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Most MLS teams expected to put additional advertising on jerseys during return-to-play event

Bastian Schweinsteiger, right, of the Chicago Fire passes the ball in front of Orlando City's Kamal Miller during an MLS match in October. (John Raoux/AP)

Most MLS teams are expected to add additional advertising to their game uniforms for the return-to-play tournament at Disney World, a move to help retain local sponsors who have lost visibility in the absence of regular season home matches during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The league will allow a sponsor logo on the left sleeve — teams already are permitted to sell ads on the right sleeve, as well as across the front of the jersey — and, in some cases, a patch on the lower back of players’ shorts.

“MLS wanted to provide premium opportunities for partners to connect with clubs during the MLS is Back Tournament,” the league said in a statement. “With all of the tournament games on national networks, and as MLS becomes one of the first leagues in major team sports to return to play, these opportunities are especially powerful assets for local partners.”

News of the initiative was reported by The Washington Post on June 12.

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The tournament is scheduled to begin July 8 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando. All 26 teams are living in a “closed environment” at a Disney resort and will practice and play without spectators at the sports facility until as late as Aug. 11. All matches will appear on ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision outlets.

The league will lose up to $1 billion during the regular season shutdown, Commissioner Don Garber said this month. Play was suspended in March, two weeks into the season. There are tentative plans to resume in home markets later this summer or in the fall, but in all likelihood it would be with no spectators or a limited number.

Some sponsors have withheld payments to teams as they, too, confront financial difficulties following the coronavirus outbreak. MLS is trying to help clubs make good on those deals by allowing additional ads on uniforms.

D.C. United already has Leidos, a government contractor, across the chest and Caesars Entertainment on the right sleeve. It plans to add Gainbridge, an insurance company, on the left sleeve and EventsDC, the local sports and entertainment authority, on the shorts, multiple people close to the talks said. Both are current sponsors.

Since 2007, teams have been allowed to monetize the front of the jersey, much like most soccer teams around the world. This year, the league allowed small sponsorship patches on the right sleeve.

At the Florida tournament, teams have been given two opportunities to add sponsor logos to uniforms. For those that don’t already have an ad on the sleeve, they can apply one on each sleeve. For the five teams that already have a sleeve sponsor — Atlanta United, D.C. United, Sporting Kansas City, Los Angeles FC and Toronto FC — they can add logos to the other sleeve and the back of the shorts.

There is an exception: If a team is not comfortable with the combination of sleeve partners — for example, alcohol and health care — it could move one to the shorts.

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If the regular season resumes, logos on shorts would be removed. Teams that used the right sleeve in the tournament for a current local sponsor would have to remove it for the regular season; it could sign a new sponsor for that space.

In anticipation of teams adding jersey sponsors, the league plans to remove the MLS logo on the left sleeve for the rest of the year.

The National Women’s Soccer League allows teams to place four sponsor logos on jerseys: front, upper back, lower back and sleeve. The Washington Spirit’s uniforms display CVS, Progressive, WAGS and Sandy Spring Bank.

U.S. soccer leagues are far behind Liga MX, Mexico’s top-flight men’s circuit. This past season, most clubs had at least six uniform sponsors, led by León with 11.

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