There's a lot to like about the jerseys that will be worn by the minor league soccer start-up named the Baltimore Bohemians, starting with the presence of Mr. Boh—the cyclopic mascot of National Bohemian, Baltimore's seltzerian macro-brew of choice, who looks kind of like a drunk Mr. Pringle—right above where the jersey-wearer's heart would be. But the fact that these jerseys are so fresh and so clean was only part of why we so enthusiastically endorsed them last month. It's a biggish part of it, but the Bohs' hustle-hard, definitively minor league scrappiness was the greater part.
"Truth be told, the Bohemians name came before the sponsorship," Bohs marketing director Joe Tirabassi says. "I was sitting around, drinking a Natty Boh, listening to Queen, and it just kind of clicked." Tirabassi—who also designed the jerseys and scarves that occasioned that first post, and who is, as it turns out, a Classical reader—pursued National Bohemian to see if they'd be willing to lend Mr. Boh to the team; they (and, decisively, the beer's owners, Pabst) said yes, and so the Bohs secured an iconic sponsor in a league in which the few teams with sponsors are, as Tirabassi says, "a local car dealership, pizza joint or Bobby's Bail Bonds."
"I can't really divulge the complexities of the deal, but it works as most shirt sponsorships do, the key difference being that we're happy to plaster Mr. Boh on anything we can," Tirabassi told me. "Whereas Manchester United isn't really enthusiastically putting the AIG logo on their officially© licensed© toothbrushes©. Mr. Boh is about as beloved in Maryland as Cal Ripken and William Donald Schaefer combined. There's a giant, winking Mr. Boh sign in East Baltimore, for Christ's sake. Our major coup was figuring out what works for our town and making it happen."
Which, at the risk of going too big on something that is after all Drizzy Pringle on shirts and jerseys that are now officially for sale through Natty Boh's gear shop, is kind of how small business is supposed to work. You don't need to be a Chamber of Commerce type—you may need not to be a Chamber of Commerce type, given that organization's current co-opting—to pull for a sports team that is as reliant on ingenuity and as bound by narrow margins as a start-up. You don't need to have started up a start-up, either. You just have to retain the belief that working diligently and cleverly can bring success even in an economy generally overlorded by the shame-averse and well-connected.
"The response to the jersey has been overwhelming," Tirabassi says. "I didn't sleep the night before we released it, because I was really nervous that it would get torn apart online, you know, as commenters on the internet are wont to do." It wasn't, and earlier this week—a week or so later than Tirabassi had planned—Bohs jerseys, t-shirts and scarves finally went on sale. "None of us are really too adept when it comes to things like e-commerce, so we thought it best to leave it in the hands of someone else," Tirabassi said. "The big thing was gauging how many pieces to order of each item, because we have to front the cash for that. We're starting off small to see how it goes." This has resulted in some small-timey goofinesses, of course—because they're expensive to make, the Bohs scarves for sale will be a limited run, and thus unintentionally collectible.
Of course, sports isn't a small business. Those of us who spend large chunks of our leisure time observing the soft cynicism of professional leagues and profit-churning amateur programs—which operate with all the brand-sensitive cravenness and subsidy-humping avarice of the billion-dollar enterprises they are—know this well. The Bohs, for their part, are a small business—an expansion team in a soccer league that doesn't pay its players, and which will play home games on the fringes of Baltimore County against teams from Long Island and (somehow) Bermuda, in front of crowds that will probably number in the lower half of the three digits. "Our operation is about as bare bones as you can get," Tirabassi says. "I know that 99 percent of the other teams in the league are the same way." Just because Tirabassi's use of "99 percent" was probably unintentional doesn't make it resonate any less.