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United Takes Volkswagen Out for a Spin

United's uniform has shed the traditional stripes in favor of a blank front.
United's uniform has shed the traditional stripes in favor of a blank front. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Volkswagen of America will pay more than $14 million over five years to be D.C. United's primary sponsor and have its logo appear on the team's uniform, sources familiar with the negotiations said yesterday.

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United and Volkswagen officials declined to comment, but the MLS club announced it will hold a news conference this morning at RFK Stadium featuring team investor Victor MacFarlane, league commissioner Don Garber and "executives from United's new partner."

United will become the ninth of the current 14 MLS teams to have a corporate insignia splashed on the front of its jersey, a common practice in international soccer but not in U.S. pro leagues. NASCAR drivers and pro golfers have lucrative contracts to display company logos.

One deal, between English Premier League club Chelsea and South Korean electronics firm Samsung, is valued at more than $20 million annually.

According to one source, a black VW logo will appear on United's white uniform and a white moniker on its black shirt.

United will debut the new jersey Thursday night against the visiting Chicago Fire. At the start of the season, in anticipation of a sponsorship, United removed the traditional three stripes from its uniform and left the front blank, except for the team's crest and the four stars signifying its MLS Cup titles.

The agreement is the second richest in MLS, behind Los Angeles' deal with Herbalife, a nutrition and weight-loss company that pays at least $4 million per year to sponsor the Galaxy and English superstar David Beckham. Other MLS team sponsors include Best Buy (Chicago Fire), Glidden (Columbus Crew) and the Bank of Montreal (Toronto FC).

As part of the United deal, Volkswagen signage will appear inside and outside RFK Stadium. The company will also sponsor events in the parking lots before games and stage an interactive area behind the north goal.

The sponsorship comes at a vital time for United, which has been thwarted in its attempts to build a 27,000-seat stadium at Poplar Point in Anacostia and continues to lose money playing at RFK Stadium. Club officials say a new facility -- and the revenue it would generate -- is vital to the team's long-term viability.

One source said United President Kevin Payne initiated talks with Volkswagen last fall, when the German automaker announced it would move its U.S. headquarters to Herndon from Auburn Hills, Mich.

At today's news conference, Volkswagen will also be introduced as MLS's automobile sponsor, replacing Honda, which last summer decided to end its relationship with MLS after 12 seasons. Terms of MLS's deal with Volkswagen were not available.

Volkswagen has strong ties to soccer through its German roots. The company owns VfL Wolfsburg, a Bundesliga club, and has its logo on the team's green uniforms. It also holds a 50 percent share of the team's six-year-old stadium, Volkswagen Arena.

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