St. Louis CITY SC will play their inaugural MLS match in two years’ time, and having inked a jersey-front sponsorship with founding partners Purina as a stadium and training facility rises from the soil in Downtown West, the outlines of the brand-new club are taking clearer shape.
“We're grateful that six months after a name and a crest and a color launch, here we are announcing our first founding partner, which is just amazing,” CITY SC owner Carolyn Kindle Betz told MLSsoccer.com in the run-up to Wednesday’s announcement of the deal with the St. Louis-based pet supply company this week. “What better place to have Purina right on our jerseys, close to our hearts? So I think that’s from our perspective how this whole thing has come together.
“To be able to have such an incredible first founding partner when really we don't have a match for two years, it's really something to celebrate.”
The partnership marks Purina’s first entry into the soccer space, and aims to go well beyond the usual advertising placements to make St. Louis “the most pet-friendly club in MLS.”
“We are excited to let the cat out of the bag, no pun intended,” wisecracked Kindle Betz.
Initiatives like pet adoption opportunities at club events and bring-your-pet-to-the-game promotions are just a few of the ideas on the table as CITY SC and Purina – both of which are proud to be led by women – move forward.
“Soccer in St Louis just has such a rich history and so does Purina, so that made a lot of sense,” said Nestlé Purina PetCare CEO and President Nina Leigh Krueger. “It's really all about soccer and how it's an accessible sport that embraces and celebrates diversity, and it's really played in every neighborhood here in St. Louis, and really every neighborhood around the world.
“We're a global brand and soccer is a global sport. So it's really exciting to see how we can bring pets into the game,” she added, “and really adding that new dimension to the fan experience.”
Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the expansion to push back its MLS timetable by a year. While that was bad news on first glance, Kindle Betz now considers it a blessing in disguise. She said she’s been elated by the degree of interest in CITY SC among the region’s business community, and credits the longer run-up as well as the advocacy of MLS Commissioner Don Garber at a lunch with some two dozen of St. Louis’ top executives two years ago.
“While the [owner/investor] families could do so much, we really needed to have community and corporate support. And so beginning that day, we started making some phone calls and knocking on doors and trying to get things into motion,” she explained.
“During the pandemic, the decision was made to move to 2023, which was a tough one to make, but by far the best decision we've made, because it also allowed us to go back to all of these corporate sponsorships, of course Purina being one of them, and become more proactive as opposed to reactive.”
Naturally fans will be curious about what that inaugural kit will actually look like. Though it’s too early to provide any previews, CITY SC, Purina and adidas are already at work on shaping that key aesthetic into something with broad appeal.
“I'm sure everybody's sick and tired of me saying this, but I like to say that perfection takes time,” said Kindle Betz. “In all seriousness, we definitely have to do something very unique to CITY SC and Purina, and so we can't make a mistake. So we are working with adidas right now to make something that both organizations are very proud of, but we also want to put out a product that everybody in this city will proudly wear on and off matchday.”
Kindle Betz noted just as the outlines of the playing field are becoming visible at the center of their downtown stadium, the club’s identity and relationship with its community are methodically shifting into place, with the “guiding star” of an “STLMade” motto intended to celebrate and elevate local people, products and organizations.
“We've seen what Carolyn and the CITY team have developed and the vision that really goes beyond the game and is built really on the idea of being a good neighbor and community partner,” said Krueger. “This aligns perfectly with Purina’s commitment to the St. Louis region, where we were founded and we remain now here for the last 126 years. So it's just such an exciting opportunity to be on the ground floor of a major league franchise in partnership to support our community. It's not something that comes along every day.”