I think I figured out why I’m so critical of sports teams logos. It occurred to me in an airport when a big basketball game was on and they showed the tree of finals, contenders and such on the screen. The television networks tack them all up on the screen like student work in an Intro to Graphic Form critique, sprawled out like a smorgasbord for captious birds of prey. The cameras zoom in on the helmets and jerseys of a face-off or across the line of scrimmage, practically begging to be compared. And, therein lies a concept that’s at the conceptual root in sports team logos: they’re meant to appear more menacing than another opponent’s logo. They’re built to clash with each other.
I’ve got a billion things to say about sports team logos. Like how direction is important, and different between teams and sports. Because of the ramming nature of football helmets, the direction of their graphics should clearly be directed toward the front. This means that the logo would need to work both one way, and the reverse of that direction (for instance the New England Patriots). This is an important feature to keep in mind when designing for football. Some, of course, choose all manners of labeling standards. The Penn State Nittany Lions college football team, for many years, refrains from any logo on their helmets or uniforms. The Pittsburgh Steelers only print their logo on the right side of the helmet (right as if you were wearing it), leaving only black on the other side and their distinguishing gold stripe across the top.
I could talk about how outlining a graphic logo for sports teams is practically industry standard. Is this because the logo needs to stand out on a variety of colors and contrasts? Is it because logos are often printed as patches to jerseys and require a sewing rim? Is it because they just look more guarded from an opposing team’s logo? Does it make it inherently easier to distinguish from a distance? This treatment follows into “college” bulk lettering, like letterman patches, fonts for numbers on jerseys, and then onto graphics on the television that look to set the mood and trigger the scene of the game you’re watching.
I’d love to go on and on about the graphic language that purveys sports teams and culture, but the one thing that gets me going in the development of a team and a brand to go with that team is how some clubs have had the courage to go against the typical grain and find ferocity, pride, and uniqueness in a name or mascot that is abstract. Abstract, or more of a force rather than a beast. Not a bear, a tiger, an eagle or a native american. I’m talking about The Colorado Avalanche, The Minnesota Wild, The Carolina Hurricanes, The Tampa Bay Lightning, The Ontario Reign, The L.A. Galaxy, The Dallas Burn, etc. The depictions of these forces are also sometimes impressive. The club often comes up with a mascot that may be related, but doesn’t have to be, in order to put a face with a name, and provide a leader at the actual games to rally spirit. That’s all fine, but the thing that I love about these “force” teams is that they really do capture the three essential qualities of sports teams. They’re inherently fierce, since, as we all know you just shouldn’t fuck with nature; they’re prideful as these towns know the danger of these forces better than others, and continue to brave it because of their love for their home; and the uniqueness scale is high because of their intangibility and elemental nature.
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This is half the reason I’ve gone with the New England Nor’easters for January’s brand. They’re intangible, frightening, abstract and, frankly, cold. However, before I go forward there are a few logos that deserve special attention. After sifting through numerous laughable brands (many of which were clearly designed by committee), I’m drawn to them because they are strong on so many levels, as a real logo should be. That’s for the next post however, so stay tuned for some of my own critique on The Minnesota Wild, The Vancouver Whitecaps, and the Hartford Whalers.