Major League Soccer changes policy after pressure from Sounders fans and will now allow championship stars to be placed on all the team's 2016 and 2017 replica jerseys.
Stephanie Steiner was taking at least the day to savor a victory for Sounders fans before pondering the next move.
The president of the team’s Alliance Council was dissecting a Major League Soccer announcement Thursday that it had reversed a merchandising policy after a protest by Sounders fans. Previously, championship stars commemorating the team’s MLS Cup win in December could only be added to authentic Sounders jerseys and not the replica home and secondary uniform versions favored by much of the fan base – especially women and children.
Championship squads sporting a gold star above their team crest has been a longstanding soccer tradition worldwide. The MLS policy switch will now see stars added to all 2016 and 2017 Sounders jerseys instead of only the authentic version.
“The authentic jersey … is designed for professional soccer players,’’ said Steiner, a third-year president of the Alliance, comprised of about 35,000 of the team’s season-ticket holders. “How many people in the fanbase fit the body type of a professional soccer player? Kids don’t. They’re too small. Women develop breasts – it’s an inevitable event. And men have to be incredibly athletic for that to fit.
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“So, what’s the percentage of the population that can fit well in authentic jerseys. So, they were saying ‘Nobody else gets that star.’ And that’s kind of ridiculous.’’
And for now, nobody but Sounders fans will get it either. A statement issued by the Sounders, who negotiated directly with the league on the Alliance’s behalf, said the MLS plans to review the policy at the conclusion of each season.
Bart Wiley, the team’s chief operating officer, said: “Many fans expressed to us their concerns with the previous championship star policy and we applaud Alliance Council leadership for representing their constituents to address those concerns with MLS and our organization.”
Fan bases clamoring for stars on their team merchandise wasn’t really an issue for the league until the highly-popular Portland Timbers won their first MLS Cup in 2015.
The Timbers actually went ahead and started selling stars on all jerseys without getting league permission. But the league clamped down on the practice this year.
MLS declined to issue any further statements on the matter Thursday, other than what was conveyed in the Sounders press release.
For now, the stars will be added to all Sounders home and Pacific Blue jerseys as well as a new “Heritage Kit” version unveiled Thursday that will commemorate the team’s first season in 1974. The jock tag on the bottom left of that jersey reads “Born in 1974”.
Steiner said she was first made aware via social media and texts from Sounders fans right after the team’s title win over Toronto that they were irate about the policy. She approached the Sounders about it and found they too had heard from fans and had already initiated discussions about it with the league.
With the Sounders acting as a go-between, talks ensued over the next several weeks as the Alliance pushed for a policy change. The fan group sent the league a formal letter, but never spoke directly to MLS officials – leaving that to the Sounders.
Steiner said her group was given the impression during negotiations that the league had been trying to create more value for the authentic jerseys by limiting the use of stars to them in order to differentiate them from the replica version.
She hadn’t heard about MLS limiting its policy switch to just Sounders jerseys for now until reading about it in a Seattle Times online post on Thursday. She’ll wait until hearing something officially from the league before deciding whether to continue the planned campaign against the policy.
“The important thing for me is, if you’re going to build this in the U.S., you’ve got to build it for kids,’’ Steiner said. “These are their heroes. These are the people they look up to. So, let them celebrate the championship.’’