I realize I’ve gone a little crazy with the baseball posts of late, but with Major League Baseball’s regular season coming to an end this week, I have to get one more in. (Okay, maybe two.)
Baseball fans are essentially glorified brand loyalists. I am objectively aware that my affinity for the Philadelphia Phillies amounts to an irrational, overly emotional connection to a team of multi-millionaires wearing pajamas with the same logo, but I can’t help myself. That said, for those in the business of branding, there are lessons to be learned from the way different Major League Baseball teams have approached the use of their logos.
Baseball’s most popular and recognizable logos are consistently simple in design and color palette and have been in use largely unchanged for decades. (Note: for the purposes of this post, I am writing primarily about cap logos, like the “NY” on the left below, as opposed to official logos like the “Yankees” script and top hat.)
Every year, the Yankees far outdistance other teams in sales of merchandise. Sure, you can argue that Yankees apparel is popular because New York is the largest market in the nation and there are legions of bandwagon fans all over the world riding the coattails of their 26 World Series championships. But while some teams occasionally introduce new logos in an attempt to get fans to buy the latest gear, the Yankees have used essentially the same logo since 1913. The iconic interlocking “NY” probably wouldn’t make it past focus groups in today’s environment, but simplicity, longevity, and the team’s success make this logo one of the most recognizable in the world.
On the other hand, the Boston Red Sox play in a much smaller city (23rd largest in the US) and until recently, were famously unsuccessful, going 86 years between World Series championships. But like the Yankees, the Red Sox have used essentially the same identity—some version of the stylized “B” and/or some version of the socks—since the early 1930s, and they, too, rank among the top two or three in merchandise sales each year. The common factor between the Yankees and the Red Sox is the extended use of a consistent, simple logo.
The Dodgers have been playing in Los Angeles since 1958, and since then have been using this purely typographic logo, another of baseball’s most popular and recognizable. Lots of baseball teams use the technique of interlocking city initials, but the Dodgers logo is unique in that the horizontal stroke of the letter “L” doubles as the cross stroke of the letter “A.” Again, this logo is not exactly jazzy (one color, slab serif type), but it’s been in use for six decades and Dodgers fans wear it with pride right up until the 7th inning (have to leave the ballpark early to avoid traffic).
I’ve not mentioned the Chicago Cubs here, though they are among the classics. See a post about their logo from earlier this summer here.
The Era of Teal, Purple, and Vector Art
Teams with complicated logos, trendy color choices, or constantly changing identities tend to be less successful in branding efforts than the classics.
The Arizona Diamondbacks, who came into existence in 1998, have had two distinct color schemes and seem to change their logo every other year. The above images represent cap logos from 1999, 2000, and 2007. Though the Diamondbacks are in Phoenix, the sixth-largest city in the nation, and had immediate success, winning a World Series in just their fourth season, they are never mentioned among the best-selling or most popular brands in baseball.
The Florida Marlins were introduced in 1993 and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1998. It was the ’90s, everyone was wearing flannel, and vector art was all the rage. Sure, we all look back at fashion choices from our past with a chuckle, but the trendy color choices and complex designs of these logos lessened their effectiveness. (In fairness, the teams were terrible for a while, but even when the Marlins won World Series titles in 1997 and 2003, their gear was still not that popular.)
The logo that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays wore on their caps in 1999 (mercifully just for that one year) featured a three-color gradient blend, which might sound like a lot of nerd speak, but it’s really tacky when it comes to logo design. I maintain that the Devil Rays (who have since changed their logo, colors, and team name) were trying to distract fans’ attention from their horrendous stadium with an even worse branding system.
Obviously, factors like market size and success on the field affect the popularity of a team’s merchandise, and it takes newer teams a generation or two to really entrench themselves in a community’s psyche. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Major League Baseball’s most recognizable and popular identities are simple, clean, and long-lived.
Tune in next Monday for “Baseball Logos, Part 2: The Era of the Clever Logo.” Thanks to www.sportslogos.net, which is a great repository of information and images related to logos from all sports.