If you follow the Colorado Rapids, you already know that the 2014 season was, well, disappointing. (If you don’t, read “Head Games,” my profile of Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni.) Surprisingly, though, the Rapids dismal 8–18–8 record wasn’t the team’s worst news headline of 2014. No, the lowest moment came in October when the team sued Ciao Telecom, a fledgling company that had signed on as the team’s shirt sponsor just six months earlier, for failure to make payments on a five-year, $8.3 million contract.
Now, companies—and their advertising budgets—come and go (see: Invesco Field at Mile High, which is now Sports Authority Field at Mile High). That’s to be expected. But this relationship dissolved so quickly, it will be but a blip in the Rapids’ 20-year history. Both Ciao and the Rapids got cold feet in 2014 before signing the contract, which is part of the reason that the season’s jerseys were produced without a logo. When the partnership was announced in April, fans were told that the team would add the logo to their pre-purchased jerseys free of charge. Many opted not to, which turned out to be a wise decision.
Prior to this deal, the Rapids hadn’t had a shirt sponsor—ever. There were times when it was the only MLS team without one, a conundrum we addressed in 2014’s “Wishful Thinking.” In a game sans commercial breaks, shirt sponsorships have become big business for advertisers. (In 2012, Chevrolet signed a seven-year, $559 million shirt sponsorship of the English Premier League’s Manchester United.) But sponsorships, particularly in MLS, also give teams validity as viable financial organizations that are able to reach out with bigger contracts to more well-known players. In short, sponsorships offer an advantage, and it is one that the Rapids didn’t have—and may not have again in 2015.
While the Rapids won’t say much about the Ciao contract while the lawsuit is pending, Tim Hinchey, the team’s president, told me in December that the situation was “disappointing.” But he was also upbeat about the future of the team’s sponsorship, noting that several companies were interested in the prospect of appearing on the Rapids’ jersey. Which leads back to a question we’ve asked before: So, Colorado, who’s going to step up?