Orlando City Soccer Club, the 21st franchise to join the MLS, announced earlier this year that they would be partnering with Chick-fil-A for the club’s upcoming inaugural season. As part of the partnership, Orlando City fans who don the club’s gear into participating Chick-fil-A locations on game day will receive a special promotion. Orlando City Founder and President, Phil Rawlins welcomed the partnership by stating, “They share our passion for serving our community, and have put together a unique platform to help our fans celebrate each and every game day!”
However, Rawlins’s enthusiasm was not nearly as evident in fan responses to the partnership on social media platforms such as Twitter. Chick-fil-A has previously been faced with controversy regarding CEO Dan Cathy’s remarks against same-sex marriage and his monetary contributions to political organizations that oppose LGBT rights. Some fans voiced their concerns on Twitter, expressing their disappointment that the club was partnering with “a bigoted company” or “an openly anti-gay sponsor.” Others raised the concern that Chick-fil-A is not open for business on Sundays, but the Orlando City SC plays 11 out of 34 of its matches on Sundays.
In the larger spectrum of soccer history, controversial sponsorship deals are not unheard of. For example, FC Barcelona’s shirt deal with the Qatar Foundation brought an end to an era during which the club did not receive payment from a commercial shirt sponsor. Manchester United’s four year association with AIG, the American insurance corporation that was the recipient of bailouts after the 2008 financial crisis, was also heavily criticized. The Bolton Wanderers are also currently partnered with 188Bet, a company that has offered live betting on academy and youth matches.
Soccer clubs have become symbols and sources of identity for many fans, and when the clubs begin accepting support from companies and corporations that supporters do not identify with, the relation between fan and club is strained.