Soccer Union
21617_soccer_PSP Earl Gardner/Philly Soccer Page

Center back Richie Marquez is one of several Union players sporting multiple tattoos.

February 16, 2017

What is a 'Chief Tattoo Officer' and why are the Union hiring one?

Open Google, type in "Chief Tattoo Officer," and then click on the "news" tab.

You'll see stories in the Miami Herald, Ottawa Sun, Stoke Sentinel, and the Telegraph, just to name a few media outlets.

That's impressive reach for a Philadelphia Union team that doesn't receive much publicity at all.

The whole tattoo thing started with an appearance on Comcast SportsNet by Richie Marquez and Vice President of Marketing, Doug Vosik, who came up with the idea. The initial reaction was varied, with some people thinking the idea was cool and unique, others thinking it was a publicity stunt, and another portion of soccer fans wondering if the gig was even real.

It's very real, and it's posted to the Union's job board.

But it's not really a "job," per se, it's more of a marketing partnership with a local tattoo artist or shop. No professional sports team has ever sought this kind of arrangement, which is why the story was picked up quickly and widely circulated.

Vosik came to the Union last year as part of a front office transition initiated by Chief Business Officer Tim McDermott. McDermott, who took over for Nick Sakiewicz in early 2016, hired three new executives to help the Union function better in some key areas. In addition to Vosik, he hired Senior Vice President of Corporate Partnerships, Jean-Paul Dardenne, and Vice President of Ticket Sales and Fan Services, Charlie Slonaker.

Vosik previously held marketing roles for Under Armour, Virgin Mobile, and Boost Mobile. I spoke with him this week about the Union's newest job posting.

PhillyVoice: "Chief Tattoo Officer"... any good applications yet?

Doug Vosik: "Yeah, we've had over 30 applications in the past couple of days."

PhillyVoice: What exactly are you looking for?

Vosik: "Definitely looking for an artist, so a he, a she or a shop with a whole collection of artists. At the end of the day, you need a broad variety of skill sets and different tattoo styles in order to accommodate everyone's individual tastes on the team. I don't know if you're a tattoo guy, but if you are, there's American, traditional, new school, straight-up script, west coast, black engraved, and single needle. Obviously, each individual has their own style and taste. Hopefully, we'll be finding the right artist or group of artists that can accommodate all of those different needs."

PhillyVoice: I am a tattoo guy. I have four right now. I'd like to add more but I guess my wife has a say at this point."

Vosik: "Maybe she'll join us in getting one when we announce."

(laughs)

PhillyVoice: Well it's been a while since the last one. It's not like it's something that you go and do every day. So is this something the Sons of Ben may latch onto? Would a casual, suburban family be intrigued by this? What kind of target demographic are we talking about here?

Vosik: "It's a wide range. I wanna start by saying that, at its inception, the idea is really to service our players, right? That's how the idea was born. Just like any of us here who follow social (media), and they're always monitoring the boards, we do see our fans, out of their loyalty and love for the club, post images of the tattoos they get, whether it's a regular Union fan or supporters like the Sons of Ben. We're always kind of involved in tattoo culture that way. A couple of us in the front office just love ink in general, including myself. 

"The idea was really spurred just by talking to our players. Some do have tattoos and some love them. And then, with all of the new signings, we've got a lot of guys who are from different parts of the U.S., and also international players. We kind of had an eye-awakening moment during one of our team sessions with the players where, although we're all new to each other, and we may not have a lot to talk about, you would roll up your sleeves and see some ink and instantly conversation is sparked. It really created this idea of, 'wow, all of these guys are here, and their focus is on the field and practicing, and the upcoming season, but they still love ink.' They have no idea where to go if they're new to our city. It really created this idea and we offered it up to the players: 'If we brought in a resident artist, or a shop that was your go-to, or something that all of you guys approved in advance, would you go?' I was amazed by the response of the players that currently have ink and said, 'yeah, that's awesome, a new shop for me to go to in Philly, instead of the only shop that I go to in California.' Or even ten players maybe that I talked to that said, 'I don't have any ink, but if comes through in this way, with a trusted shop, where the club says we can go, then sign me up, I'm interested at this point.'

"First and foremost, we have to service our players. It is legitimately a service we want to provide for them. Second, when you do have a partnership like that, we do want to offer up that opportunity to our fans. I don't want to say that the Sons of Ben are the only people in the stadium with tattoos. We both know what kind of role that tattoos play in culture for all ages, and it's not just 18 to 34. Whether you're an SOB or a fan who just loves the Union, a tattoo may appeal to you. Here's a shop that can be the official partner and help us do that with you."

PhillyVoice: There's going to be a cross-section of the fanbase that takes a "negadelphia" or cynical approach, right? They might say, "Why the hell are you even bothering with this? Go sign better players." How would you address that train of thought?

Vosik: "At the end of the day, I go back to the heart of this, which is to provide a great service to our players. We provide a lot of great services to our players, and here's one more to allow them to have a great experience with the Philadelphia Union and improve their off-field lives. If we take care of our guys, then it helps them focus more on the task at hand. So, whatever 'negadelphia' comments that are out there, and the jokes that are out there, we're providing a great service to our players, and something that can be fun for the fans. Our guys will always put in their hard work and do the best they can every single day in practice and in every single match. If we can make their lives a bit better by providing a new service for them, why not?"

PhillyVoice: I'm reading about the "Chief Tattoo Officer" on the Telegraph's website, and on FoxSoccer.com and other national websites. A newspaper in Stoke, England picked it up. Are you a believer that any publicity is good publicity?

Vosik: "Absolutely! The domestic and international pickup on this has been fantastic. It's been really impressive. At the end of the day, through our own tracking, I'd probably say we're in the high 90th percentile for positive comments in all of the articles and stories that are being written. For us, having the club out there and being seen as a progressive club and doing good things for our players and our fans, and that that's where it's all inspired from, then it's a great base. The more international press to add onto domestic press, it really helps solidify what we're doing here, which is some new things for our club and our guys."

PhillyVoice: Talking about marketing in general, this is still a relatively new team, just seven years old. It's a tough sports market, with established teams that make up the four major American sports. What's the biggest challenge or biggest obstacle in growing the Union brand?

Vosik: "Great question. We have teams that have been in this market for a long time. I'd say soccer is growing generationally in the United States and Pennsylvania. We are in that growth stage. For us, one thing is to connect deeply to the hearts and minds of our fans, and that, of course, comes with the success of the club over the years, but more and more it's about the fan of today and the fan of tomorrow. You look at how Philadelphia as a city is growing, the populace, and it's one of the fastest growing cities for 18- to 34-year olds. Within the top ten cities in America, we're the fastest growing city of that top ten. With that population, soccer is actually their preferred sport, through all the research we've done. As we look at it from a brand perspective, to grow long term fans, we have to look at what they want, what excites them, and what inspires them, then make sure the club reflects those values. The tattoo thing is just one example of that. We know that that core group of fans is part of that culture. So why not bring some more things, that are important to fans, into what the club does? It's one example of how this club can get in touch better with that population that enjoys soccer."

PhillyVoice: You were working at Under Armour before coming to the Union last year. What would you say is the biggest different in doing marketing for a company like Under Armour, versus a professional sports team?

Vosik: "I'd say, in both circumstances, they are 'challenger' brands, right? Under Armour is a brand that is out there challenging conventional space, and challenging the (established) footwear industry. To your earlier question, soccer is a challenger sport as it grows, with the Philadelphia Union in a market that is solidified with traditional American sports. We're a challenger brand within our own market and trying to come up with some new things. So, there's a lot of similarities there. I'd say the difference is more so in the day-to-day working. At Under Armour, we had a handful of athletes that helped us put our brand out there, and they live all over the world. The Union, I've got a great group of guys and coaches that I can go talk to every single day to be inspired by. We work on photo shoots, videos, jersey releases, and getting feedback on ideas like the tattoo officer. Having those guys right at your doorstep and having a culture here with Jim (Curtin) and Earnie (Stewart) and the players, where we talk a lot and interact a lot and bounce ideas off one another, to me that's the fundamental huge difference. I find that extremely rewarding and it's really inspired a lot of creativity around the team."

PhillyVoice: I think, for most sports fans, they remember impressionable moments from when they were younger. Everybody has some kind of story about how they were ten years old, and their mom and dad took them to see the Phillies, or the Steelers, or whatever, and that kind of stuck with them. When you speak about the "generational" part of soccer fandom, are you thinking about those moments that kind of leave you with something to remember?

Vosik: "Yeah. I don't know how old you are, but I think we're a similar age. A lot of us grew up as soccer fans, right? As we become part of Philadelphia society, and start putting roots down and having families, when our children then start looking at sports they want to participate in, knowing that soccer was something that's near and dear to us when we grew up, if our children are interested then it's something we can (pass on) to them. The big generational change, though, is, as a thirty-something year old in Philadelphia, I grew up in the eighties and I didn't really have a pro (soccer) team to turn to. I didn't really have that deep, emotional connection to a club. I was never a guy that looked at Europe and could really say, 'I'm gonna go pick a team, and that's gonna be where my heart is.' Kids today, if they grow up in our market, with parents who love soccer, they now actually have a club to look at, to come to a stadium, to look at players, and to grow that deep, emotional connection, which really helps grow fandom. What you and I were missing generationally, that's now there for the next generation to take and really embrace. I'm super excited for that opportunity, for that emotional connection that kids can have to our team, our club, and our players. It just didn't exist for guys like you and me who grew up in a market without a team."