Q&A: Chuck Kacsur, Washington Wizards, Capitals, and Mystics

Just in time for the fall sports seasons to kick off, we introduce you to Chuck Kacsur (pronounced CASH-er), a graphic designer for Monumental Sports, the organization that keeps Verizon Center buzzing hundreds of nights a year with the Washington Wizards (NBA), Washington Capitals (NHL), and Washington Mystics (WNBA).

How did you get your start?

I came on board with the Mystics, and that was my sole focus in the beginning. The team felt like a lot of the agencies they’d worked that with were capable of some great designs, but didn’t quite understand their market, or couldn’t always get materials to them quickly enough, based on the short length of the WNBA season. It’s been a dream of mine to work in sports—I have my master’s in sports management in addition to my graphic design degree. I’d always told myself, if a [design career in sports] doesn’t happen, I’m still going to pour myself into being a good graphic designer, but that was what I was really hoping to pursue, so I was very fortunate that they took a look at my portfolio, interviewed me, and hired me.

In 2010 the ownership group of the Capitals and Mystics purchased the remaining outstanding shares of the Wizards and the Verizon Center from Washington Sports & Entertainment. That was summer of 2010, so there was a lot of merging of different properties and departments from Lincoln Holdings into Monumental Sports & Entertainment. Since then, we’ve really grown as an in-house team—we’re now up to 30 staff, and we refer to ourselves as Monumental Productions. We all report to the Marketing Department and to the director of TV operations—I guess you’d say it’s a pretty flat organizational chart.

And what are the primary goals for your team?

We’re always looking to sell tickets to events and create a great experience for our fans and guests, of course, but we’re also working well in advance to attract potential partners as sponsors, sharing information about our demographics and pointing out the advantages of marketing opportunities with our teams.

We’re also doing a lot of work that’s very immediate, like pumping out graphics to promote the Capitals, Wizards and Mystics as well as designing traditional print ads, and we’ve got a huge web presence. Every team has its own mascot, or multiple mascots, their own Twitter handles, and the Wizards have the Wizard Girls dance squad, so we’re always creating graphics for various groups.

We’re also doing a lot of print work to show people at Verizon Center stadium events—the glossy brochure is still a really great way to educate fans on the benefits of being a season-ticket member. At the same time, we’re designing pieces for the seven enormous HD screens on the outside of the Verizon Center, which often focuses on upcoming events

So you’re doing a lot more than repackaging the same content year after year?

Exactly. Our marketing team is continuously coming up with new ideas, and there are definitely fan favorites like Military Appreciation Night and Polish Heritage Night. Then there are some of the newer initiatives: Kids Club has been a big one for the Wizards and the Caps—kids who sign up get a special prize, like a Martell Webster bobblehead doll, they can come see a movie at the arena, and so on, so we’re working to support those initiatives, which are also really good vehicles for sponsorships. We designed some bus-shelter art to promote our holiday ticket packages for the Wiz and the Caps: On the Wiz side alone, we created something like 40 different designs, some videos, 12 different banner ads for the web, and fliers for table displays. We’re always trying to be nimble and to meet the needs of our various internal clients.

I’ve recently made signage and T-shirts for the Wizards’ “PowerPack,” team—the people who pump everybody up during games, and if we don’t have a game for a week, I’ll focus on projects that we can deliver to fans through Twitter immediately, like graphics that say “all-star voting is starting soon.” One recent project I’m proud of is the vehicle wraps—it’s really exciting to work on a big canvas like that, one that gets driven around town by the team mascot, who brings his trampoline and his dunk mat out to fans.

What was it like to be part of the Wizards’ playoff run in the summer?

It was really exciting because they hadn’t been in the playoffs in a long time. I’d been to several Caps playoffs games, and you sort of know what to expect, but a lot of people hadn’t expected the Wizards to get that far, so we put some thought into the tag line and the opening video [that played before the home games]; we gave it a little bit of swagger, a little attitude. This year’s tagline was “DC Rising,” something that we just spit-balled with the marketing team and turned out really well—I was able to design the mark for that on T-shirts, the team store, giveaways, and banner ads. At that point we didn’t need to worry about selling tickets—the goal was to make every game a really memorable experience for our fans.

Give us a few reasons to envy you.

First off, everyone here is really talented and passionate about the work, and I think it really shows in the final product.

It’s also great to work with a professional NBA photographer—you can’t beat the assets we get to work with in terms of player photos. And we have such a great canvas, the outdoor video boards and premium spots to place our ads. Not many designers are so fortunate.

One really cool aspect of working here is playing pick-up basketball on the practice court in the building. I got to play on the main court a few times, too, and I just felt small out there.

Any reasons we might NOT envy you?

Yeah, pressure to sell tickets and to meet marketing goals is definitely a big one. Often there are so many things we’d like to do, we can’t do them all at once. We support so many departments, and they all want to win in their own particular way.

Ever get star struck walking the halls at Verizon?

Yeah, the athletes are all really nice—sometimes I’ll meet them in the elevator and chat for a few minutes; some guys have even stopped by the office a couple times a year to shake hands and meet people and say thanks for the support. But for me, my biggest star-struck moment was actually when Michael Wilbon was in our offices. I’ve been watching “Pardon the Interruption” since 8th grade, and I listen to the podcast every day when I go for a run. Then one day, I’m walking down the hall and there he is. There’s just something about seeing someone on television every day for years, then seeing them in your office. But yeah, it’s funny walking down the hallways in a place where 7-foot guys are the norm, no question.

This is the second in our series of interviews with graphic designers working with major league sports teams. Read the first one—an interview with Matt Grey of DC United.

By Scott Kirkwood
Published October 28, 2014