Part of our ongoing “Creating Soccer” series spotlighting the workhorses of the American Soccer Marketing and Design. These are the men and women who are called upon to create, market and produce most of the soccer we consume.
Daniel Bellon worked at Major League Soccer from 2003-2007 during which time the league was cementing itself as formidable player in the sports world. During his time there he helped launch the identities of various properties including the Houston Dynamo, Interliga, Superliga, MLS Cup, and All-Star Game. As a passionate fan of the sport Daniel brought the fan perspective to his work and helped American soccer go from “soccer moms and orange slices” to a more mature and serious sport people could truly be devoted to.
Name: Daniel Bellon
Hometown: Bogota, Colombia
Current Position: Senior Art Director
1. Tell us a little bit about your professional background history.
I got a Bachelor of Science in Design degree from the University of Cincinnati (DAAP). I moved to New York City in 1999 and shortly after I ended up working as a designer for MLS. Growing up in Colombia, I was a big soccer fan and when I heard MLS needed a designer I went for it. Fortunately, I knew someone who knew someone.
2. What made you choose a career in soccer?
As I said, soccer was a passion of mine since I was a kid, so it was always a dream to be involved in any way. I can’t really say I choose a career in soccer. Soccer came along and I jumped in.
3. Do you have a favorite club?
These days, I don’t. It’s a shame, but working in MLS has jaded me, and I can’t really say I follow the sport anymore, other than the Colombian National Team.
4. What were some of your responsibilities as MLS Senior Designer?
We were a really small department, so we all had to do a little of everything. From conceptualizing, to trafficking, but mostly I did design. We did it all, web banners, game programs, environmental signage, logos, visual systems for our events and everything else you can imagine.
5. As MLS Senior Designer what do you think are some of the hardest challenges to overcome? Can you cite examples?
I can think of a few, but I think the toughest was the budget. During our events, for example, I would have loved to do a lot more around the stadiums and the hotels, but money was always tight. I think all of us in the League back then felt the same, but it taught me how to make the few bucks we had go a long way.
6. What do you think you could’ve changed at MLS that you couldn’t or didn’t?
As far as the structure of the office itself, I would have liked to have a project manager to help us organize the way we took on jobs. If we are talking about the League itself, there were way too many changes I think should have happened, but never did, and that’s one of the biggest reasons I left.
7. While at MLS, what project(s) are you most proud of?
It’s interesting that the one thing I’m most proud of was something that never saw the light of day, and was actually a failure, really. When Red Bull bought the MetroStars, they were going to change the uniform to blue. I talked to Commissioner Garber about that and told him I felt very strongly that a soccer club’s brand, its soul, is the colors it wears on the field. He listened to me and asked me to put together a short presentation with a few ideas of uniforms to take to Red Bull. Red Bull, obviously, dismissed the whole thing, went ahead and killed 10 years of history, and continue to ignore the team that once played in the Meadowlands. I was very proud that Mr. Garber respected my opinion enough to at least try. It’s odd that this was the last thing I did for MLS with any kind of conviction. I realized that day that professional soccer in the United States is nothing like the sport I grew up loving. It’s just a business here and the people who run it don’t have any interest in the fans. All they care about is eyeballs. I now realize how naive I was to ever think it was any different.
8. Do you think MLS has grown and improved its marketing and design since its inception?
Yes. In 1996 that was no internal department, so everything was done separately. It was all over the place conceptually and visually. That has changed and having a Creative Department has helped the brand be consistent. It’s years and years ahead of where it used to be. I’d like to think I contributed to that.
9. What are some things people may not know about MLS and its creative process?
I can only speak of the years I was there. One comment we heard a lot was how much good quality work we churned out. When I told them there was only three of us, a lot of jaws dropped. We were three very dedicated, and talented guys who believed in what we did and it showed.
10. What do you think was the best thing about working in soccer?
On a personal basis, I got to meet and work with a lot of the players I admired as a kid and as an adult. I got to go to a lot of stadiums and see a lot of games.
11. How has working in MLS changed you as a Designer?
I think any place you work at changes you. Not only the things and techniques you learn, but also the projects you work on and who you interact with. Specifically MLS taught me how to work very fast, and cheaply with some difficult people, while always maintaining high quality.
12. What do you do now?
I am a Senior Art Director at WWE, in Stamford Connecticut.
13. Are you still involved in Soccer?
No. Like I said before I don’t even watch the sport anymore.
14. What do you think needs to improve in order to move the Marketing and Design of soccer forward?
I think it’s going in the right direction overall. More money is coming into the sport and with that there will be more demand for quality work. Internal departments and agencies will continue to do their thing and the good work will surface, while the rest will fade out.
15. What are some difference you see in the way soccer and wrestling are marketed?
Soccer in the US is sold as international soccer in your backyard. That’s simply not true. MLS’s challenge is to sell a sport whose major attributes are tradition and passion, but we know the League doesn’t have either. Well, the little tradition it builds it continues to ignore. WWE, on the other hand has that tradition and doesn’t need to fake it. It’s a totally different industry and a radically different way to view the fan. For example, both industries have to deal with jaded (or lapsed) fans and current fans. What we used to call “Soccer Snobs” (in reality they are the only actual soccer fans) were usually ignored in MLS. At WWE we are very aware that those guys are around and we try to give them content and therefore monetize on their devotion for the brand.
16. What are some similarities?
The “live show” aspect of it is similar. We are both trying to get as many people in stadiums and arenas as we can. Not only so it can create a great atmosphere, but so it looks good on TV. Both MLS and WWE mostly count on local promotions, grass roots initiatives and rely on their fans to “tell their friends.”
17. What are some of your design inspirations?
I look at everything. It sounds very trite, but I look at movie posters, coasters at bars, magazine ads, fine art… These days I’m drawing a lot of inspiration from two of my co-workers. They are incredible talented and just watching them work is inspiring.
18. What do you consider to be your best attribute as a designer?
Besides my good looks? I consider myself a very flexible designer. I can do a few things really well, but I think my ability to do a lot is my biggest asset. Jack of all trades, master of a few. I’m a master logo designer, for example.
19. Do you have any tips for people looking to get into the business?
It’s an amazing industry, but there’s a lot of designers out there. It’s not easy to land “dream jobs” in sports and entertainment, so be ready and open to get your start in less glamorous industries.
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