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Celebrity Fans and Owners: The A-Listers Backing MLS Teams

Major League Soccer has come a long way since its early days in the 1990s. Once considered a fledgling “retirement league,” MLS is now one of the top circuits in world soccer. Its swelling fanbase includes a growing number of A-list celebrity supporters and owners drawn to soccer’s rising popularity stateside.

The presence of famous names from film, music, and beyond is a boon for MLS as it cements its place in the American sports landscape. Celebrity fandom generates buzz and introduces MLS to wider audiences. Meanwhile, high-profile owners imbue teams with star power on the business side.

Let’s look at some of the celebrities backing MLS clubs and how their involvement impacts league perception.

Lending Legitimacy

Mid-2000s MLS gained greater legitimacy with American sports fans through involvement of high-profile veteran athletes.

In 2007, NBA legend Steve Nash was brought on board to spearhead the Vancouver Whitecaps’ transition to MLS. Nash’s investment and passionate advocacy accelerated MLS’s credibility with basketball fans.

NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice joining the San Jose Earthquakes’ ownership group similarly helped validate MLS in American football circles. The support demonstrated MLS could resonate with fans of traditionally more popular US sports.

More recently, MLS has earned clout through alliances with international soccer stars. England and Manchester United legend David Beckham joining LA Galaxy in 2007 was an inflection point, lending his global icon status to MLS.

In 2020, Inter Miami CF made a splash by bringing aboard Beckham as an owner. Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi concurrently signed as players under Beckham’s stewardship. The juxtaposition of soccer greatness with MLS’s ambitions symbolically closes the gap.

Giving Back

The community-focused values of MLS also attract socially conscious celebrities who see opportunity to give back.

Basketball star Steve Nash didn’t just lend his fame to the Whitecaps, but also his philanthropic drive. Through the Steve Nash Foundation, he spearheaded programs using soccer to help vulnerable youth in British Columbia.

Orlando City SC was buoyed by Brazilian superstar Neymar coming aboard as an investor in 2020. Alongside business interests, Neymar cited the chance to grow soccer and expand accessibility in communities as a key motivation.

The hands-on relationship between MLS clubs and their towns makes them attractive avenues for celebrities to tangibly make an impact.

Building Buzz

Danny Trejo at LAFC

When internationally renowned actors, musicians or athletes are spotted sporting MLS gear or taking in a game, it inevitably generates press and social media chatter. In a star-driven culture, celebrities carry influence as tastemakers who pique people’s curiosity.

LA Galaxy in particular has benefited from its proximity to Hollywood. In 2007, movie star Tom Hanks was revealed as an avid Galaxy fan who regularly attended games. Peyton Manning, Will Ferrell, and Billy Crystal joined him in the club’s celebrity fan contingent. Other LA stars like Adam Sandler, Anthony Anderson and Eric Wynalda have also been vocal in MLS support.

The Los Angeles effect has also boosted interest in LAFC since the club’s launch in 2018. LA natives like Danny Trejo, Wilmer Valderrama and Nick Swardson frequently rep LAFC on social media. Celeb fans on board early gives a new team cultural cachet.

Star-studded New York City has also attracted celebrity followers across its two MLS clubs. NY Red Bulls count Kevin Bacon, Tracy Morgan and Ice-T among fans. Meanwhile, NYCFC boasts famous backers in Robert De Niro, Spike Lee, and Matt Damon.

When boldfaced names advocate for local MLS teams, it penetrates mainstream consciousness.

Drawing New Demographics

Stars best known outside the sports world have also provided inroads for MLS to connect with diverse audiences.

Actress Eva Longoria and her husband José Bastón joined the LAFC ownership group in 2016. Their investment drew interest from American Latino communities less familiar with MLS but now seeing representation.

Rapper Macklemore joined the Seattle Sounders ownership in 2019, introducing MLS to followers beyond typical sports fans. The Sounders’ vibrant supporters culture fits well with Macklemore’s music community roots.

A-listers beyond the sports/entertainment nexus have also gotten onboard, like LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman with the Seattle Sounders. This broadens MLS’s reputation across demographics as more than just jocks’ terrain.

Global Ambassadors

The presence of A-list names from abroad underscores MLS’s growing international profile in soccer’s global landscape.

Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini joining LAFC in 2022 created buzz back home in soccer-mad Italy. Having a star like Chiellini make MLS his American destination nudges perceptions closer to seeing the league on par with Serie A.

Meanwhile, French midfielder Youri Djorkaeff joining the NY Red Bulls in 2005 sparked interest during early MLS days hungry for legitimacy. His advocacy positioned MLS as an intriguing new opportunity instead of just a retirement league.

Star foreign players choosing MLS amplify its reputation to broader soccer communities. Their seal of approval communicates the league merits global attention.

Ownership Muscle

Justin Bieber at MLS Cup Game
From MLS

Celebrity investors bring more than just name recognition. Their wealth, connections and business savvy strengthen MLS clubs at an operational level.

Gabriel Brener, part owner of NYCFC, also helms the worldwide investment firm Fortress. His financial expertise and passion for soccer helped build NYCFC into a powerhouse.

LAFC benefits greatly from its celebrity-stacked ownership group. Entrepreneur Larry Berg, comedian Will Ferrell and ESPN personality Cobi Jones blend knowledge across sports, media and business.

By backing up interest with resources, famous owners become active contributors. Their varied perspectives and skill sets energize growth.

Lasting Legacies

MLS certainly faces ongoing challenges as it continues its upward trajectory. But its growing celebrity fan contingent is a marker of progress that bodes well for the future.

Famous athletes, actors and musicians choosing to align with MLS teams expands cultural resonance. The league lean more heavily into pop culture as a marketing lever as it pursues the next generation of fans.

Player development and on-field product remain priorities, but leveraging celebrity star power accelerates recognition. As awareness builds, look for more A-list names across genres to join the MLS community.

The fruits of MLS clubs becoming part of celebrities’ identities will pay dividends for decades to come. Their name recognition and passion for the game create a high-profile legacy that boosts soccer in North America.