Creative Directors Dylan Simel and Nickolaus Sugai on 'Hopeium' in the Wild World of Sports
Dylan Simel and Nickolaus Sugai met at Translation in an arranged marriage to work on the NFL. It worked out, and now they're a freelance creative director team who have worked on everything from Nike to Netflix to More Than a Vote.
They quickly bonded over their obsession for all sports. Working together usually involves talking about meaningless stats, naming random players, judging athletes' Instagrams, and sharing the most obscure low-level European football-club crests.
Working together also means playing sports, whether that's rec basketball or golf. Their interests beyond sports extend to wine—they started a wine club called minutes, seconds, years that's based on a singlar, ethereal theme and not on any tasting notes.
We spoke with the pair for our Time-Out series, where we chat with folks in the sports world about their favorite athletes, teams, sports movies and shows, and their love of sports generally.
Dylan and Nickolaus, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
- Dylan Simel: I'm from a small town in North Carolina but live in Brooklyn.
- Nickolaus Sugai: I was born and raised on Oahu, Hawaii. Went to school in Oregon. Now I live in Brooklyn, where I have been for the last 10 years.
Your earliest sports memory.
- Dylan: Sitting with my parents and brother at a minor league baseball stadium.
- Nickolaus: I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' houses and there was always golf on TV. Also, growing up in Hawaii with no professional teams, we're all free to root for whomever we want. My stepdad put Dallas Cowboys posters in my room and I was indoctrinated—cursed, really—at an early age.
Your favorite sports teams.
- Dylan: I'm a big soccer guy and religiously get up at 7:30 a.m. on Saturdays to watch Fulham FC in the Premier League. Stateside I follow the North Carolina teams—Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, UNC—and the New York Mets because my mother in-law keeps a game-by-game diary of the team and I have to keep up.
- Nickolaus: I always rank them this way. If the Sports Gods™ *performs sign of the cross* came down and granted me one sports championship, the priority list would be:
1) Oregon Ducks football (almost happened, window is closed now)
1a) University of Hawaii football (never going to happen)
2) Dallas Cowboys (probably going to happen again one day, but I can't see it!)
3) U.S. Men's National Team (never going to happen)
4) Tottenham Hotspur (definitely never going to happen)
I'm a basketball and baseball free agent. There are far too many games in the regular season and if you would like to discuss more, I have solutions saved in my Notes app.
Your favorite athlete.
- Dylan: Fulham FC and U.S. Men's National Team legend, and rapper, Clint Dempsey. A young Dylan spent many hours practicing his soccer drills bumping his iconic Nike-produced hit "Don't Tread."
- Nickolaus: I love Tiger Woods like people love MJ and Kobe. So much so that I'm afraid I've become a Reply Guy to his social media detractors. It's my dream to work on a brief for him, hopefully for his 83rd PGA Tour win and 19th major. Also, Marcus Mariota because he's from Hawaii and we went to the same high school and college. It's proof that you can have a role model who is younger than you.
Your favorite sports show or podcast.
- Dylan: I gotta keep up with my boys across the pond so Fulhamish, a podcast about Fulham. Ted Lasso was great as well because it brought so many casual fans into soccer culture—the greatest sports culture in the world if you ask me.
- Nickolaus: Make or Break is the World Surf League's attempt at an episodic documentary program on Apple+. It's from the same people behind Netflix's F1: Drive to Survive. High production value, inherent drama and interesting international characters. It's not out yet, but I already know I'm going to love their series covering the PGA Tour. I think the key to sports league and team marketing has always been dramatic self-promotion. Studios used to pump out movies like Mighty Ducks, Little Giants and Major League, which were all officially licensed by leagues and teams. Corporate branding sort of replaced that and companies just started sticking their logos on everything and it made everything ugly. Now, I think the success of self-contained programming like Drive to Survive proves that PR and sports marketing can be way more elegant and do actual storytelling. My favorite sports podcast is No Laying Up. A more considered take on professional golf.
Your favorite sports movie.
- Dylan: Rookie of the Year. A 1993 film about a kid who, after dislocating his shoulder, can somehow throw a 95 mph fastball and proceeds to make it to the MLB as a starting pitcher.
- Nickolaus: Friday Night Lights—the movie, not the TV show—because it changed my life. It single-handedly invented the idea that the post-rock genre is the official sound of all emo sports montages. I have probably listened to "Your Hand in Mine" by Explosions in the Sky more times than any other song ever because it's the perfect song to write to. And I love sports movies that end in heartbreak. Because everyone should feel how I feel how I felt when they ruled Dez didn't catch the ball.
A recent project you're proud of.
- Dylan: We created Tribeca screened documentaries for Nike about everyday athletes pushing their physical and mental limits. The series, called Moving Mountains, focused on a Japanese monk who ran ultra-marathons and a golfer who needed a major reset to fall back in love with the sport. I loved it because it was storytelling first. We really dove in and let the narrative lead instead of starting from a product.
- Nickolaus: It will always be Kaiser Permanente "Rematch" for me. It's the wildest iteration of a very simple concept. We created a shot-for-shot homage to The Seventh Seal starring Klay Thompson and the late Michael K. Williams to encourage people to take care of their mental health on behalf of a healthcare brand. It was directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. I feel like no one saw it and its absurdity was never truly appreciated by the industry. In hindsight it still seems like a random Mad Libs ad.
Someone else's project that you admired recently.
- Dylan: This campaign dropped last year but I still can't get over Dropbox's creative—"For Things All Things Worth Saving." It turns something logistical like a file-saving service into an emotional memory box. It's romantic and hits home with me.
- Nickolaus: All of the Airbnb work is so good. "The Strangers Aren't Strange" spot is really special to me because I loved Where the Wild Things Are and the creatures remind me of them. And all of the category spots like "Baecation" that just use beautiful still photography. Taking pictures is such an inherent behavior of traveling, it makes so much sense. I think that work proves it's not necessarily the distinctiveness of a creative concept, but the ability to convince others that it's, in fact, good. The creatives who worked on that didn't compromise the art of it and sold it all the way up the chain. That's impressive. Because everyone thinks, "I wish I thought of that," but really it should be, "I wish I could sell that."
What sports can do that nothing else can.
- Dylan: Connect people. I was recently in Italy and had a full conversation about a soccer player with a man making pizza. I barely spoke Italian and he barely spoke English, yet we spent five minutes chatting about the game. Nothing else can bridge cultures like that.
- Nickolaus: The real drug problem in this country is Hopeium. It makes smart people irrational. It burns hours of your day. It causes severe mood swings. In one second it can make you think every problem you've ever had will be solved, and then in another it can make you feel like you've been dumped by the love of your life while being run over by a semi-truck. Every time I think I'm off the stuff, someone sends me a little taste in the form of a tweet saying something like, "The new Ducks QB looks like a dark horse Heisman candidate." I inject it straight into my veins knowing full well of what the comedown is like.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the sports world.
- Dylan: If I had a career reset, I would love to do something with architecture and interior design. I love building spaces and experiences for people.
- Nickolaus: Trying to write the next Great American Tweet.