Five Questions with David Bruce of MLS

David Bruce is the Senior Vice President of Brand and Marketing at Major League Soccer, the organization responsible for the beautiful game’s swift popularization in the United States. In 2014, Athletics had the pleasure of working alongside David on the rebrand and relaunch of the MLS brand. More recently, we collaborated with David’s team on the creation of event-specific brands for tournaments including The Leagues Cup and Campeones Cup, as well as the new brand for Nashville SC. We’ve always admired David’s passion for the game and his forward-thinking perspective on the role of design in the sporting arena. That made him a perfect candidate for the new decade’s first installment of the Athletics Perspectives series, in which members of our team and community explore subjects of personal and professional interest.


1. You were born in the UK, a country known for its soccer (footy) fandom. What was it like to make the jump to the US, a country where soccer is still an emerging sport?


The whole move was a thrill. Soccer was and still is the dominant sport in the UK. In the US it is challenged by many established domestic sports that are unique to this part of the world. It makes the whole thing invigorating. The level of competition is intense and established, and with this comes the opportunity to be bold and innovative when we think about our brand and the experience of being a fan. We are not yet 25 years old (next season is MLS’s 25th) in a marketplace where the NFL has just celebrated its 100th anniversary and MLB its 150th. We have permission to be seen as the most progressive sports league in the US and Canada, and that is paramount to how we take our brand to the market.


2. How would you contrast the composition and culture of soccer fans in the US versus the rest of the world?


It’s very unique to this land. We have some common elements that connect us all, but for us we have been focused on creating a soccer culture that is proudly North American. This includes rituals and traditions that you only find here: the Tifos, the chants, the supporter groups, the marches to the match which are unique to the cities where we operate teams. Our fans are also incredibly diverse. MLS represents one of the things that makes this country so great—it’s diversity, and you see that in the make-up of our fan base, which is younger, more Hispanic, more female. We have to deliver a brand that speaks to all.


3. What’s your ultimate ambition for MLS as a brand and as a league?


To be one of the biggest soccer leagues in the world. For young people to wake up in the US and Canada and dream of being a star in MLS. For fans to think that this is their league and that they can be part of a movement they can shape and grow.


4. What does a successful day look like for you at MLS?


Just getting to my emails and making sure I’m back at a decent time to eat dinner with my wife! Seriously, it is dealing with a wide range of issues that come up with a league which is seemingly still in start-up mode. No day looks the same, and that is what makes this job fascinating. We are in hyper growth mode. When I started over seven years ago, we had 17 teams. Next season we will grow that number to 26 with the addition of Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC. We’ve already committed to 30 with the recent announcement of Charlotte Independence. No league on earth is experiencing this level of growth, and to be in the thick of it involves great professional challenges and opportunities.


5. What does it take to be in your position at a globally-prominent sports enterprise?


Good fortune and luck, plus plenty of passion and drive. You also need a steady hand and focus. We are still laying down the foundations for what this league will look like for decades to come and that is incredibly exciting. As a result you need patience and focus. As a “brand person,” the ability to consistently deliver on what makes the league special in the minds of fans is something I constantly evaluate and consider.  


Bonus — Who is your favorite player, past or present, and why?


I was a goalkeeper and admire many of the greats. Peter Schmeichel for how he defined the position, Gianluigi Buffon for his style and consistency over the years, and Luis Chilavert for how he showed how goalkeepers can score. However, it has to be Sunderland legend Tony Norman. His performances in between the sticks when Sunderland made an unexpected run to the 1992 FA Cup final is a thing of legend.


Stay tuned for another Athletics Perspectives post next month.


Explore previous installments…

Making Long Distance Creative Relationships Work with Bora Kim

Allison Connell and Britton Walker on Responsive Vertical Spacing

Five Questions with Mark Courtney of NYU