Los Angeles Football Club is ready to take to the global pitch. With their blueprints becoming snapped back to reality, it's a beautiful place to join the LAFC venture as we caught up with some of its founding team.
Soaking up the story of LAFC, we caught up with Club President and Owner Tom Penn, along with the lead creative talents behind the new crest – Spark Creative House Co-Founder Thai Nguyen, designer Matthew Wolff, Bates CHI Executive Tue Nguyen, and LAFC’s Rich Orosco. Kicking off proceedings, Tom Penn gives us his take on the beginning of a cultured trip of football cool.
How would you describe the journey so far?
Tom: "It's been remarkable. Being a global collaboration really starts at the very beginning and when you look at the core of our ownership, we have paired LA successful sports owners Peter Guber (co-owner of the the Los Angeles Dodgers) and married them with global football owners Vincent Tan (Cardiff City) and Ruben Emir Gnanalingam (Queens Park Rangers)."
Has the experience been full of new challenges for yourself personally?
Tom: "Sure. There aren't many people that have had the opportunity to create everything from nothing. I mean, fifteen months ago we were just an idea and now the idea has become a realisation, so that's a unique experience for any sports executive - particularly in one of the top cities in the world, in the world's game."
How important has the pursuit of your own stadium been?
Tom: "So much of our identity and success has been revolved around a soccer specific stadium in the heart of LA. We've been able to reach an agreement and now are very far along in the government approval process. We can authentically declare ourselves as the team of LA. We're on a well known location that is part of the revitalisation of the urban core of down town. That's put us at the epicentre of all things greater LA."
It's a stadium that welcomes you to the city in a location that will form an impression outside just as much as in; it is perhaps the symbol that defines the club just as much as the crest. With the foundations being layed, there is a legacy in the offing and a vision being shared. The crest is the next chapter, something tangible that forms an emotional connection. It is real and evident, this is the evolution of something special.
How easy has it been to make big decisions? Elements such as the crest are huge.
Tom: "Designing a crest is never easy. I don't know how many versions we looked at and how many variations there were. Once we knew we were in the heart of LA with our home it became easier to focus on LA as the core mark – the letters 'LA'. The real epiphany came when our brilliant designers brought the wing into the 'A'. Once that wing was sitting right in the center of the LA then it just became a long careful process about the shape and style of the wing."
The rise in football in the US and the popularity of the MLS in the short term is very much a fan fuelled phenomenon. Naturally, Los Angeles is a place that captures the imagination of many people the world over and, despite having a team that represents the city already, this team has already been able to pluck the interests of football fans across many continents.
Have you been surprised with the volume of the global interest?
Tom: "I expected global interest but the intensity of that interest has surprised me. The interest locally just blew us away with over a thousand people at Union Station chanting and cheering and enthusiastically supporting. The global press coverage we received and the avalanche of support received from all over the soccer community globally was amazing. There's a key responsibility here to do things right and to really represent where the sport is going in America and this sport is just on fire here."
What has grabbed you most about the response since the launch of the crest?
Tom: "People align with concepts that are future looking and innovative; by definition that's what we are. What I've been encouraged by is how many early supporters have jumped on board to co-found and co-create this. Our intention is always to listen to our supporters on everything because they have the pride of co-ownership. We're designing our stadium with them and every aspect of it. Every voice is a loud voice in the creation of colours and the fine tuning of the crest – it's all legit."
Not simply here as a passion project or a millionaire's play thing, underneath an eventful launch is a minimal and respectful tone for the people this club has been created for and equally, by. There may have been loud cries of celebration that echoed the arrival of the LAFC crest and you can rest assured, they were honest chimes of excitement. Very much the people making the party, football would be nothing without its fans, and that is something Tom and his team have kept true to throughout the journey so far.
How important is it that you avoid creating a 'team for tourists'?
Tom: "We didn't have any tourists at Union Station last week – that place was full wall to wall with Angelinos from all over greater LA. That will be the core identity of our supporter base – it's going to be a representation of this diverse city. Everyone comes together for the one love of this game. We want to creative a stadium worthy of uniting a world city and a mark worthy of uniting a world city through the world's game."
What about the Will Ferrell input – how did that come about?
Tom: "We got connected to Will through Larry Berg, one of our other co-owners. Larry knew of Will's love for soccer and his general interest in sports and he approached him about the idea of joining the group. Our initial meeting with Will was at Peter Guber's home in Bel Air and from the beginning he spoke very passionately about soccer. He's a lifelong Southern California kid - as he says he "grew up on the mean streets of Irvine" and he's got kids that love the game. I think that's been key for him along with his intense passion in the game."
Will we see him in any promo activity going forward?!
Tom: "We'll see! It's up to him how and when he wants to engage. He can do so much in so many ways so it's going to be a lot of fun working with him."
At what point do you start thinking about policy of recruiting players?
Tom: "As we speak we have boots on the ground at the MLS combine where we're looking for young talent. The typical team building approach is to look at designated players first and as you know we can sign up to three players outside of the restricted salary cap. We have no intention to necessarily follow the strategy of signing older European players – we're open to signing the best players."
It is at this point we allow for those who have gone from sketching the crest to creating the best to join the conversation. In the mix, LAFC’s Rich Orosco, an anchor to the project who has helped ensure Los Angeles stays at the heart of its creation, along with lead creatives Thai Nguyen, Tue Nguyen, and Matthew Wolff.
The crest itself, carefully crafted after much deliberation and many sleepless nights shares the sentiment of Tom. A collective of like-minded people, it's about hitting the right notes together, putting the pieces of the jigsaw together ensuring the finer detail is as beautiful as the larger megastructures. Enlisting the help of Thai Nguyen and Tue Nguyen – experienced heads in the creative and innovation worlds – the team was built on sound footing that don't simply have a formula for success but an eye for appreciation. In topping things off in well-rounded form, the trinity was completed by one of the designers behind the NYCFC crest, Matthew Wolff.
Starting with a big and bold question to kick of proceedings - how did you go about creating the crest?
Thai: "I think the unique challenge was how do you create a crest that hits a local team and local community but translates globally. The sport is a global sport, so what we definitely wanted to bring was a global feel and a global collaboration."
How does it happen with three people working on the same project?
Matthew: "The way we've done it is pretty interesting. The whole thing is about collaboration where we all chipped in during different parts. When someone was feeling momentum with a creative direction, we all explored it. We set up regular Skype calls and went through things together, a total team effort.”
Tue: "We played off each others' strengths. You just have to do what you love and do it with people you love to do it with. It's all about trust."
Rich: "The unique thing about the collaboration is that we had multiple filters to run ideas through. For example, myself and our LAFC Creative Director Marcus McDougald were the LA filters. Our conviction was City First in all our development, then Club. We knew that would speak to the people of LA, because that’s what we are all most proud of first, our City.”
Is the crest symbolic in the sense that it's bigger than just moving the club into the next chapter?
Thai: "Our longtime friend and associate, (Managing Partner and Owner) Henry Nguyen told us in addition to a club for LA, he wanted to build a club for the world and that presented us with a real opportunity and challenge."
Matthew: "Take the cap for example, our hope is that it become a cultural icon in LA. We wanted to create something that went beyond soccer and that anyone in LA could grasp onto, rally behind and wear with pride."
Rich: "There is not a club in the world who is recognized by their cap, we have a very unique opportunity to create that, and in a city like LA, it can happen."
Tue: "The crest launch was kind of like a movie premier, we were grinding as a creative group for so long and to see the reaction on the first day was a big validation that we were on the right track and our first instincts paid off. What we love about the sport is how soccer connects people. I lived in LA for almost 10 years, it’s a very big city and everybody wants that connection in their neighbourhood."
You cannot deny that LA is a postively crowded metropolis of elite teams from a raft of sports. So capturing the imagination in a market where everyone is vying for front and centre is no mean feat. Right now, LAFC is an evolving blueprint with a sheet of paper that simply keeps expanding – one hell of an exciting prospect for those priveledged enough to have the pencil in hand.
How many iterations did you go through to find the final design?
Matthew: "Easily 500 iterations, we explored everything! A lot of the deep research came from LAFC supporters and Rich being a native Angeleno, so he was extremely important in getting it to that authentic place. There was a moment when we realised as a group that the wing was really something that we could put at the heart of this and then everything built out from there. There was another moment when we realised the wing could be that crossbar of the 'A'."
Thai: "The gold gives the design a royal flavour, an aspirational flavour, and when you're in LA a lot you see a lot of gold – everything is gold! So to us the black base kept the street lifestyle sensibility but the gold on top elevates it to where it is accessible and aspirational to everybody."
Tue: "The hardest thing in designing something like this is that it's such a small crest but there are thousands of different ideas, influences and opinions. The more you ask the more you get so the hardest thing is having to keep it simple."
Matthew: "We had to make it unique – which was a challenge – because in LA there are two basketball teams, two hockey teams, two baseball teams, a new NFL team, and another globally recognized soccer club. We needed to be unique in the city, we needed to be unique in MLS, and we needed to be unique in global soccer."
A venture behind the scenes at the inner workings of a club in its formative years, this is very much history in the making and we're buckled up ready.
Photography: Nathan Congleton