Editor’s note: This story has been updated with details from the Sounders’ event announcing Zulily as its new jersey sponsor.
Microsoft Xbox may be out as the Seattle Sounders jersey sponsor, and rumors are swirling about which company will take its place.
The Major League Soccer club is hosting an event on Thursday at noon to reveal an “important club announcement,” believed to be a new jersey sponsor. It teased the announcement on social media late Wednesday, and buzz points to another tech company taking the place of Xbox, which has adorned the rave green jersey since the club’s debut in the league in 2009.
GeekWire will be on the scene this afternoon to report on the announcement, with a livestream planned around noon, so check back here to learn more. (Event starts at 12:30 in the video)
Update, 11:57 a.m. — We just arrived at the event. Here’s a photo of former Sounders goalkeeper and ESPN analyst Kasey Keller with Kevin Saliba, senior vice president of marketing at Zulily — a telling sign of a new deal between the Seattle e-commerce company and the Sounders (see more below).
A quick primer on Zulily — the company launched in Seattle a decade ago as a daily deals site with products for moms and kids. It was acquired by Qurate, then known as Liberty Interactive, for $2.4 billion in 2015. Former CEO and co-founder Darrell Cavens, who started the company with Mark Vadon, stepped down a year ago; former Amazon executive and Shopbop CEO Jeff Yurcisin now leads Zulily.
Update 12:32 p.m.: Zulily is indeed the new Sounders jersey sponsor. Here’s Sounders star forward Jordan Morris sporting the new look:
Update 12:33 p.m.: Here’s a statement from Microsoft:
“Since the team entered the league in 2009, Microsoft has proudly served as inaugural title sponsor of the Seattle Sounders. It’s been incredible to see Sounders become one of the most successful and beloved franchises in MLS history–and to watch them contribute to the vitality and growth of soccer in the Seattle area. We wish the team and organization all the best.” —Chris Capossela, Microsoft’s Chief Marketing Officer
Update 12:35 p.m.: Zulily is also the new jersey sponsor for Seattle’s professional women’s soccer team, the Seattle Reign, which inked a sponsorship deal with Microsoft back in 2016.
Update 12:41 p.m.: Saliba, the Zulily exec, spoke on stage at the event. “We believe in the Seattle community,” he said. “We want to invest back in Seattle.” He also said the company wants to increase its brand awareness in Seattle and said Zulily’s values align with the Sounders organization. “We still think we are a startup,” he said.
Update 12:44 p.m.: Adrian Hanauer, majority owner of the Sounders, described the deal as “a long-term partnership.” “The resources are more resources than we were previously generating,” he said. “Our league is on fire and growing and there’s a lot of tailwind. That was certainly a piece to the puzzle.”
Hanauer added that the team “was able to split off some assets and make some other things available to sell down the line.” Microsoft previously had the jersey sponsorship but also had naming rights of the field — “the Xbox Pitch at CenturyLink Field.”
The Sounders will also have an opportunity to sell a second advertisement on the right sleeve of jerseys, beginning in 2020.
Update 12:48 p.m.: Zulily and the Sounders will partner for a Hack Day that lets participants use biometric player data.
When the Sounders made their MLS debut a decade ago, Microsoft inked a deal with its new hometown pro soccer club to place Xbox branding on the front of jerseys. It’s a lucrative sponsorship space — most clubs generate $3-to-$4 million per year on jersey deals, and the Sounders — given one of the strongest fan bases in one of the most lucrative markets — could command even more.
The original jerseys featured “Xbox 360,” but Microsoft went with the simple “Xbox” for the past several seasons. The sponsorship also included Xbox branding around the Sounders stadium — “the Xbox Pitch at CenturyLink Field,” for example.
Microsoft extended its contract both in 2013 and 2014; the current deal expired after the 2018 season. In August 2017, the Sounders announced that they were working with sports management giant WME | IMG to explore a potential new naming rights sponsor for its jerseys, matchday pitch, and training facility.
A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment ahead of today’s press event.
The Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant is also the jersey sponsor for Seattle’s women’s professional soccer team, the Seattle Reign. Its other local jersey deal was with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm; the Bing-related deal lasted from 2010 to 2014.
Microsoft continues to invest heavily in the sports world. In 2013, the company inked a marquee sponsorship deal with the NFL worth a reported $400 million. That included the use of its Surface tablets on NFL sidelines, replacing the old black-and-white printed paper that teams previously used to review past plays, among other NFL-related advertising promotions.
Microsoft has done other sports-related work in recent years, a strategy that helps leagues use technology to improve their processes, exposes Microsoft’s products to more consumers, and helps improve player performance.
So who will take Microsoft’s place on the Sounders kits?
Rumors began swirling online this week about the jersey naming rights for the Sounders, the third-most valuable Major League Soccer team according to Forbes. The pending deal comes as MLS is seeing record-breaking attendance numbers and club valuations that spiked 20 percent over the last year, CNBC reported.
Soccer apparel news website Footy Headlines reported in December that the Sounders would be changing its away jersey colors to black and magenta. That sparked conversations about T-Mobile as the new potential jersey sponsor. But the Bellevue, Wash.-based wireless carrier also just inked a long-term stadium naming rights deal with the Seattle Mariners — doubling down on another Seattle sports team seems unlikely.
Another possible sponsor being thrown around is Zulily, the Seattle-based e-commerce company that targets mothers and women. Zulily would be a surprising choice, but given the unusual location of Thursday’s announcement — the PACCAR Pavilion at Olympic Sculpture Park — and its close proximity to Zulily’s Belltown headquarters, some believe the company could be a new Sounders partner.
Thinking about it again, it’s unlikely any brand changes their logo color to something this drastic for this type of deal, so this is likely more realistic.
Reminiscent of the Nuclear Orca (Pitch Black) with white Xbox logo. pic.twitter.com/kMkVq0oJXl
— Full 90 Extra Time Podcast (@Full90ExtraTime) January 16, 2019
When approached by GeekWire on Wednesday about the new deal, several Zulily employees either walked away or said they weren’t authorized to talk. Longtime Zulily executive Lori Twomey simply smiled and stayed silent after being asked to comment during a coffee break at the Starbucks adjacent to Zulily’s office.
Zulily certainly has the cash to afford an MLS sponsorship deal. In 2015, the company was acquired for $2.4 billion by Quarate Retail Group.
On Wednesday, several employees donning Qurate Retail Group apparel were seen outside Zulily’s offices.
There are also some interesting Sounders-Zulily connections. Kevin Saliba, senior vice president of marketing at Zulily, is a good friend of Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer. Saliba was previously CEO at Imagekind, a Seattle startup backed by Hanauer that was acquired by Cafepress in 2008.
Zulily’s chief information officer, Luke Friang, is a big sports fan and specifically calls out the Sounders in his bio on the company’s website.