Fans across the U.S. – even worldwide – are serious about their allegiance to their favorite NFL teams. It’s not hard to spot them, especially during football season. They’re usually rocking a shirt, hoodie, or hat with their team’s logo proudly emblazoned across it. Their hair might be temporarily (we hope) painted in team colors. They might even be sporting a gigantic foam finger that leaves no question as to who’s #1.
As self-proclaimed logo nerds, we’re always thinking about how popular culture ties in with logo design. Team logos arouse a kind of passion, connection, and part-of-the-gang mentality that most brands would kill to have. And these marks aren’t just afterthoughts. They’ve been carefully designed to send a clear, strong message to fans and rivals: We’re a team and we’re here to win.
Clearly, NFL logos are a deeply integral part of American football. But what makes them so memorable? So glad you asked.
What makes NFL logos memorable?
“A considerable part of the team’s identity can be found in its respective logo. That’s why you have some teams (Dallas, Pittsburgh, Green Bay) whose logos are among the most recognized in all of sports, while you have some other teams (Jacksonville, Miami, Minnesota) that can continue to tinker with theirs.” -Athlon Sports
We realize the NFL team logos themselves are not the core reasons fans so intensely support their favorites. They do, however, provide a simple, visual way for fans to get a sense of the team’s identity as a whole (the slightly intimidating Raiders logo is a great example). They also make it simple to show one’s dedication to a specific team without ever having to utter “Go Bucs!”
The logos are more important to the sport than you’d think. NFL logos solidify team identity and pride, and they create meaningful connections all over the place – from players to coaches to fans.
They help people with a common interest recognize one another. If you’ve ever worn a team logo in public, chances are, you’ve been greeted by someone who enthusiastically announced that they’re a fan, too. You might have even been approached by a good-natured, albeit trash-talking rival. The spirit of camaraderie either way is evident – and it’s all connected the visual power of the team logo.
But this doesn’t answer the question of why they’re so memorable. That has to do with the actual design components, which we’ll look at next.
Simple and instinctual
The simplest NFL logos are ingrained in nearly everyone’s minds, including non-football fans. Who doesn’t recognize the Cowboys’ star? The Saints’ fleur-de-lis? The Colts’ horseshoe?
What makes the simplicity of these designs even more impressive are the connections they have with the identity of the respective teams.
- The Dallas Cowboys are in the Lone Star State, and the logo is a single star
- The Saints, from New Orleans, pay tribute to their French heritage & culture with a fleur-de-lis
- The Indianapolis Colts reflect their equestrian name in the simple horseshoe logo
Because the marks are not only simple, but also make sense, they’re instinctual and easily remembered. The logos become part of what the team means to fans and even become memorable to people who’ve never taken an interest in football.
But that’s not the only reason NFL logos stand out from other brand marks.
Clear, basic colors
Basic (1- or 2-color) combinations are easier to remember and associate with a team (or brand) than complex color palettes with 3 or more dominant colors. Why? The more colors an organization presents as part of the brand, the more confused the public becomes on which colors to associate with them, and the less memorable their logo and brand are overall.
NFL football teams never have this issue because the color combinations are basic, limited, and clear – you know exactly who you’re rooting for when you see that special combo of green and gold.
Each NFL team has two “official” colors, and 78% of them use a unique, 2-color combination that no other team in the league uses (that’s more impressive when you consider that only 33% of MLB teams and 43% of NBA teams use a unique color combo).
In the entire league, only one color combo is used by more than 2 teams: red and navy blue. (Comment if you know who the teams are!)
NFL logo color stats
- 78% of NFL teams use a unique 2-color combo
- 12.5% of NFL teams use red & blue (royal or navy)
- Navy blue is the most used NFL team color, with 10 teams sporting it
- Brown & maroon are the least-used NFL team colors
Symbols & initials, not wordmarks
Some wordmarks (logos comprised entirely of stylized letters) are great – can’t forget about the likes of Lego, Google, Jeep, and Coca-Cola – but they’re not the most memorable of marks. That’s why you won’t find them in the NFL.
Symbols and initials make the most easily-recalled logos and the NFL is chock full of them. The NFL logo itself is an initial-based mark. In fact, the only teams that even include their name directly within the logo symbol are the New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Oakland Raiders. Others use initials, like the Giants, Bengals, 49ers, and Chiefs.
Most teams use pictorial or iconic symbols that are more visually appealing and easily remembered. It’s just another reason NFL logos stick with us.
From their simplistic, 2-color designs to their very structure, NFL logos are memorable because they connect us to a familiar undercurrent of sportsmanship, camaraderie, and the ever-present drive to win. What’s your favorite NFL team? How long have you been a fan? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!
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