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Logos are an important part of a sports team’s “brand.” When done right, a team’s logo is not only identifiable but worn proudly by fans.
We surveyed fans to find answers to the following questions:
We surveyed respondents about their reactions to logos for teams in five major North American professional leagues:
- NFL — National Football League: 32 teams, including one in Canada.
- NBA — National Basketball Association: 30 teams, including one in Canada.
- MLB — Major League Baseball (National and American Leagues), 30 teams, including one in Canada.
- NHL — National Hockey League: 32 teams, including seven in Canada and one new expansion team in 2021, the Seattle Kraken.
- MLS — Major League Soccer: 27 teams, including three in Canada, and one new 2021 expansion team, Austin FC.
We asked respondents to our survey to set aside their feelings about the teams and focus solely on the logos. (It’s worth noting that one team logo that came up several times in our survey was changed after the survey was conducted: The Cleveland Indians announced a new name, the Cleveland Guardians, on July 23, 2021, along with new logos: a script “Guardians” logo, and a winged “fastball G” logo.)
According to respondents, these are the best and worst in sports logos.
Best Logos in American Sports
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks, founded in 1991 as an expansion team, were the only NHL team among our respondents’ 10 favorites, and they ranked right at the top, at No. 1. The team’s logo spotlights a vicious-looking shark against an inverted pyramid, snapping a hockey stick in two with its jagged teeth. The team colors are dark teal and black (the shark), and orange (the hockey stick and the shark’s very angry-looking eye). These sharks are clearly out for blood, and their savage, relentless look strikes just the right note.
The Jags, like the Sharks, are an expansion team from the ’90s, and they feature a similar color scheme of teal, black, and gold. It’s a palette that seems to resonate with fans, who also indicated the NFL’s best are doing something right: Four of the top five favorite logos are from the nation’s premier pro football league. The Jaguars’ mascot is a fierce, spotted big-cat head, open-mouthed and growling, with a teal tongue and eye. Not quite realistic, but pretty darn cool, our survey found.
The Eagles actually have two logos: an eagle head bent downward, open-mouthed, as though diving to secure its prey; and the wing that appears on either side of the team’s helmet. The eagle is the picture of concentration, epitomizing the “eagle eye,” and both logos are white with silver accents, outlined by the dark, rich colors of midnight green and black. The Eagles are one of the NFL’s veteran franchises, dating back to 1933 when the NFL awarded the bankrupt Frankford Yellow Jackets (named for a neighborhood in Philly) to new owners.
The Ravens’ name was inspired by former Baltimore resident Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem, “The Raven.” And true to Poe’s nature, their colors are dark: deep purple, black as a raven’s feathers, and metallic gold. Their logo is a purple raven’s head with black accents and a red eye, outlined in gold, with a gold “B” written on the side. The Ravens filled a void created a dozen years earlier when the Baltimore Colts departed for Indianapolis in 1984. In the interim, Baltimore had champions in two other leagues. The Baltimore Stars won the United States Football League championship in 1985; and a Baltimore team called the Stallions actually played for two seasons in the Canadian Football League, becoming the only U.S.-based team ever to win that league’s championship, in 1995, a year before the Ravens were founded. But none of those teams’ logos were as cool as the Ravens’.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Another NFL team rounds out the top five: the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Their skull-and-crossbones logo backed by crossed swords isn’t exactly original: It’s somewhat similar to the design employed by the Las Vegas Raiders, who use the crossed swords, too, but as a backdrop to an eye-patch-wearing, helmeted football player. The Raiders’ logo is older, but respondents preferred the Bucs’ sleeker, more sinister look, against the backdrop of a tattered deep-red flag flying from a brandished sword. It’s a far cry from the original “Bucco Bruce” logo used from the team’s inception in 1976 until 1997: A pastel orange Buccaneer head with a dagger in his mouth and a feather on top of his jaunty hat.
Worst Logos in American Sports
Washington Football Team
The Washington Football Team went from a Native American logo (which offended so many people the team finally discarded it) to a bland logo featuring their name against a white background. And that’s not even on their helmets: The helmets simply feature each player’s individual number, also in gold. The only less creative helmet logo in the NFL is probably the Cleveland Browns’ logo-less plain orange model, but at least that has tradition on its side. On a positive note, the team plans to announce a new name in 2022, but as of this writing, it hadn’t ruled out simply sticking with the Washington Football Team, or WFT for short.
The team, like the Washington Football Team, is discarding its Native American-influenced name, in this case after more than a century. The team was founded as the Grand Rapids Rustlers of the Western League in 1894 and rechristened the Cleveland Lake Shores when it moved to Cleveland and the league became a major league under a new name of its own: the American League. The team was called the Bluebirds (or Blues for short) and, unofficially, the Broncos in the early 1900s. Then, when star infielder Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie joined the team in 1902, they became the Naps until he left in 1914. At that point, the team became the Indians in honor of a Native American named Louis Sockalexis, who’d played for the by-then-defunct National League Cleveland Spiders in the late 19th century. The grinning, red-faced “Chief Wahoo” cartoon logo was used from 1951 to 2018 before being discarded as offensive, and the team — which then adopted a simple block “C” — announced a name change to “Guardians” on July 23, 2021. Considering the results of our survey, most respondents are probably breathing a sigh of relief.
The Nashville Soccer Club’s blue and bright yellow “N” logo, broken and seemingly “echoing” into the background, is enough to give you a headache or even make you dizzy. It looks like a cross between the front of a train engine and an angular test pattern from the early days of TV. The team was only founded in 2017, so perhaps this logo is still in the trial-and-error phase. Our respondents can only hope.
There’s nothing exactly wrong with the gold, old-fashioned “P” logo; it’s just not particularly original. The team has been around since 1881, when it was known as the “Alleghenys.” In 1890, they swiped a player away from the protesting Philadelphia Athletics, who labeled the move an act of piracy. The Pittsburgh ball club began wearing the name “Pirates” as a badge of honor the following season.
Portland Trail Blazers
What is that logo supposed to represent, anyway? Evidently, it’s a pinwheel, but the five lines on each side of it (one side red and one white, separated by black), are supposed to represent basketball players in motion — not that anyone would know this without looking it up. The logo’s been in place since the team was founded in 1970, although it’s undergone some subtle changes. It may not make you as dizzy as the Nashville FC logo, but it might come close.
The Most and Least Creative Logos
Most Creative Logos
Creativity is key in a successful logo, so we set out to find the most creative logos. These logos were rated the highest among our respondents. The San Jose Sharks again topped the list, with four teams that didn’t appear in our top five overall following close behind:
- San Jose Sharks.
- Detroit Red Wings (a winged wheel).
- Miami Heat (a flaming basketball descending through a halo-esque hoop).
- New Orleans Pelicans (a pelican holding a basketball, whose wings form the basis of a shield).
- Houston Texans (a bull’s head and horns stylized after the Texas state flag).
Least Creative Logos
Among the least creative logos, three of the teams from our overall top five worst logos reappeared, including the top two: the Washington Football Team and baseball’s Cleveland Indians.
- Washington Football Team.
- Cleveland Indians.
- Pittsburgh Pirates.
- Indianapolis Colts (a blue horseshoe on a white background).
- Cleveland Browns (a plain orange helmet, although an early logo showed an elf-like brownie holding a football with one hand on his hip).
Among these logos, the Sharks’ logo also ranked as the strongest, as well as the most interesting or unique, while the Washington Football Team’s logo was the weakest and least interesting.
The Anaheim Ducks’ hockey team logo ranked as the most confusing: Is that a webbed foot shaped like a “D,” or a sideways “A,” or both? Or is it a takeoff on the “Star Trek” logo? The least confusing was the Arizona Cardinals’ logo from the NFL. A cardinal’s head: pretty self-explanatory.
The Best and Worst Sports Logos by Region
The NHL Chicago Blackhawks’ logo, a smiling Native American profile, was judged the most offensive.
Regional results showed the NFL Minnesota Vikings’ logo as the favorite in the Midwest. A braided, scowling Viking with a long mustache is wearing a horned helmet in profile, and the horns have been adapted to appear on the helmet, as well. It’s also the favorite in the West. The least favorite logo in the Midwest (as well as in the West) is the Cleveland Indians’.
In the Northeast, fans like the Cincinnati Reds’ stylized “C,” but don’t care for the Washington Football Team logo, which is also the least favorite in the South, where the New York Mets’ skyline-inside-a-baseball logo is the favorite.
We also broke down the results of our survey by sport/league, starting with the NFL. We asked respondents their opinions of the best, worst, most/least creative, strongest/weakest, and easiest-to-understand logos in the NFL.
Best Logos in the NFL
The Jaguars’ logo has gone through some slight evolution, with the original jaguar head more oval-shaped and stylized. This logo was in use from 1995 to 2001 before undergoing a very slight modification to darken the “fur” from orange to tan in 2002. The most significant alteration gave us the current logo in 2013, a more realistic (if still blue-tongued) version of the big cat’s head, with a longer tongue, lighter fur, shadowing, and more white on the chin.
The Eagles came along during the Great Depression, and it’s no accident that the team’s original logo resembled that of Franklin Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration. The team’s name was actually inspired by the NRA symbol. The blue NRA eagle held a gear and three lightning bolts in its talons, whereas the football team’s eagle logo was holding a football. Variations on this theme continued all the way up until 1996, when the current eagle head was adopted. The winged helmet is older, dating back to the 1950s, although the colors of the wings and helmet background have changed a few times over the years.
The Ravens were born in 1996, when the old Cleveland Browns team moved east, but they were considered an expansion team rather than a continuation of the Cleveland legacy. They’ve had their current logo since 1999; before that, they used a winged heraldic shield inscribed with a purple-and-black B, but they stopped using it after a copyright infringement lawsuit. Considering the popularity of their current logo, that might not have been a bad thing.
Worst Logos in the NFL
Washington Football Team
Yes, it’s boring, but at least it’s not offensive. The team was founded in 1932 and originally played in Boston. They were called the Braves because they played in the same stadium as the Boston Braves baseball team. A year later, when they moved to Fenway Park (home of the rival Boston Red Sox), they incorporated the color red into their name. Their logo for much of this time resembled the Native American profile on the so-called “Buffalo nickel” that was minted from 1913 to 1938, although sometimes a spear was used instead. They adopted the Washington Football Team name in 2020.
The Colts were one of the first NFL teams to use a logo on their helmet: A simple horseshoe, with both ends pointed upward to hold in the luck. The team’s original logo, back in 1953, showed a horse leaping over the goalposts with a football between its front hooves, a helmet flying loose but held on by a chinstrap — but that logo wasn’t original. It had belonged to an earlier team called the Colts, which had played for three seasons in a rival league called the All-America Football Conference and one season in the NFL before folding after the 1950 season.
The Cleveland Browns also came from the AAFC, where they won all four championships before joining the NFL and winning another in their first year there. They were coached by the legendary Paul Brown, from whom they took their name. They couldn’t very well put the coach’s picture on their helmets, so when other teams started adding logos to their headgear, they just left theirs blank.
In other categories, the Washington Football Team also ranked as the weakest, least creative, and least interesting. The Atlanta Falcons’ logo, a bird in flight in the shape of a stylized “F,” was seen as the most interesting, and the Arizona Cardinals’ logo as the least confusing. The Jaguars had the strongest logo, and the Houston Texans the most creative.
The Los Angeles Rams had the earliest helmet design, rams’ horns, back in 1948, and they’ve also had a secondary ram’s head logo that’s changed over the years. They decided to mess with the horns in 2020 in an attempt to give them a more three-dimensional look, but the overly stylized horns wound up looking like they were split into two pieces, leaving respondents to label their logo as the most confusing.
We also asked survey respondents the same questions about NBA logos, requesting that they choose the best, worst, most/least creative, strongest/weakest, and easiest to understand/most confusing.
Best Logos in the NBA
The Timberwolves’ original logo when they joined the NBA back in 1989 looked more like a panting Siberian husky. Needless to say, they’ve improved on that, and respondents felt the same.
The Chicago Bulls have stuck with the same logo — a scowling red bull’s head with blood on its horns — ever since they joined the league in 1966, and it must be working, because respondents liked it. It’s certainly an improvement on the NBA’s last Chicago team, which joined the league as the Packers (for meatpackers) in 1961, changed their name to the Zephyrs the following year, then gave up and moved to Baltimore as the Bullets. That team is now the Washington Wizards.
The Hornets’ logo is a hornet in flight, facing forward and serving as a shield. The team’s colors are teal, dark purple, white, and gray. The team has a weird history. The Hornets name originally applied to a minor-league baseball team from 1901 to 1973, then to a short-lived pro football team in the World Football League. The original NBA Hornets joined the league as an expansion team in 1988 but moved to New Orleans in 2002. A new team called the Bobcats joined the league in Charlotte two years later but was renamed the Hornets in 2014 when the New Orleans team changed its name to the Pelicans.
Worst Logos in the NBA
Portland Trail Blazers
It’s amazing that this team has had the same head-scratching logo for more than half a century. Then again, what’s the alternative? A picture of Lewis and Clark (if anyone knows what they looked like)?
The Pacers’ logo wasn’t popular with respondents, but it used to be even worse. The original, back when the team was a charter member of the American Basketball Association in 1967, looked like a hand holding an oversized tennis ball inside the letter “P.” The hand has been eliminated and the ball looks more like a basketball now, but everything else is pretty much the same. Not enough of an improvement, at least according to our survey.
For a while, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Pistons used a logo with a flaming horse (for horsepower) and tailpipes, but then they reverted to a version of what they’ve used since they arrived in Detroit back in 1957: A stylized red basketball with the team name superimposed on it. Talk about boring. Before that, the team played in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but was called the Zollner Pistons after a piston-making company. The logo at that time was a robotic-looking man made out of pistons (but with human hands) who wore a “Z” on his chest and was running with a basketball. Better or worse than the current logo? Uh….
The Pistons were also judged to have the least interesting and least creative logo, while the Trail Blazers had the weakest and most confusing. The Bulls’ was the least confusing and the strongest, while the Heat’s was the most creative. The most interesting/unique belonged to the Boston Celtics, who’ve used a pipe-smoking leprechaun since 1950 and the current design since 1968.
In our survey, the weakest logos were often the most confusing and/or least interesting and creative, too.
We posed the same question about Major League Baseball teams, surveying respondents about their thoughts concerning the best, worst, most/least creative, strongest/weakest, and easiest to understand/most confusing.
Best MLB Logos
The Mariners’ logo since 1993, a compass superimposed over a central baseball, got the nod in our survey and was named the strongest MLB logo, too. The primary colors are dark blue and white, with teal and gray accents, and red seams in the baseball. The team name is wrapped around the center. The Mariners, an expansion team that began play in 1977, had three previous logos, the first two of which used a trident as a stylized “M.”
The Athletics have had the same central component of their logo, a stylized “A’s,” since arriving in Oakland from Kansas City in 1968. In the current version, the “A’s” is green with gold accents, and the full name is spelled out in a dark green ring around the central white circle. When the team played in Kansas City and, before that, Philadelphia, an elephant was usually part of its logo (in Kansas City, it was balancing on a baseball).
New York Yankees
The Yankees have two instantly recognizable logos: a baseball bat capped by a stars-and-stripes patriotic top hat and the team name in script against a baseball background; and a stylized “N” with a “Y” in the center. Not only did the team rank third overall, but they also had the most creative and most interesting/unique logo, according to our survey. The team’s status as the most successful in baseball history has cemented both logos in the national consciousness, but before 1912, they were known as the Highlanders.
Worst MLB Logos
The Indians logo is showing up a lot on our “worst” lists. Not much more to say about that, except to repeat the apparently welcome news that it’s disappearing. The Indians’ logo was also named the least interesting, least creative, and the weakest, at the bottom of the barrel in three out of four categories.
The Pirates haven’t won a World Series, or even appeared in one, since 1979, and according to our survey, their logo isn’t a winner, either. The Pirates logo was also named most confusing, although that seems odd since the “P” either stands for “Pittsburgh” or “Pirates.” It’s just unclear which. Ah, there’s the rub.
Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox logo has been, for the past 97 years … are you ready for it? A pair of red socks. Not exactly tops on the creativity meter. It wasn’t even identified as the least confusing in our survey (that honor belonged to the Oakland Athletics). You might also think the logo was bad luck since, for 83 of those years in a row, the Red Sox didn’t win a single World Series. But that drought finally ended in 2007, and the logo’s still here, to the chagrin of some in our survey.
The winner of the best logo in the NHL should come as no surprise, given the overall winner. The rest of the list, however, is interesting, as we also asked about the same subcategories we posed questions about before.
Best Logos in the NHL
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks took top honors again, also being named most creative, strongest, and most interesting/unique. The only category they didn’t win was least confusing.
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings started out as the Detroit Cougars in 1926, when they used a script “D” similar in some respects to that used by the baseball Tigers. They changed their name to the Falcons in 1930, and to the Red Wings two years later. That’s when they adopted what became the basis for their current logo: two wings on a wheel. The lines and color scheme changed ever so slightly in 1948, but on the whole, it’s been remarkably consistent. It’s also clearly well-liked.
The Avalanche logo is an “A” with an avalanche of snow encircling it as it careens toward the bottom of the mountain. It’s a dynamic logo, to be sure, and original as well, which helped make it the No. 3 choice of our respondents. (Whoever designed the Columbus Blue Jackets’ logo must have liked it, too, because it’s not too different.) The Avalanche got its start in Quebec as the Nordiques in the old World Hockey Association before joining the NHL in 1979 and moving to Denver in 1995.
Worst Logos in the NHL
The Canadiens logo almost looks like it belongs in Chicago: It’s a big red “C” surrounding a little white “H.” It stands for “Canadiens hockey,” and it’s been in use ever since 1917. (Before that, there was an “A” inside the “C.”) Contrary to a popular misconception, the “H” does not stand for “Habitants,” even though fans often refer to the team as the Habs. The Canadiens logo was also voted the least creative.
The Ducks not only had the second-worst logo on the list, according to our survey, it was also the most confusing and the weakest. Up until 2006, the team was known as the Mighty Ducks, after a Disney movie, and had an entirely different logo: a duck-shaped goalie mask (with room for a bill), backed by crossed hockey sticks. At least that was fun.
The Capitals’ logo is just the team name spelled out, with the “t” in the shape of a hockey stick and a little puck next to it. They started out with an earlier version of that back in 1974, when they joined the league, then shifted to a flying eagle from 1995 to 2002, and a Capitol dome from 2002 to 2007 before deciding to go back to basics. According to our survey, they still haven’t gotten it right.
In other results, the New York Rangers’ shield, which they’ve used in one form or another since joining the NHL in 1926, was named the least interesting, and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ logo was dubbed the least confusing — which makes sense, considering it is, after all, a maple leaf.
Major League Soccer has been developing into the fifth major league as its popularity has been rising in the United States. The league began play with 10 teams in 1996 and has 27 with the addition of Austin FC a quarter-century later; two more, in Charlotte and St. Louis, are set to join in the next two years. We posed the same questions about MLS logos, asking respondents to name the best, worst, most/least creative, strongest/weakest, and easiest to understand/most confusing. (Most of the MLS logos are in the form of shields or circles.)
Best MLS Logos
Minnesota United joined the MLS just six years ago, but it already has the top logo. The team, known as the Loons, has a logo with clear contrast: A black loon, with its single visible wing stretched out in profile, against a light background of faded gray and sky blue. It’s easy to read and instantly recognizable. It was also voted the most interesting/unique logo.
DC United’s logo has featured red and black colors with an eagle on a shield surmounted by the team’s name since its inception, but the lines keep getting sleeker and the logo punchier. In the current version, used since 2016, the eagle is clearer and the lines are bolder, with the bird filling out more of the shield. It was also named the strongest MLS logo.
Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake’s shield caught respondents’ eyes as regal, reflecting the team’s name. It looks like a coat of arms, complete with a gold crown and a soccer ball that looks like a floral emblem. It was also voted the most creative logo.
Worst MLS Logos
We’ve already mentioned Nashville’s dizzying logo. It’s just not something you want to see if you’ve come out of a dark tunnel and are trying to adjust to the light. How bad is it? It was named the worst in each of the four categories we asked about: most confusing, least creative, least interesting, and weakest. Enough said.
You’d think the Chicago Fire emblem would look like fire. It’s got the right colors — yellow and red — but it looks more like a couple of jester’s crowns than anything else. The team’s been around since 1998, and had a different logo, which looked like a fire department insignia, until 2020. It wasn’t particularly interesting, either. They’ve had enough time to get it right, haven’t they?
The Dynamo adopted a hexagonal shield with interlocking “D” and “H” lettering that was hard to read in 2021. Oh, yeah, and there’s a little orange lightning bolt at the bottom. It had a different logo from its founding until 2021, which wasn’t particularly inventive but was easier to read and had a little more pop to it.
The only team not in the overall top or bottom three to stand out in any category was the New York Red Bulls, which had the least confusing emblem. It features a couple of red bulls. Imagine that.
The study was conducted online with a total of 1,036 participants. All were encouraged to set aside any personal feelings they may have about the teams represented and just focus on the logos.
There were 150 logos in the survey, representing all teams across the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS, and MLB. Not all survey participants viewed every logo. The 150 logos were divided among 20 survey questions, each with randomized variations. Questions included multiple-choice rating scales and open-ended comment boxes.
The study participants were 64.67% male, 35.04% female, and 0.29% non-binary. They ranged in age from 20 to 70, with a median age of 38. Respondents were from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.