Q&A: Matt Gray, DC United

Matt Gray has played soccer ever since he could walk. With the help of a father who coached at the college level for decades, he took his talents to Frostburg State University and the U.S. Olympic Development squad. Now he’s on the payroll of Washington’s Major League Soccer team, DC United—but he uses more than his feet. The in-house designer for the team since March 2013, Gray designs projects for the team’s marketing, public relations, sales, and community relations efforts, among others. Here, he kicks off a series of interviews conducted with designers from DC’s local sports franchises.

Working for any professional sports team seems like a dream job. How did you get the gig? 

Short answer: Sheer serendipity and persistence.

Long answer: My father shamelessly plugged me into conversations while he worked the MLS Combine in 2013 and discovered that D.C. United was seeking a graphic designer. I found the application online, spilled my heart out, tapped every connection, and was persistent about obtaining an interview.

When I finally got the interview, I was well prepared and feeling confident. When I was selected as a final candidate, they gave me a “design test”; I was given a few images and brand assets, and I had to create two web banners and a newspaper ad within an hour. A week later, I got the job. I later learned that it came down to my passion for the game, the soccer spec work in my portfolio, and my interpersonal skills.

Are you ever a little star-struck being around players and team staff? 

Of course! It’s surreal coming face-to-face with venerated athletes that you cheered on as a kid. I was particularly star struck by Ben Olsen, Josh Wolff, and Dwayne DeRosario. But in same regard, I feel very at home. Thanks to my father, I’ve grown up around players and coaches of all ages, nationalities, and skill level.

What have you been working on lately?

We just completed the off season, so for the past five months, I’ve been working on the 2014 campaign that included season-ticket collateral (packaging design, ticket design, membership cards, tumbler, etc.), stadium signage, pole banners, web ads, newspaper ads, and bar posters.

I’ve also been designing promotional material for camps, community relations, and sales while art directing a kids’ club logo, social-media campaigns, match-day programs, and in-stadium videography.

Are you involved in designing uniforms, souvenirs, and tees or other merchandise? 

Very little. Adidas spearheads the designing of all Major League Soccer (MLS) merchandise. We’re given presentations in order to provide criticism and feedback. But otherwise, our director of merchandising selects all of the gear that will be sold in stores.

Occasionally, I’ll design a game-day giveaway that promotes our affiliation with a particular sponsor. This usually concerns items like posters, cinch bags, accessories, and clothing apparel. Customized t-shirts are always in popular demand, but they generally boil down to a classic case of “make the logo bigger.”

What are some of the key goals you’re trying to advance? Most of us would guess selling more tickets, but I imagine there’s a lot more. 

The need to sell more tickets is a constant for the D.C. United marketing department. But my adopted philosophy is that ROI is simply the by-product of good design. So instead of stressing over sales, my skills are best at work when I am focused on strengthening our brand identity, optimizing our user experience, and learning from our fan base.

But above all, my goal and motivation is to spread the positive impact of soccer—it’s an activity that transcends gender, race, culture, and conflict. Whether it’s in the bouncing stands of RFK or on a United Soccer Club practice field, I just want people to experience the joys and edifying values that this beautiful game has to offer.

What are some of the accomplishments you’re most proud of? 

Like many designers, I tend to find all the imperfections in my designs once they’ve been published, but I’m pretty happy with the boxes that hold our 2014 season tickets—they’re minimalistic and flaunt details like a black foil stamp, a slender red ribbon, and a placeholder for the season ticket booklets that utilize 18 different legacy players to commemorate our 18 years in the league.

Other proud accomplishments in my D.C. United residency would be creating a comprehensive brand guidelines, a holistic season campaign, and serving numerous hours in the community alongside our company’s charitable arm–United for D.C. It’s invaluable working for a company that not only encourages giving back to the community but facilitates opportunities in the midst of a typical workday.

Give us a few reasons to envy you. 


  • Free swag
  • Free admission to all the games
  • Freedom of being the sole designer
  • Staff field days—we get to play under the lights at RFK (too cool!)
  • Ticketing discounts for family and friends
  • Merchandise discounts
  • Awesome design realty (billboards, pole banners, four-story signage, TV exposure, vehicle wraps, etc.)
  • Workplace is an iconic venue—RFK Stadium
  • Respected and recognizable brand in the community–people are always delighted to learn more about what I am blessed to call my living

And give us a few reasons why we might NOT envy you? 

Cue the violin…

  • Mondays are 10 times worse when your team suffers a loss over the weekend
  • One is the loneliest number. It’s physically, mentally and emotionally draining when you’re the lone in-house creative
  • Endless pile of design requests
  • Rarely have time for proofs
  • Typically work six days a week
  • I clocked over 220 hours in February
  • Low industry pay (plenty of designers who would love my job)
  • Content always seems to be changing during the design process

And lastly, the most important question: Will DC United make the playoffs this year? 

It won’t be a walk in the park, but I believe that we will be there in the end! The club had a busy off-season with several trades, draft picks, and new acquisitions, which means there may be some team chemistry issues and line-up variations. But once we find our stride, these guys have every bit of pride, passion, and talent needed to propel us into playoff contention.

By Scott Kirkwood
Published April 7, 2014