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.
Ben Barnes is currently the Graphic Designer for Real Salt Lake and was the designer the current Portland Timbers logo. As an accomplished designer he has worked on a wide variety of sports and entertainment projects. And is one of the designers raising the level of the marketing of soccer in this country,
Name: Ben Barnes
Hometown: Magna, UT
Current Position: Graphic Designer
Company: Real Salt Lake
Tell us a little bit about your professional background history.
I graduated from Utah State University in 2004 with a BFA/Graphic Design emphasis. Previous to working with Real Salt Lake, I was a graphic designer for Rare Design, a multi-faceted design firm based out of Hattiesburg, MS. I started with them as a freelancer back in 2004 (my first project was the 2005 MLS Cup identity) and started full-time with Rare in January 2007. Though I love all forms of graphic design, upon graduation my skill set was mostly in the area of logo design – specifically sports logos – and it was at Rare that I was able to hone my skills in the area of sports branding through projects with clients such as the San Francisco 49ers, Miami Heat, Portland Trailblazers, and Portland Timbers.
Were you a soccer fan before working in the soccer industry?
Before working for RSL, I was definitely a soccer fan, although a bit more casually than I was with other sports (basketball is my first love). But working with MLS on the MLS Cup project in 2005 and especially the design of the Timbers logo really got me more aware of soccer in the U.S. And of course, now that I’m with RSL, soccer is at the top of my list of favorite sports.
What sort of designer do you consider yourself to be(ie. Illustrator, typographer, layout, etc)?
It’s interesting because I really feel my niche is branding and logo design, and with that comes all of the above. There is not a lot of logo design that comes with my position right now, so I’ve been able to take this opportunity to hopefully better myself with layout, poster design, and even photography. Being responsible for a lot of the visual communication for RSL kind of gives me the opportunity to work in a lot of aspects of graphic design.
What are some of the creative challenges you face in promoting a club?
I’ve been at RSL for almost two years now, and one of the biggest challenges is creating marketing materials every year that are fresh and new, yet remain relevant to the brand that was established. There are a lot of quick-turn projects, and the workload is enormous, but hopefully I’ve been able to create work that is consistent and relevant.
How do you think the RSL & MLS marketing, creative, and promotions have progressed since you’ve started?
As a casual observer of MLS marketing before joining RSL, I’m not sure I have enough knowledge to comment on that side of it. But as far as the creative goes, I’ve been really impressed with a lot of the recent designs that have been coming out, from team logos to All-Star game branding. It seems that there has been a pleasant trend lately of simplification in sports design. While it’s not easy to accomplish, I feel like MLS has been able to do so.
How challenging is it to promote a soccer club in a city like Salt Lake?
A lot of people have no idea how great soccer games are until they come to the stadium and experience it for themselves. Once we get them here, for the most part they’re hooked. So much of what we do is to just get people to the games. We really have great fans in Utah, and truly a diverse crowd. We have tattooed die-hards, soccer moms, young families, and a large Hispanic demographic. We also have a lot of fans who are members of the Mormon faith and have served church missions in areas where soccer is the most important sport in their country. There’s a connection that is made and is brought back that is quite strong. So the challenge is how to reach all of our fans without alienating any of them. We’ve been quite fortunate to have not only a winning team, but a team that plays beautiful, intelligent soccer, and that itself makes promoting the game a lot easier.
Having worked on projects in different sports and industries, do you tend to take a different approach when creating something for a soccer club?
One of the great things about doing work in the athletics industry is seeing your work paraded on flags, scarves, shirts, uniforms, etc. Fans develop a deep connection with the team and by extension the marks that identify that team. In that way designing for a sports team is much different from other industries. But although your work ends up being a lot more visible, basic design principles still apply. You still have to make sure that what you’re doing – the story that you’re telling – is genuine and unique.
Working with the Timbers was a fantastic and eye-opening experience. To be able to help revitalize the team’s brand as they moved into MLS was very satisfying. The Timbers, like RSL, have some of the most passionate fans in the league and care deeply about their club. When we created the Timbers identity, we worked on helping define and further establish the brand of a club with a rich history and unique iconography. Then their team took those logos and defined brand values and has really done a great job of taking it to another level with their marketing. At RSL my role is quite the opposite. We have a team with a short history and a logo that is firmly established and was not in need of change. While part of my job has been to carry out and create campaigns that fit within the established brand, I’ve also tried to tap into some of the lesser-used aspects of the “Real” brand, such as royalty, Lions, etc. to help further expand the RSL story.
What are some of your soccer related project(s) that you are most proud of?
I’ll probably always be most proud of the work I was able to do with Rare for the Timbers. With Real Salt Lake, our recent “Join the Pride” season ticket campaign has been quite rewarding. We wanted to give something to our season ticket holders that was exclusive, that would really make people want to be a part of something. I designed a “secondary logo”, as it were, that was made to look as though it’s been a part of RSL’s graphic brand all along, but is exclusive for season ticket holders. With this I was able to create a scarf as a season ticket holder gift, as well as other “Pride”-exclusive pieces of merchandise. So far it seems to be catching on pretty well with the fans.
RSL seemed to have turned on a switch with their promotional campaigns in recent years. What do you think sparked that willingness to put forth some quality promotions? Why do you think it wasn’t implemented before?
I can’t speak for anything before I was here necessarily. In fact I think we had a lot of great work before I came in. But we’ve really got a great team here. We really seem to hit our marks when our marketing, ticketing, game day, sponsorship, and public relations departments all have the same vision. There’s always a willingness to make stuff great.
Are there any other clubs in MLS you see putting out good quality design and promotional materials? What about clubs worldwide?
I know it may sound biased but I loved the Timbers’ promotional campaigns from their first season. There’s a lot of great work out there. D.C. United has a great look, as does Toronto and FC Dallas. New York is always top-notch. Great work inspires great work, and it’s enjoyable to see the league growing.
If there’s some advice you can give some young designer out there who wants to get in this business what would it be?
I knew I wanted to design in the sports industry for just about all my life, and am extremely grateful to be doing something that I love for a living. It’s such a difficult industry to get into, but I would advise a young designer to beef up their portfolio by creating their own projects. Before I ever designed anything for a real sports team I created logos and uniforms for my friends and family fantasy basketball league. At the time I was just doing it because it’s what I love to do, but it ended up getting the attention of future clients. In short, if you want to get into a specific business, work hard to get really good at it and you’ll be rewarded.
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