My wife and I bought plane tickets for the the MLS Cup the same night Lucas Melano sealed the deal in Dallas. When we got to columbus we were blown away by the traveling Timbers Army and the support the 107ist and TA across the country had provided. It was like being at home in Columbus, and the full story is something for another post. This post is about the patch I produced to commemorate the event. It was also used as an informal fundraiser for the 107ist so they could continue to provide truly legendary away day support for the Timbers Army, and indirectly, the Timbers team itself.
I wanted to commemorate the traveling fans, and not necessarily the fact that we won the cup. The victory was icing on the cake, but the thing that blew me away were the number and spirit of the fans that made the trip, and the logistical help they received. We heard stories about people flying in to Detroit and driving, being put up for the night with TA in various cities, and people meeting for carpools from those cities. In the stadium parking lot on match day there was a panel truck with a big Timbers logo on it, drawing fans in a large crowd. There was a couch, free food, free beer, (donations accepted) and friends everywhere. There were flags being handed out too. If you only saw it on TV, it’s hard to explain how amazing the whole experience was.
And of course, we won. So that was… well, you know exactly how that felt.
In the week immediately afterwards I read somewhere that about 10k was spent by various parties providing amenities and atmosphere for the traveling TA on match day, and that didn’t include the bar tab that Merritt Paulson picked up for a few hours post-match. (It’s true, thanks for those drinks Merritt!) I couldn’t help but compare my Columbus away day experience to earlier that August when I took one of the TA busses to Seattle. With the bus ride and match ticket I think it was about $60. That included free beer on the bus ride there and back, and a t-shirt to boot. Fantastic deal.
In addition to simply commemorating the event, I decided I would try to do some sort of fundraising for the 107ist to help ensure continued away day support. My first thought was a t-shirt, but screen setup costs, the cost of blank shirts, and distribution challenges put it out of my comfort zone. During those playoff matches I started buying a couple patches here and there, and I had produced an (soccer unrelated) patch in the past, so I decided to go the route of the patch. Besides, I was a fairly new member of the Facebook group PTFC Patch Patrol, and as a newb I never had anything to trade that wasn’t freshly available from the No Pity van.
I kicked around a few ideas in the group. The main idea was to portray the fact that the Timbers Army faithful had invaded Columbus and out chanted the beer can throwing Nordecke supporters group throughout the entire match. Some people didn’t appreciate the black and yellow checkers, a reference to the Columbus Crew, but that was 100% intentional on my part, and I wasn’t going to budge on including it. We invaded Columbus. It was D-Day with no casualties on our side. Visual reference to the vanquished was integral to the message.
Here’s some early mockups.
As you can see, the early designs featured the text “Away Day Legends” but after reaching out to the merch crew, they rightfully asked that I not use the phrase as it was something they were already using. That made obvious sense, despite my being in denial, believing that they would think it was such a great idea that they would be OK with it. I had to get past that, so I started focusing on the phrase “Invasion of Columbus.”
The airliner dropping axes was central to the design. I had some other text heavy designs, but I felt the invasion metaphor was served pretty well by axes falling out of a commercial jet. Sure, they look like bombs, but they could also be thought of as paratroopers. I had toyed with coopting an Airborne logo as well as putting parachutes on the axes, but I gave it up on that pretty quickly.
On the left (below) is the final design I submitted to the embroidery company. As it became time to actually pay for the order, they informed me that I could not use the words “MLS Cup,” nor the illustration of the actual trophy because of trademark infringement. I was a little bit worried that those who paid already might be upset with the change, but nobody had an issue. I redrew the trophy and changed the text to read “The Cup.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t save the image of this sew out. I felt OK about this, but not great. The trophy looks different enough so it’s not an infringement. I’ve seen at least one other patch go through with a trophy that looks exactly like the MLS Cup, but it doesn’t mention it by name. I’m guessing the folks at the patch company googled MLS Cup when they saw my design and decided it needed approval. Who knows, maybe they did some work for MLS before so that raised a flag. In a perfect world the MLS Cup would be bigger than the Super Bowl, but then my match tickets would have cost more than $50 and I wouldn’t have been able to attend in the first place… Still, the words “THE CUP” really bugged me, especially when I saw the sew out. So, to what I’m sure was their great annoyance, I sent them a version with revised text, dropping all mention of the cup.
It was as simple as dropping new text over the black bar, but this revision took a while to receive. When I did get it, the shoulder on number 6 in the date was too close and looked like a 8. I asked them to fix that without sending them new art. Notice the quality and size of the sew out image. It’s big enough that you can enlarge it and see things clearly. I’ve received sew outs from other companies that are closer to actual size or somewhat smaller than actual size captured at standard screen resolution, and its hard to see what the details actually look like. In this design that’s not a factor, but on intricate ones it can mean the difference between happiness and one big bummer when you open that box. Whoever documented this sew out forgot to rotate the patch 45 degrees, and the entire order was wrong, so I sent the patches back and made them re-sew them. (Ha ha.)
Here’s what the actual produced version of the patch looks like compared to the vector graphic I sent them. It looks like they replaced the text with a thinner typeface for legibility, but that’s OK I guess. It looks good in person. Their type specs are sort of arbitrary, depending on what typefaces you have in your collection. One thing I didn’t notice until I wrote this piece: The 6 in the sew out is not the same as the 6 in the actual production patch. They changed it from a terminal in the sew out back to a shoulder in the final version. It’s a very minor detail, but it looks much better in my opinion.
In the end, this project raised $730. There are not any more available for purchase, but if you join PTFC Patch Patrol, there should be plenty out there available for trade. This was a fun project. There’s nothing like seeing a big pile of embroidered patches made from your own design. I was going to take a picture of myself, American Beauty-style, with the patches replacing the rose petals, but nobody wants to see that…
What went right.
The patch looks great and people love it. It raised a good chunk of change that should directly enhance fan support at away games, and in a small way, directly enhance the actual Portland Timbers on the pitch. Having an open order that lasted 2 weeks allowed a lot of people to get patches that might have otherwise missed them.
What could have gone better.
I waited way too long to pull the trigger and as a result I feel like the idea lost some momentum. The patch market was kind of saturated with new patches at the time and I think their was some fundraising fatigue. I might have charged too much for a set, decreasing the amount total amount ordered and the funds raised. I’m not sure my supply / demand / costs graphs cross at the optimal point.
What I wish would have happened
I would have liked to have seen this patch made available to a wider audience, say for instance, the entire mailing list of people who travelled to Columbus, but I obviously have no access to that list. Although we raised a good chunk of change, I could imagine 90% of attendees buying that patch. How do you get a larger audience for patches beyond people who are already in Patch Patrol? By the time I got in touch with the TA merch crew regarding this patch, I was told they already had their own patch in the works. I’m not sure if that became the Cup Bound & Down patch or if it was something else that was never released.
What was confusing. Navigating price breakdowns and picking the final number of patches to produce. Price breaks were at 100, and with the sets I had commitments for plus the number I wanted to keep and/or give away it wasn’t a good match. I didn’t want to order extras at a lower price and sit on them, collecting more money to donate as they sold. I decided to order more at relatively the same price and distribute the extras as a bonus. I made the choice to pay something like an extra $25 to bump the numbers up to the next 100 and give everyone an extra patch with their set. In the end that meant extra patches in circulation, and more happiness for collectors. I calculated the donation based on the price per patch and the money collected per set. What that means is, your donations did not pay for my personal patches or the ones I gave away. Deciding on the final amount of patches to make was honestly the most stressful part of the whole endeavor.
More Notes: I learned a few things from this project that I’ll share for those considering doing their own TA related patch.
Check the PTFC Patch Patrol Docs first. This is a link. (See: So You Want to Make a Patch?) Your basic info is in there, some do’s and don’ts, where to get the patches made, and how to not piss people off. Essential reading.
Act sooner rather than later. Got a design in mind, but on the fence? The process can take a long time, especially if you have some revisions. Patch companies are often quick to jump on the initial quote, just to lock down the order, but revisions sometimes end up mired in languor. If you’ve got an event or specific match that you are trying to distribute patches for, make sure you confirm the timetable with the patch company.
Transparency is important. It’s not a lesson I learned from this particular patch, but it’s important and worth repeating. Be upfront about what stage in the process you are in and where any possible windfall might go. Is this a charity fundraiser, and if so, who gets the money? Does the charity know about or condone the donation? Are you really just gauging interest or has it already gone into production?
Leave the ordering open for a couple weeks. No matter how long you leave orders open, there are going to be people who miss out. Making a patch for the group is an exciting thing, so it’s easy to get wrapped up in it and assume everyone knows about it, but even if you job is monitoring facebook 24/7, you’re still going to miss out on some patches. Make it easier for people to collect your design by giving them more time to find out about it.
Get feedback from the community, but make your own decision. You’re not going to please everyone, but there’s a good chance you’ll improve on your design, even if it’s only in some small way. At the very least, it’s a good way to gauge interest.
Choosing a supplier I pulled my manufacturer from the PTFC Patch Patrol document. I used Stadri Emblems and had an overall positive experience with them. They provided images of the preliminary sew out as wel las revisions. I might choose a different supplier for my next patch just so I can have something to compare, but I have no big complaints about Stadri, and the patches came out looking great.
Plan on revisions, and extra time. The sample sew out proof (a photo) came pretty quickly. The revisions lagged a bit. They might have gotten busy. If I hadn’t needed revisions I imagine the order would have gotten here quicker, but count on needing at least one revision unless you design is super simple. I had a little experience with prepping artwork for embroidery prior to this, and it was still wasn’t completely obvious how I needed to handle the text. A web site might give you minimum font size, but that can be meaningless depending on which typeface you are using. 6pts in one font is not necessarily the same size as 6pts in another font. It has to do with how typefaces are measured.
Ask for help if you need it. If you can’t generate artwork ask for help. Patch companies can turn your sketch into a digital proof, but you might want to consider working with someone local or in the community for more control over your vision. I never handed off a design that wasn’t already in vector format, so I don’t know if revisions from a patch company are truly endless and free. If you give them a sketch, they generally send that sketch to someone overseas to turn into vector art, unless its simple text. Once that art is vectorized, they “digitize” it into a format that embroidery machines use to plot the stitches. Again, unless it’s super basic, that digitizing process is also likely handed overseas for the first pass, and then revised locally, even if the embroidery is actually done int he United States or Canada. Are you outside of Oregon or do you need help with outside distriution? There’s probably a willing sole in that geographical location willing to help.
Shipping. I like the option of being able to choose shipping if I buy a patch. If you offer this option, ask your buyers to include their shipping address in the Paypal comments. It pretty easy to copy and paste into a label template and print out all at once, saving you time and hand cramping. I brought my patches to the post office. I was able to send 3″ round patches, 5 to a regular letter size envelope for $0.89. I thought it would be more but the guy at the counter weighed them and passed the envelope through a template, and that’s what he told me. They have a special stamp for standard letters that can’t go through the automatic sorting machine and are under a certain wieght, and right now it costs $.089. If I get them returned or I hear that extra postage was collected I’ll update that here. (They did get returned, see next paragraph.) A single patch sent in a standard envelope will get there with a standard stamp. The double sets I shipped were charged as a parcel and went out for about $3. That’s what it cost me yesterday, who knows what it will cost tomorrow.
SHIPPING UPDATE: Almost half of the sets that shipped with $0.89 postage were returned to me, and it took a month for them to make it back! While they were in limbo I was stressing about having to pay for an extra production run to get patches to everyone who had paid, and because the total number was much lower, it was going to be expensive. Fortunately, they all showed up except for one set. I pulled some from my extras and sent those out to the person as replacement. After another month, that original envelope was actually delivered to Ohio, with postage due. The takeaway: Shipping for a set of patches is $2.45 when sent as a small parcel. You also get tracking with that postage, so it’s worth it. They may tell you that you can ship 4-5 patches for $0.89, and they may be right, but only about a 1/3 of the time. If the patches settle together at the bottom of the envelope they will be rejected or delivered with postage due, as it’s happened with the majority of the patches in this production, as well as several that I’ve ordered from other people. You may be able to get by with an $0.89 stamp if you tape the patches to a card or sheet of paper that keeps them from bunching up together, but that takes extra time and effort. You’re better off just planning on paying $2.45 for postage and adjusting your overall price.
Pre-orders are your friend. The pros of pre-orders are that you collect money before production, so there’s less risk to you. The cons are that it’s a pain in the ass to track all of this and deal with communications while ordering is open. I used Eventbrite (free) to track orders and Paypal to accept payment. I have to admit that I did it this way because I saw someone else do it first. My Paypal email address is active with a lot of other non-patch related paypal activity, buying and selling, so Eventbrite gave me an interface for tracking this particular patch and sending bulk emails to everyone that purchased a “free ticket” that represented a commitment to buy a set of patches. You need to manually correlate that list with Paypal donations (use friends and family please!) but it’s not too hard, barring the occasional person whose Paypal email address does not match their Eventbrite email address. If you have nothing else going on with Paypal and a clutter free inbox, you could probably skip Eventbrite. Still, it’s a good way to have an informal tally available at all times.
Fixed orders are your friend. The pros of fixed orders are that it’s less of a headache for you, the producer. Decide how many you want to make and pay for it up front. Collect the money at distribution. The cons are that you’re at risk of having to spend money out of pocket if you don’t gauge interest correctly. Another con is that you risk not getting the patches into the hands of the fans that want them. If you have a great patch, a lot of people will want them, so why limit a production run to an arbitrary fixed number? We’re inclusive, not elitist, right?
Get feedback from the TA merch crew. You might be stepping on their toes in terms of a design similarity or them or event that they are already working on. Also, they might actually want to produce and distribute your idea, relieving you of a giant burden. I know this sounds like a long shot, but I’ve actually seen it happen. It can be hard to let go of a design you’ve created, and you aren’t under obligation to do so, but be a good citizen first and foremost.
That’s it. I hope you find my experience helpful. Post questions in the comments.