Getting an insight into the unique processes behind Philadelphia Union's new secondary shirt for the 2021 campaign, which was designed start-to-finish by a group of fans, the Union Creators’ Collective, we spoke with Doug Vosik, Chief Marketing Officer at the club.

As we near the start of the 2021 MLS season, teams have started unveiling their new kits for the coming campaign, and Last season’s MLS Supporters Shield winners, Philadelphia Union, have released what has to be an an early contender for shirt of the season, with their “BY|U” secondary jersey. 

It’s a notable for several reasons, but chief among them is that the stand-out lightning pattern and bold blue and yellow colour combination together was designed start-to-finish by a group of fans known as the Union Creators’ Collective, which includes season ticket holders, Sons of Ben members, Union super fans, members of the media, and Union employees and players. It's a real point of difference, and we spoke with Doug Vosik to get more of an idea of how a process like this comes together, as well learning about more of the intricate details behind the design.

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From an official tattoo artist through to bespoke kit launches, how important is it for you to think differently?

Thinking differently and embracing creativity is honestly what our club thrives on.  That thinking extends beyond just the business side.  If you look at our sporting operations and how they approach roster building, technology and innovation, its part of our club DNA.

On the marketing side, the key is building a creative culture that embraces different thinking.  Cultivating young talent, grooming talent and bringing in new people who “buy into the system” of creativity and pushing creative boundaries.  You often hear of the coaching side of the game that the players need to “buy into the coach’s methodology and system”. There is no difference in that ideology within our marketing team.  

Once that culture is built, which is no easy task, the challenge actually becomes what are the best ideas that can make an impact to excite our fans and future fans.

Our creative process allows people in any department (not just a designer, videographer, social media creator) to offer ideas, preview creative ideas and be part of a process.

Its something that earlier in my career was a big frustration and became a goal. To have a seat at the table but be able to help drive the bigger agenda outside of my particular function.  I was determined at that younger age that when I’d be at the head of the table, I’d run the team where creativity from anyone was welcomed, appreciated, and utilised.

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What spawned the idea of getting fans involved in this project?

Its actually simply just part of our DNA.  Although the “young fearless challenger” mindset drives our brand and creative thinking, at a higher level the bigger club vision is driven by community. At the Union, we often say “By, Of and For the Community”.

“By” – our club was founded by a supporters’ group; before there was a team awarded by MLS to Philadelphia there was a group of fans that lobbied and brought this club to life.

“Of” – With a local, homegrown player strategy, our roster is built from a significant number of local players.  Our fans have a seat at the table, both on the business and sporting side.

“For” – Really comes back to goodwill and community impact.  Giving back to our community in significant ways whether its funding soccer programs, building fields or helping local small businesses.  Our Foundation has been doing amazing work the past couple of years.

Ultimately, when you’re always thinking community, the answer becomes obvious.  How can we involve the community into the kit process?  How can we make it less about crowd-sourced voting, and more about collaboration and inclusion?  Of course, the end result (i.e. what does the kit look like) is a big factor, but also collaboration and inclusion in every step of the creative process from briefing Adidas, to seeing Adidas’ first designs, to offering feedback to Union ownership and Adidas, seeing the first physical kit samples and more.

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The reaction must have been positive - do you feel a unique connection between the club and fans?

Absolutely.  To be honest, this project is one of the most special initiatives I’ve been part of at the Union.  Having fan feedback at the heart of this process has led to an amazing, fresh look for the club.  Personally, before joining the Union, I was a Season Ticket holder with my friends.  Being able to marry my local pride (I am from Philly), my passion as a fan and my professional expertise makes me feel an extreme connection between the fans and the club.

If you even look at how we’re launching the kit, its different and special with fans in mind.  With COVID, we cannot host the large parties with thousands of people as we’ve done in the past.  So again, the question becomes how can we serve our fans and make them part of something special?  As a result, we’re holding a six-day event where fans enter our stadium for a special experience.  Instead of thousands of people at once, we’re giving them a hosted experience in groups of five with an outdoor event, in the middle of the winter!

Fans have responded!  We filled up every single timeslot over those six days within hours of announcement.

Just how important do you see the visual language of a shirt – it’s a strong connection between the players and supporters isn’t it?

Once we talk about the actual kit design and details, the connection is definitely clear; however, it was important to us and the Union Creators’ Collective to tell a higher-level story outside of just our largest supporters group the Sons of Ben.

Since the Sons of Ben based their marks on Ben Franklin and their colors on Philadelphia, there is obviously a similarity here.

However, the kit itself is not necessarily the “SONS OF BEN” kit, it’s a story about our region and innovation folklore of the city.  Maybe in a future year we’ll have a Sons of Ben specific kit (big teaser there!).  Afterall, when a “Jolly Franklin” skull is part of their branding, imagine the possibilities of design like at FC. St. Pauli!

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Let’s hear about the details and the outcome of the design process – what message did the supporters want to get across here?

Except for our early years, we’ve had many consecutive white secondary kits.  They wanted a change from white, period.

In exploring that change, the group landed on not just having color for colors sake.  Let’s not arbitrarily pick a trend color like pink, seafoam green, or whatever the annual/seasonal color trend analysis would tell you.  The fans wanted colors relevant to our region.  When you look at the state flags and city flags of our region, they all utilize some shade of blue and yellow. We now had a color story.

When we discussed other parts of Philly’s history and folklore that excited them, Ben Franklin came up time and time again (and as stated before our Supporters Group having a clear connection to Ben Franklin).  In a deep dive about Ben Franklin, we found countless ideas when we spoke about the discover of electricity, the key and kite, lightning striking…and there you have it…our inspired graphic pattern and additional marks on the kit were discovered.

Creating something wearable both on and off the pitch – was that the objective or did you equally want to create something visually loud?

Its definitely a loud kit!  I’m sure its going to look great on the TV broadcast and digital content.  Of course, my own opinion here, its also going to look great out in everyday life with a pair of jeans. We all know how football kits have become fashion statements in the modern game!

Loud wasn’t the goal though. Again, the goal was a design that was developed with our Creators Collective and through that process, a kit that had inspired design.

The end result just happens to be very different and loud.  If you look at the current world of kits in football, there is definitely a trend for loud design for clubs willing to try something different.

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It’s a beautiful number, how would you describe it?

We ended up calling this kit the “By | U” kit. That has multiple meanings; naturally people are going to refer to this as the blue and yellow kit since it’s so different than anything in our clubs’ history. So you have blue-yellow (B-Y) and U for Union, or the “U”. Given the story of how this kit was designed, by you, the fan, it just made sense to call it By | U.

The blue and yellow colours were inspired by the flags of Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware as well as a nod to our supporters’ group, the Sons of Ben. The lightning pattern and kite and key details are inspired by Ben Franklin’s famous science experiment. It’s a symbol of innovation which aligns with our clubs’ core values and philosophy and an analogy for how our team plays; unpredictable, strikes with speed and power, energetic.

You must have missed fans over the last months. How much of a party is it going to be when everyone can be united once more?

Who doesn’t love the feeling of a packed stadium on match day? We all miss it, especially our players.

The circumstances have brought us closer together though.  Whether its zoom meetings, hosting COVID safe watch parties with 200 people at the stadium or even seeing limited fans in person on match day (we’ve been allowed about 3k people at our games last year out of 19k capacity), we’ve found ways to stay connected.

Even through the design process, members of my team drove to Union Creators’ Collective houses to show them kit designs and get in person feedback!

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What’s next for the club, do you have more innovative plans waiting in the wings?

I can’t give all the secrets away now can I? Whatever that idea is, I can guarantee you it came through a great group of creative thinkers at the club.  The ideas will be inspired by our community, if not even directly driven by them! But you will definitely, be one of the first to know when the time is right!

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The Philadelphia Union 2021 Secondary Shirt is available at