Uni Watch: History of league logos
Four major sports have all undergone various logo changes through the years
One bit of recent uniform-related news that may have flown under your radar is that the NBA logo is being moved. It will no longer appear in its familiar upper-chest spot on players' jerseys and will instead appear on the back, above each player's name.
Many observers have suggested this move might be intended to clear front-jersey space for corporate advertising patches, something the league has been contemplating for years. For now, that's just speculation (the league will say only that the move was made "for stylistic reasons"). Either way, though, the move shines a rare spotlight on the issue of league logos on team uniforms. These logos are now ubiquitous on uniforms, but that's a fairly recent development. When were the logos created, and when were they added to team unis?
The NBA began using the logo in various promotional capacities but didn't initially add it to team uniforms. To Uni Watch's knowledge, the logo's first use on game uniforms came in the 1980-81 season, when many teams wore the logo on their shorts as part of an NBA 35th-anniversary patch. The logo then disappeared from uniforms until the 1986-87 season, when it began appearing on the upper-left chest and the right leg of the shorts. It marked the first time a major pro sports league had adopted a league-wide application of its logo on team uniforms.
The logo has spread to other game-worn accessories in recent years, including socks and headbands, but its jersey placement on the upper-left chest has been largely unchanged, with one major exception: The Heat wore the logo on the upper-right chest from the team's 1988 inception through the 2009-10 season. The thinking at the time was that the flame coming off of the "T" on the team's chest insignia didn't leave enough room for the logo on the left side. But that became less of a concern as the team's chest lettering evolved and NBA jeresys generally got roomier, so the league logo was moved over to the left side, matching every other team's positioning, for the 2010-11 season.
At various points, the league has also created additional versions of the logo for special-occasion uniforms, including a gold version to mark the league's 50th anniversary in 1996-97, a snowflake pattern for games played on Christmas Day, a star pattern for all-star games, and a retro version for throwbacks (it's hard to see in that photo, but the white silhouette is actually cream-colored).
So that's the story of the NBA logo on team uniforms, but what about the other major pro leagues? Here's a sport-by-sport look:
NFL: The NFL shield was introduced in 1960 and has been revised twice since its initial iteration, most recently in 2008. The logos were designed in house by the league, which has never publicly identified any of the graphic artists involved.
The logo was used as the basis for an NFL 50th anniversary patch that was worn by all teams in 1969 (and by the Vikings in Super Bowl IV). Aside from that, the logo didn't appear on NFL uniforms until 1991, when it was added in three places: the base of the jersey collar, the upper-left pant leg and the back of the helmet.
The logo on the jersey has undergone a few adjustments over the years. It began in 1991 as a simple logo patch. In 2002, the logo was placed within a larger triangular patch, beneath the word "Equipment." Ten years later, when Nike took over the league's uniform contract, the "Equipment" background patch was removed and the logo itself changed from a cloth patch to a vinyl chip. (The "Equipment" patch is still used on practice gear.)
The logo on the pants has undergone the same evolution, with one additional change: When the pant logo changed from the patch to the chip in 2012, it also moved from the left leg to the right.
MLB: MLB's familiar silhouetted-batter logo was created for the 1969 season by graphic designer Jerry Dior. Contrary to popular belief, Dior did not base the batter's silhouette on Harmon Killebrew or any other specific player. The logo was originally intended to be used only for an MLB 100th anniversary patch, which all teams wore during the 1969 season, but the design proved to be so popular that it was adopted as the official MLB logo.
Aside from that 1969 patch, the MLB logo didn't become a fixture on uniforms until 1993, when it began appearing on the back of caps. The following year, a gold-toned version of it was used as an MLB 125th-anniversary patch, and some players wore a logo pin on the back of their caps. Six years later, in 2000, the logo was added to the jerseys' rear neckline (the same spot that will now be used for the NBA logo). It now appears on a wide range of other on-field accessories, including batting helmets, undershirts, BP caps and jerseys, dugout jackets, pullover windbreakers and more.
Interestingly, although the logo is normally rendered in red, white and blue, each MLB team has its own version of the logo rendered in team colors. These are the versions that are used on the caps, jerseys and other team gear, so the logos don't clash with the uniforms. No other league custom colorizes its logo like this.
NHL: The NHL's shield-based logo concept dates back all the way to 1917, although it has been revised twice since then. No designer has ever been publicly identified by the league.
The logo didn't appear on NHL uniforms until the 1990-91 season, when it was added at the back-right jersey hemline, next to the uniform manufacturer's logo. Because Wayne Gretzky, who was then with the Kings, liked to tuck the right side of his jersey into his pads, his jerseys were given two logos -- one on the right side, like everyone else's, and an additional one on the left side. And, speaking of The Great One, his final season -- 1998-99 -- was when the logo was added to players' helmets.
When the NHL switched to the Reebok Edge uniform template for the 2007-08 season, the jersey logo moved from the back hemline to the base of the collar, where it has remained since.
In retrospect, it makes sense that the rise of league logos on uniforms coincided with the rise of uniform merchandising and increased league branding. The logos provide, or at least imply, a sense of legitimacy and brand consistency.
Meanwhile, here's a thought: Most sports teams have secondary or alternate logos to supplement their primary logos, and many of these secondary marks also appear on their uniforms. But the leagues don't have secondary logos -- yet.
Cavs Uniform Design Contest Reminder
In case you missed it last week, Uni Watch is currently accepting submissions for a "Redesign the Cavs!" contest. The deadline for submissions is this Friday, July 25, and the best entries will be featured here on ESPN.com next week. Get the full scoop here.
Paul Lukas still occasionally hears from readers who insist that the MLB logo is based on Harmon Killebrew. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.
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