New York City FC’s First Brand Spot Is a Gritty Paean to the City It Calls Home

Johannes Leonardo takes us inside the soccer team's new ad

When Major League Soccer began play in 1996, those of us who lived in New York City had only one team to root for—the New York/New Jersey MetroStars. But despite their odd hybrid name, they were pretty solidly a New Jersey team. They played out at Giants Stadium, and those of us coming from Manhattan would often arrive late to games, as they never scheduled enough buses from Port Authority. Intentional or not, the indifference to fans east of the Hudson was palpable. 

That franchise has since cleaned up its act, and become the formidable New York Red Bulls. They still play in Jersey, though, at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison (which is, admittedly, a lovely stadium). But luckily for New York City fans, there's been another option over the past two seasons—New York City Football Club, a new MLS franchise that plays its home games at Yankee Stadium. 

NYCFC clinched its first MLS Cup playoff berth this past weekend, and is celebrating with a gritty new spot from Johannes Leonardo, its first-ever brand commercial.

The poetic spot, called "Along These Lines," is as much a tribute to the city as the team—rallying New Yorkers to get behind their soccer team, using a theme of connection that's both literal (the subway system connects everyone, and of course stops at Yankee Stadium) and figurative.

Check out the spot here:

We spoke to Leo Premutico, chief creative officer of Johannes Leonardo, about the work.

AdFreak: Why break a new campaign now, with the season almost over?
Premutico: New York City FC is only in their second year as a club. Johannes Leonardo was appointed AOR duties at the beginning of the season. We launched "Support Your City," which represents the bond between the players on the pitch and the crowd in the stands, and kicked it off with a very unique jersey launch where key players surprised unsuspecting fans, giving them the chance to see the jersey first before media or anyone else.

Over the weekend, New York City FC clinched its first-ever MLS Cup playoff berth, so we wanted to build on the energy that's there among the team and the fans for this historic moment and inspire people to get behind their city when it matters most.

Where did the idea for this visual metaphor, "Along These Lines," come from?
As the only MLS team to play in the five boroughs, New York City FC is a club that belongs to the city's football community, but also New Yorkers at large. There's a lot of potential to attract supporters based not only on their love for the game but for their love of New York City. "Along These Lines" is an acknowledgement that the world's greatest city defies description and its club plays with the same values as those instilled in the people who live here.

We wanted to make both a brand piece and a call to arms at the same time. Yankee Stadium is very easy to access using the subway. So depicting the city through its lines felt like the perfect way to inspire people to turn up and support the club. Not only did it feel like a new way to interpret the world's most depicted city, it taps into its connectedness, its grit and how ultimately we can all unite through its subway lines.

It's a very poetic piece. How will that appeal to sports fans, and soccer fans in particular?
Soccer is the fastest growing sport in the U.S., so it's important that the piece talks to die-hard soccer fans but also the broader New York public. And the thing all New Yorkers share is the grit it takes to live here, and the love they have for their city. The words try to tap into that to create an emotion that makes people realize that even if they're not a soccer fan per se, this is a club that they can belong to and is one that belongs to them. Everything in the piece was shot, written and performed by New Yorkers. 

Has the brand voice always been this gritty?
New York City FC has New York in its name, plays home games in the Bronx, and as a result is the only MLS club truly representative of New York's five boroughs. So while technically this is the first piece of brand advertising for New York City FC, we're not setting out to invent a voice for the club. The city already has a storied history and an established tone of voice. And with the club and the city so interwoven—and increasingly so through the club's community work, currently serving 4,000 kids per week through the club's partner foundation City in the Community—the tone of the play on the field, the brand's communication and the tone of the city itself have quickly become one and the same.

What was it like shooting this spot around city? What was most challenging?
This interpretation of the city has never been done before. So you're working in an unknown territory. Can the city's lines, those we see every day, be rendered into something interesting in the edit? Can we abstract them? Make the feel new again so they reignite the audience's love for their city?

Then in the edit it was about matching the images to the theme of the verse. Editing the script to build the right tempo and pacing. Reworking the words in the recording session so they felt right for the performer.

We also wanted to be inclusive of the entire city, so yes, we shot in and around Yankee Stadium, where the club plays, but it was important to capture as much of New York as possible. 

Who is the target of the piece? Existing fans of the team, or potential fans? Both?
The vast majority of people who come to a game for the first time love it and come back again. So while attendances have been very strong—the club averaged 29,000 fans at home games in its inaugural season—there's a real opportunity to grow the New York City FC fan base and membership even more. There's so much potential as there are lots of fans of the team and New Yorkers who haven't been to matches yet. So we want them to experience it because we're confident they'll enjoy themselves. And of course there are still people out there who don't know what New York City FC is, or what the MLS is, so we're trying to help the club and in turn the league become a true part of American sports culture.

Where will the spot be running?
Online and on New York City FC social channels, with :15 cut-downs running on TV. 

CREDITS
Client: New York City Football Club

Agency: Johannes Leonardo
Chief Creative Officers: Jan Jacobs, Leo Premutico
Creative Directors: Wes Phelan, Matt Edwards
Associate Creative Directors: Joaquin Lynch-Garay, Federico Munichor
Account Supervisor: Adam Rubin
Producer: Dustin Grant
Strategist: Georgia Lindsay

Production Company: Greenpoint Pictures
Director: Logan Roos
Founding Partner: Michael Kuhn
Partner: Jacob Lincoln
Executive Producer: Tatiana Rudzinski
Executive Producer of Sales: Jordana Freydberg
Creative Director: Niles Roth
Producer: Willa Goldfeder
Postproduction Producer: Katrina Bayoneto

Editor: Logan Roos (Greenpoint Pictures)
Editor: Misha Spivack (Loroto)

Music Composer: Andy Park

Color: Company 3
Colorist: Tom Poole
Commercial Producer: Clare Movshon
Assistant Colorist: Kath Raisch

Sound Mix: Sonic Union
Sound Mixer: Owen Shearer
Studio Director: Justine Cortale
Scheduling Producer: Pat Sullivan

Voiceover Recording: GrooveGuild
Founder, Head of Music Supervision, Licensing: Al Risi
Partner, Creative Director: Paul Riggio
Head of Production: Janice Brown