While North American professional sports teams continue to face allegations of racism related to Native American-inspired nicknames and iconography, the Seattle Sounders – in some ways – go against the grain.
The sounders announced on Tuesday that the Emerald Queen Casino, which is operated by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians at two locations in Washington State, is the club’s new official “casino and entertainment partner”.
Included in the seven-year agreement is a jersey sleeve sponsorship. The Sounders will feature the Emerald Queen Casino logo on their main shirt and, more interestingly, the Puyallup Tribe badge on their secondary shirt.
The club’s charity foundation will also work with the tribe and casino on initiatives to improve recreational opportunities for underserved communities, including several mini-pitches.
The Sounders announcement is noteworthy for several reasons. For starters, it may show a more acceptable and equitable way to pay homage to Native Americans in a team’s community, and undermine the arguments that other teams are only doing so with the use of logos and mascots that some Native Americans have found offensive .
The latter positions are already losing momentum before the court of public opinion, with Washington’s professional football team last year to give up a long-cherished name many decried as racist slander, and the Cleveland Indians are withdrawing Cartoon-esque Chief Wahoo logo. In comparison, the use of the Puyallup tribal logo is not only more authentic, but also depicts his mouth and is for the direct purpose of generating income for a Native American-run corporate partner rather than the club.
Second, the move could represent a new avenue in the league’s endeavor to woo the sports betting industry for teams playing where access to legal betting is restricted.
Last year, Washington state lawmakers approved a move to legalize sports betting on tribal land only, based on the practice of making legalized gambling of all kinds the exclusive domain of tribal organizations in the state. The Covid-19 pandemic has so far delayed the establishment of sports betting, but it’s probably more a question of when than if, even with Emerald Queen.
Major League Soccer has embraced the sports betting industry just like any other North American league since a Supreme Court ruling paved the way for states to legalize the practice. The league allowed teams to use the logos of domestically based betting companies on their jerseys from 2019, and has entered into a proprietary partnership with BetMGM that includes: List of game odds on the league website.
At the club level, DC United were the first team to sport a sports betting company logo on their jersey when they struck a sleeve agreement with Caesars in February 2020. The Philadelphia Union and Chicago Fire FC are among the other MLS teams that have partnered with betting firms that do not involve shirt sponsorship.
How might contacting tribal organizations affect clubs? In addition to the Sounders, two MLS teams – New York City FC and the new expansion club Charlotte FC – play in states where sports betting is currently only legal on tribal land. The three California MLS teams and Minnesota United are also playing in states where potential future legalized bets will follow a similar path. according to ActionNetwork.
One final thought on team names, some MLS fans have complained the latest trend of MLS teams adopting European-sounding names that do not contain a mascot at all. Montreal’s rebranding has perhaps drawn the greatest anger from supporters, with criticism also reaching expansion clubs in Charlotte and St. Louis. But there is an advantage; The lack of an official mascot is an easy way to ensure that such a mascot does not have potentially racist connotations.
Don’t you think an MLS team in these times would be foolish enough to wade into potentially racist territory? Then remember the turmoil from the Latino community around the originally chosen name of the MLS club in Houston before wisely moving to Houston Dynamo (and eventually Houston Dynamo FC).