New MLS team Orlando City SC recently announced a partnership with delicious chicken sandwich-maker Chick-fil-A.
“We are thrilled to be a partner with Orlando City Soccer Club,” says local Chick-fil-A franchise operator Rocky DeStefano. “We know this will be a great inaugural year! We also appreciate that they, too, are a company that believes in giving back to their community.”
“We’re delighted to welcome Chick-fil-A as a partner of Orlando City,” said Orlando City Founder and President Phil Rawlins. “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!”
It’s quite the exciting time for soccer and chicken enthusiasts in the greater Orlando area as, acccording to Orlando Weekly, fans wearing the team’s jersey on game days will be able to eat for free at local Chick-fil-A eateries. But the partnership may raise a few eyebrows.
Chick-fil-A stores are closed on Sundays. That’s not because of laziness, but because the company runs according to “biblically-based principles.” That means no chicken on Sundays. (Interestingly, 11 of 34 Orlando City’s 2015 league games are on Sundays.) In the past, however, those biblically-based principles have led to the company’s high profile advocacy for “traditional marriage,” as well as the funneling of millions of dollars into initiatives to defeat same-sex marriage legislation.
Suffice to say, many view that as problematic. Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy on supporting “traditional family”:
“We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”
Fair enough, although some first wives are overrated. The same applies to first husbands, and sometimes second husbands. But I digress.
The main question presented by Orlando City’s Chick-fil-A partnership is whether the chicken company’s DNA is problematic. Several mayors across the U.S. are on record stating Chick-fil-A isn’t welcome in their cities. In 2012, D.C. mayor Vincent Gray tweeted, “Given my long standing strong support for LGBT rights and marriage equality, I would not support #hatechicken.” But is there a such thing as dirty money in MLS? If so, where does one draw the line? Pyramid schemes? Only when a company starts infusing its DNA into the league?
This isn’t Chick-fil-A’s first foray into sport by any stretch of the imagination. You can find the chicken and the company’s “EAT MOR CHIKIN” campaign at pro and amateur sporting events across the United States. In some places, basic, stand-alone chicken kiosks and stores are as normal at sporting arenas as McDonald’s. Major League Soccer teams haven’t been immune to the CHIKINboom, as the Colorado Rapids and Philadelphia Union have partnered with Big Chicken for promotions in the past.
Yet while there’s nothing overtly religious or preachy about these arrangements to the naked eye, Chick-fil-A’s mere presence can be reasonably seen as a statement of support for intolerance.
Elsewhere, Chick-fil-A has made more of an effort to tap into its biblically-based principles and spread the word. For instance, NCAA Division I football used to have the Peach Bowl, until Chick-fil-A came into the picture almost two decades ago. The game was rebranded as the Chick-fil-A Bowl and is now, according to Cathy, “the only bowl that has an invocation. It’s in our agreement that if Chick-fil-A is associated in this, there’s going to be an invocation. Also, we don’t have our bowl on Sunday, either.”
So what does all this mean for MLS?
It’s hard to say. There’s probably little threat of Chick-fil-A turning MLS into a fundamentalist Christian league, but it’s worth using this announcement to ask broader league questions: Generally, what activities would render a prospective partner unfit to be an MLS league or club partner? How deep into questionable business practices or divisive messaging would a partner have to be before a line’s drawn? When does the default position (“keep sports and politics separate”) end up hurting a league instead of preserving its neutral ground?
What do you think? Leave a comment, below, or hit us up on Twitter! Tweet #GaySoccerChickenYea or #GaySoccerChickenNay to let your voice be heard!