
"We're in several advanced conversations with both jersey and naming-rights partners," Earthquakes president Dave Kaval said the night of the new logo unveiling. "Some are considering both properties, and so we want to make sure that we get the right partner."
The Quakes found the right partner in Avaya, a leading global provider of next-generation business collaboration and communications solutions, and a lengthy negotiation culminated in the multi-billion company agreeing to a stadium naming rights deal that would net the Earthquakes $20 million over 20 years. What almost happened in concert was that Avaya would become the new jersey sponsor too.
"At one point, we were looking at packaging the jersey and the naming rights to the stadium together," Kaval said at the Avaya Stadium naming announcement in November. "In the end it made sense to parcel out those assets."
Did that mean the Earthquakes had to start from square one in their search for a jersey sponsor? Kaval indicated that they had a dedicated group within the organization that was working to identify and negotiate with potential sponsors, adding that they were not limiting themselves to one particular business sector.
"We are talking to a wide variety of companies about the jersey, said Kaval. "There's been a tremendous amount of interest, and for us it is just about finding the right partner at the right time."
Very few clubs in MLS have gone as long as the Earthquakes without a jersey sponsorship, and fans have offered up their own suggestions throughout the sponsor-less seasons. Kaval acknowledged that the lack of such a deal did represent some lost revenue opportunities; however, he also pointed out that the club didn't want to rush into a deal with a company that did not match the vision and ideals of the Earthquakes.
"You want to make sure you have the right brand," said Kaval "You want to make sure you have the right partner that can achieve goals beyond just the name on a kit. And obviously, since that is something that the actual fans and players wear, it's very important to make sure that those align, and the visions of that company, whoever it is, kind of fits with our brand values."
So a year on from when the Earthquakes redesigned logo was unveiled, the club is still working on getting the right sponsor. The commemorative red away jersey of 2014, which is to be replaced in 2015 with a new color and design, and the primary black and blue kit survived one season unadulterated, but will that be the case for the fourth year running since the Amway deal ran out?
"Obviously we want to make sure the timing works out with opening day," said Kaval, "but the key is to get the right partner. That's also a long-term deal, and the most important thing is that we make the right decisions for everyone."
The Earthquakes new away jersey for the 2015 MLS season is expected to be unveiled in the coming weeks. Whether or not it, as well as the black and blue home jersey, will also feature a sponsor is still to be determined.