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By ESPN Staff

San Jose lands jersey sponsor deal with Amway

CHICAGO -- Amway Global will sponsor Major League Soccer's San Jose Earthquakes beginning this season in a three-year deal featuring the cosmetic and health products company's name on the front of the team jerseys, the companies said.

Amway, the North American part of the Alticor group of companies, and the Earthquakes are scheduled to formalize the agreement on Tuesday. Under the deal, the Amway Global logo will be on all team gear as well as signs at home games.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but officials familiar with the agreement said it is in the range of $2 million to $3 million a year.

"It's the only sport in North America where you can advertise your name front and center on the jerseys," Steve Lieberman, managing director of Amway Global, said in a telephone interview.

This will be the 15-team league's 11th jersey-front sponsor deal since it started allowing such agreements in 2007. Before that, sponsor logos were displayed on the jersey shoulder and lower back. The Earthquakes completed their first season with the MLS last year, after the previous San Jose club moved to Houston following the 2005 season.

Company logos on the uniforms of U.S. professional athletes are a rarity. European soccer clubs, however, generate millions of dollars from such sponsorship deals.

The NASCAR racing circuit is known for corporate logos covering its cars and pickup trucks, and last year the Women's National Basketball Association put the McDonald's Corp logo on the front of its players' jerseys for 15 regular-season games.

But aggressive marketing could offend fans as Major League Baseball found out five years ago when it tried to promote the "Spider-Man 2" movie on its bases. A day after a public outcry, the league scrapped the plans.

The MLS deal, however, offered Alticor the chance to reintroduce its Amway Global brand in a family-friendly atmosphere when the partnership kicks off on Jan. 28 at a Mexico-Sweden match in Oakland, Lieberman said. San Jose opens its season at home against New England on March 21.

Amway also was attracted to the large and growing Hispanic population in San Jose, which boasts the fourth largest concentration of Amway's field representatives, Amway's Lieberman said.

Internationally, soccer superstar Ronaldinho endorses Amway's Nutrilite brand of supplements and that brand also sponsors his club, AC Milan. The direct selling company, based in Ada, Michigan, was co-founded by Rich DeVos, who owns the National Basketball Association team in Orlando, Florida.

"They are a growing company, even in these economic times and the Earthquakes are too. We have no place to go but grow," Earthquakes owner Lew Wolff told Reuters. Wolff also owns the Oakland A's baseball team.

The Earthquakes lost $2.2 million in its first season in 2008 and Wolff said with the help of the Amway deal officials expect the loss to be cut to about $1 million this year.

Many companies, including General Motors Corp and FedEx Corp , have cut their sports-related marketing budgets in response to the recession, forcing most sports leagues to cut jobs, freeze budgets and, in the case of the Arena Football League, cancel a season.

Kathy Carter, executive vice president of the MLS marketing arm, Soccer United Marketing, said the Amway deal shows the league is holding up well in the recession.

"These are significant dollar figures. It really has added another whole level of revenue into the mix that just two-and-half, three years ago we didn't realize," she said.

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