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Union to keep Bimbo logo with new sponsorship deal

The Union announced Wednesday that they have agreed to an extension of their jersey sponsorship with Horsham-based Bimbo Bakeries USA.

Bimbo first signed on with the Union in 2011, when it agreed to a four-year, $12 million deal with the club and Major League Soccer as a whole. According to the Philadelphia Business Journal, the new deal is worth approximately $11 million over the next five years, and it is exclusively with the Union.

I spoke Wednesday afternoon with Dave Rowan, the club's executive vice president and chief revenue officer. He told me that Bimbo opted to not extend its leaguewide sponsorship package.

Rowan did not specifically confirm the amount of money in the new deal, though he didn't deny the Business Journal's numbers.

He did specifically confirm that the Union will get more money in the new deal than they did from the old one, even though Bimbo will be spending less overall.

The short explanation is that the $12 million in the old deal was split between the Union and MLS headquarters. Rowan wouldn't tell me exactly how that money was split, but he did tell me that the approximately $2.3 million per year the Union will get now is "an increased investment on an annual basis."

"The average amount of the deal is higher than it was in the first four years," Rowan said, "and they committed an additional year on top of the investment being an increased amount."

That will come as good news to fans of a club that by its own admission has not always stood among MLS' financial heavy-hitters.

I also spoke Wednesday with Bimbo Bakeries USA senior vice president Vince Melchiorre and Union chief revenue officer Dave Rowan. Both men declined to comment on financial specifics, beyond Melchiorre confirming the five-year length. But they did address some other matters relating to the deal.

The big question that many Union fans have - and have had ever since the first deal was done - relates to the design of the logo on the jersey. The word "BIMBO" in bright red letters on a white background with blue trim gets attention whether you're a soccer fan or not.

Both the Union and Bimbo have stressed repeatedly that the brand has has strong and positive name recognition throughout Latin America and the United States' Hispanic community. As I wrote when the original deal was signeed, they aren't wrong.

Nor are they wrong to highlight Bimbo's recognition in the soccer sphere, as the Union are one of eight soccer teams in CONCACAF with the same logo on their shirts.

The others are Mexican powerhouses Club América, Chivas Guadalajara and Monterrey; Costa Rica's Saprissa; El Salvador's Isidro Metapán*; Panama's San Francisco FC; and the USL PRO's Rochester Rhinos.

* - In the first version of this I wrote in haste that Isidro Metapán is in Costa Rica, even though I knew they aren't. Apologies.

But the anti-Bimbo sentiment remains strong in a portion of the Union's core fan base, and especially among women. I've heard repeatedly over the years from readers (of both genders, in fact) who won't buy Union jerseys or merchandise with the Bimbo logo on it.

When I solicited reader opinion on the matter Wednesday afternoon via Twitter, I got a decidedly mixed reaction. You can see some samples here.

I also asked Jeff DiVeronica, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle's veteran soccer writer, what the opinion of Bimbo is up there:

Though some Union fans want to see a change, Melchiorre told me that it won't be happening.

"There were never any discussions about [putting] anything but the Bimbo logo on the jersey," he said. "The Bimbo logo is the brand logo that we use on teams throughout the world. We're going to stay consistent with that."

I then asked whether Bimbo might consider using one of its other brand names instead of the controversial logo. Two of its brands in particular, Stroehmann's and Friehofer's, have deep roots in the Philadelphia region.

That won't be happening either.

"There were never any discussions about putting any of our brands other than Bimbo on the jersey," Melchiorre told me. "The Bimbo logo is really the important logo."

The same sentiment extended to swapping the international Bimbo logo for the Bimbo Bakeries USA logo, which takes inspiration from the American flag and features the word in smaller print.

Melchiorre acknowledged the public's concern, though, especially when the first deal was signed four years ago, and he acknowledged that it did affect him.

I never had a big concern about it.

"When we did the first deal, we did the press conference and I left for Chicago, and I called Nick [Sakiewicz, the Union's CEO] that night because ESPN and a lot of other outlets poked a bit of fun at it," Melchiorre said. "After a couple of months it went away… I had a little bit of angst when we did the first deal, but never any serious concerns."

From where Melchiorre sits, the gains in revenue and exposure outweigh the losses from fans who've kept their wallets closed.

"I would tell you, I go to the stadium now and half the folks are women, and they are all wearing jerseys," he said. "I guess you'll get [complaints] occasionally, but we have no concerns."

Rowan backed Melchiorre up on that, noting that the Union have annually been among the top sellers of merchandise across all MLS clubs.

"If it was that much of a broader issue, the numbers wouldn't be what they are," Rowan said. "People do get in soccer that the kit partner is a major part of the team's success [and] a significant part of our overall revenue. You're always going to have people who don't like this or don't like that, but it has not affected us."

Although Bimbo is ending its formal partnership with MLS, you'll still see the brand plenty on a national basis. Melchiorre told me that he wants to focus on youth soccer in particular going forward. Given the company's focus on baked goods, that's a logical connection to make.

"One of the aims of this contract is for us to tie more closely with youth soccer leagues in major cities," he said. "Can we partner with MLS teams to do that? I think we can, and I think that will help youth soccer's connection with Bimbo and [American] Hispanics."

Expect that push to include a focus on the league's forthcoming expansion teams: Orlando City, New York City and the still-to-be-named Atlanta franchise.

But it looks like the Union will remain Bimbo's signature MLS partner, not least because of the company's Horsham ties. And Melchiorre told me they expect to keep the relationship going for a long time.

"We rally around them win or lose, and we're going to continue to do that for the next five years," he said. "They are a great partner and we hope they are successful, but this is a long term play and we are with them win or lose."

At the moment, there are good reasons for optimism. The Union will host the U.S. Open Cup final on September 16, with a chance to win their first ever trophy. Just outside PPL Park, the team's long-sought practice fields are finally (and that's an understatement) under construction.

And in October, another big chapter will be written in PPL Park's history, as CONCACAF brings the semifinals and finals of Women's World Cup qualifying to Chester.

It is not lost on anyone - including American Outlaws chapters across the Northeast Corridor - that the United States will likely seal qualification for Canada 2015 on the banks of the Delaware River.

Top that off with the still-lingering buzz from the World Cup, and it is a reasonably good time to be in the Union's front office.

(I hedge, as I know many of you do, because the team hasn't won anything yet, and it still has plenty of work to do to make the playoffs. There's also the team's goalkeeping quandary, and the many questions over interim manager Jim Curtin's future. But for the moment, it's fair to look at the good side of things.)

Rowan offered a few bits of information on those big off-the-field stories.

First, told me that the Union aim to have construction on the practice fields finished in time for the World Cup qualifiers.

"Some of it has to do with weather," Rowan said, "but that's what we're targeting."

Both fields will be natural grass, and as Sakiewicz told the Delaware County Times in February, one of the fields will be open for community use.

The latest dispatch from the PPL Park box office, according to Rowan, is that around 8,000 tickets have been sold for the Open Cup final, including 480 reserved for visiting Sounders fans. Tickets are not included in season ticket packages, so that's a true measurement of the paid crowd.

Rowan noted that a majority of the tickets sold so far have gone to non-season ticket holders. That is a reflection of interest in the game across the region's wider soccer  community.

(Rowan also noted that season ticket holders who want to get their regular seats for the game must make their purchases by this coming Sunday.)

The Open Cup final isn't the only Union game that has captured new attention. Rowan told me that the August 9 game against the Montréal Impact, who sit in last place in the Eastern Conference, sold the second-most single-game tickets in club history - just over 3,000. The only game that sold more was David Beckham's sole visit to PPL Park with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2010.

Rowan added that the July 12 game against the Colorado Rapids - played the night before the World Cup final - sold 2,700 single-game tickets, the third-highest total in club history.

A significant number of those tickets were bought by fans in the coveted millennial demographic. That's of consequence not just because they're in wheelhouse as far as soccer fans go, but also because many of them in our region live in urban areas - and a lot of them don't have cars.

Rowan is all too aware of that. He wasn't surprised when I noted to him that the number one question I've been asked throughout the Union's history is how to get to PPL Park by public transportation.

I was told that there may be changes for the better on that front next year. Rowan wouldn't go into specifics, but he did tell me that there have been positive talks with SEPTA about what can be done to expand access to PPL Park.

We'll see if those plans come to fruition. It will be of no small consequence for the team's long-term growth if it and SEPTA can improve on the current setup.

As ever, stay tuned.