As a sports fan, you may not put much thought into a team’s logo, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. From a branding perspective, a good logo is crucial. In fact, a logo is often the first thing others will see when they decide what your brand stands for and what it can do for them. When it comes to the NFL, teams are definitely brands. That’s partly why I was interested in how NFL fans would rank the logos of the league’s 32 teams.
I recruited 1,488 fans, primarily from the community at r/NFL, to participate in a MaxDiff research study with the goal of understanding which NFL logos work and which do not. While MaxDiff is a great technique for ranking any long list of items, it particularly shines when it comes to ranking logos. When people are asked to rank 30+ images, it quickly becomes apparent just how impossibly difficult (not to mention time-consuming) that task can be. It is much easier for people to view sets of four logos and choose the one they like most and least in each set.
The experience is more enjoyable, less time-consuming, and it yields much more rich and accurate data. That’s why Maxdiff studies like this one are commonly used by big ad agencies and their clients when they have a large number of logo or ad designs and need to choose a few to put into market.
It is worth noting that the vast majority of the respondents in this research are hardcore NFL fans. How would you answer the following question?
“On a scale of 1 – 5, with ‘5’ being ‘extremely closely’ and ‘1’ being ‘not closely at all,’ how closely would you say you follow NFL football?”
In this research, a majority (55%) chose a ‘5’ and 35% chose a ‘4’. In other words, about 9 out of 10 respondents are close followers of the NFL, which means that almost all of the people in this research will have seen these logos before, probably hundreds or even thousands of times in a variety of contexts. It is something worth keeping in mind when looking at the results.
In market research, ratings and rankings are all well and good, but we really want to understand why people feel the way they do. I’m not a graphic designer, so it was difficult for me to speculate on why certain logos rose to the top. That’s why I partnered with Eugenie Mclellan, a freelance graphic designer here in New Orleans, to get her take on each logo and their rankings. Eugenie (“The Graphic Designer”) was quick to point out that she’s not a hardcore NFL fan (she’s a ‘2’ on the 1-5 scale), but she does openly identify as a Saints fan. Regardless, she’s probably better than most at separating her opinions on the logos from her feelings for the team. The Panthers’ logo is her favorite from a design standpoint, so take that for what you will. We discussed each logo in a random order, so as not to bias her opinions, but overall she generally agreed with the rankings. Of course, there were some big exceptions, which you can read about below.
Now to the results!
A Graphic Designer’s Point of View
#32 Cleveland Browns
FanJuicer: What are your first thoughts on this logo from a graphic design standpoint?
The Graphic Designer: My first thought is that it is just not working. It’s boring. There’s nothing representing the Cleveland Browns here. You have this brilliant color here, but it is just a helmet. There’s nothing special about it, especially to someone who doesn’t know anything about football.
FanJuicer: When you looked through all of the logos, did this one stand out as a bad one?
The Graphic Designer: Yes, it did. Despite it being boring, it isn’t symmetrical or in any way pleasing to the eye.
#31 New York Jets
The Graphic Designer: There’s too much text layered on top. It’s hard to read and clunky. It doesn’t make visual sense and isn’t clear what is going on.
FanJuicer: So you are saying it is too busy?
The Graphic Designer: Yes, I am saying that, but it it is busy in a way that does not add anything.
FanJuicer: What are your thoughts on this oval shape?
The Graphic Designer: The oval is necessary because otherwise all the other elements do not mix properly. Without the oval there is nothing to contain everything going on.
#30 Cincinnati Bengals
The Graphic Designer: I almost like this logo. They have this nice white border around it, but it is hard to see against a lot of backgrounds. The white border adds a finishing touch that makes this work against darker backgrounds. It adds a layer of depth that I think brings it together, but you can’t make it out against a lighter background. Overall, the color scheme works for me, but particularly when this logo is up against darker backgrounds. I can see how some may say that this doesn’t immediately scream that it is a football logo because there isn’t a lot of excitement. The shape of the “B” is a little short and fat – it just doesn’t feel football. There isn’t a lot of strength. Something taller and less squat would be a better approach.
#29 Washington Redskins
The Graphic Designer: Purely from a design standpoint, I wish it was a little more centralized. What I mean by that is that I wish the feathers worked a little more with the circle. The feathers outside the circle are too large, and they could have wrapped with the circle. This is actually a good illustration [OF THE CHARACTER], it is simple, but defined, and it looks good.
FanJuicer: This was one of the lowest rated NFL logos by our sample of fans. Purely from a graphic design point, why do you think this is?
The Graphic Designer: The color scheme feels a little old fashioned to me, and the logo itself looks a little dated, but not in a timeless way. Yellows, browns, and dark reds are never the most exciting color scheme to begin with. I think the color scheme to an extent makes me feel that this logo is dated.
#28 Chicago Bears
The Graphic Designer: I’m not sure how I feel about the underbite on the “C.” I can see how this would be a polarizing feature of this logo. I wish to an extent that it met up more evenly. I think they could have had the bottom meet up in a more even fashion and still maintained the sharpness, of the “C,” which I like. I don’t mind the point [ON THE BACK SIDE OF THE “C”], without the point it would be super boring. The point actually does add something from a design standpoint that makes it stand out.
#27 Tennessee Titans
The Graphic Designer: Overall, I like it. I think the only negative is that it kind of clashes somewhat when you look at the “T.” It doesn’t fully go with everything else. Everywhere else in the logo you have great smooth lines and curves to make this great effect, and the “T” is very sharp and angular like a dagger. I’m not saying it doesn’t look modern, because there are a lot of great angular designs now. It is still a good logo, I think they might could have gone with a different script for the “T.”
FanJuicer: Did you notice the three stars to represent the Tennessee flag?
The Graphic Designer: No, I didn’t, but now that you point it out, I do like them. It is a good way to fill the space with imagery that works in a meaningful way.
#26 Baltimore Ravens
The Graphic Designer: I really love the colors. The dark navies, purples, and gold create an intense effect. Mixing it with the red eye is a really great effect. I think that makes a lot of sense and adds a lot. While I love the use of colors, I don’t really like the full shape of the logo. There’s almost too many curves and hooks. It is a little too narrow to the point to where it is almost rectangular. That could make this logo difficult to work with. From a design standpoint, I think you usually want a shape that is conducive to a lot of different formats and situations. You want something that is going to go well on a hat, a shirt, but also look nice in print or on TV. I could see them having trouble with this one because of how long and narrow it is. I think you could make this one a little more round and it would still work. I still think this is a good one.
#25 Indianapolis Colts
The Graphic Designer: I can tell this is one of the older ones. I like the simplicity overall, but I could also see how this one might be too simple for a lot of today’s tastes. There’s no depth, there’s no shading, which makes this one feel very flat.
FanJuicer: So when you are saying it is flat, you mean it is boring?
The Graphic Designer: Yes, it is a little boring. It doesn’t make too much of a statement.
#24 San Francisco 49ers
The Graphic Designer: It just feels clunky. The two letters have been squished together really tightly, and I almost feel like it would have worked a little better in a circle. I’m also not sure how I feel about all of the outer ovals being all different sizes. The original designer may have done this to create a little excitement. The classic typeface is okay, it’s just a little clunky and maybe a little old fashioned. To modernize it, I’d really like to unsquash them so you can see the shape of both letters. I’d like to be able to at least see some of the full shape of the “S” and the “F.” They are almost so condensed that I feel they are fighting for space. I am tempted to say that they wanted to force an “SF” into a football shape.
#23 New York Giants
The Graphic Designer: I like the fact that this fits into a good shape. There is this asymmetric thing here [POINTS TO THE UPPER LEFT PART OF THE “N” IN THE LOGO”]. This tail sticks out from the rest of the logo’s overall shape, but I think that was necessary because it would have been too much of a square without it. This is a good combination of roundness and sharp points that creates an interesting overall effect. I don’t hate this. It isn’t my favorite of these logos, but it works. I like how the bottom of the tail has a nice rounded effect that works with how the rest of the logo has more angular edges. When it comes to graphic design, there aren’t rigid rules about what is and is not going to work. Everyone can have an opinion and there is no right or wrong answer. Sometimes you have to just try a few things and see what works. It is very subjective. This just happens to work in my opinion.
FanJuicer: Does the font or script of the “NY” make you think of football?
The Graphic Designer: No, it actually almost makes me think of baseball. I think because baseball logos tend to have more tails and underlines.
#22 Kansas City Chiefs
The Graphic Designer: My first thought is that this “KC” works a lot better than the “SF” on the 49ers logo. The letters are not overly invasive towards one another. They work really well together. This looks much better to me.
FanJuicer: So you like the script of the “KC?”
The Graphic Designer: I really wouldn’t call it a script. This is really called a cipher. It is two letters intertwined together. It is going to be more commonly known as a monogram today. People wouldn’t usually apply this term to football logos, but that’s what this is – a cipher.
FanJuicer: It seems like ciphers are really popular on sports logos. The New York Yankees logo probably is the most famous one I can think of.
The Graphic Designer: The Yankees logo is an example of a very good cipher. What’s funny about ciphers is that they have been around for a long time. During the Victorian Era they were very popular. I have books full of vintage ciphers that are much more ornate than the ones you’d see on sports logos, but they do follow similar shape patterns. The ones on sports logos try more to communicate “manliness,” so they remove the dainty ornate features.
FanJuicer: How do you feel about the jaggedness around the arrowhead on the Chiefs logo?
The Graphic Designer: I don’t like it. I get what they are going for with the shape around the arrowhead. I’ve seen an arrowhead in real life, and I understand this is how they look, but it doesn’t mean it is going to look good in a logo. These squiggly lines contrast really oddly with these good clean lines in the cipher. It is kind of jarring and it doesn’t go well together.
#21 Pittsburgh Steelers
The Graphic Designer: I think this looks super dated. This is one that might could use a redesign to modernize it. These are really flat graphics.
FanJuicer: By flat, you mean there is no depth?
The Graphic Designer: Yes – there is no shadowing or coloring that would suggest depth. I just think it looks very dated. The typeface is very boring. I like the shape of the sparkles, and I do like how they are contained nicely in the round shape, but still, the whole thing is so flat that it doesn’t work. The main thing I would do to do to improve it would be to add some suggestion of depth. I get that the typeface is supposed to suggest “industry,” but I would do something to make it less boring. Maybe just making it all caps would help.
#20 Green Bay Packers
The Graphic Designer: I like this logo. It does the contained shape better than most of the other ones we’ve looked at. Earlier, when we looked at the Chicago Bears logo, I mentioned that the bottom curl of the “C” didn’t line up perfectly with the top curl. This logo, lines up perfectly, creating a very good sense of balance. The green and white with the yellow outline works great. Overall, this is a great logo. I feel like I have seen this before, but it isn’t boring.
FanJuicer: It is one of the more copied logos in the NFL. The University of Georgia and Grambling University both use versions of it.
The Graphic Designer: That’s interesting. I think from a design standpoint this follows a lot of good principles. It’s clear, it is symbolic. It has great presence. It doesn’t make the type of statement the Panthers’ logo makes, but it is a great logo that is going to be conducive to representing something iconic. I like it.
#19 LA Chargers
The Graphic Designer: My first thought is that it is unusual to see the lightning bolt in a rounded format. The shape does serve the purpose of keeping it from looking generic or a like copy of the Gatorade logo. I’m not saying I dislike the shape, but there’s something about it that is causing hang-ups for me.
FanJuicer: So what doesn’t work about this logo?
The Graphic Designer: I’m having trouble figuring that out, but there is something. While I don’t dislike the shape, some of the angling of the lines kind of makes it look like a head of hair. Some of that angling does make it feel unnatural and somewhat clunky. There’s a bit of unnaturalness to it because a lightning bolt is not supposed to look this way. It can feel a little odd at first glance.
#18 New England Patriots
The Graphic Designer: I like this logo. There’s a lot of good motion to it.
FanJuicer: By “motion” what do you mean?
The Graphic Designer: There’s great implied motion. These lines give it great flow that create the impression of movement to the eye. There’s great angles on the face, but also great simplicity in how the face is constructed that pairs well with the implied motion of the back of the hat. There’s also good familiar colors like you’d see on the American flag that ties into a lot of great symbolism that is easy to understand. It communicates “patriotism” well. I don’t think the star in the middle of the hat is 100% necessary, but it still works. This is one of the better ones. Where was it ranked?
FanJuicer: It was actually ranked toward the middle at number 18. I think that might have to do with the fact that the Patriots are one of the most successful and hated franchises in the NFL.
The Graphic Designer: That would make sense. It would at least be in my top half for sure.
#17 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Graphic Designer: It definitely has a modern NFL feel to it. There’s good depth and shading, and great implied motion. But there’s still a lot going on here. The skull, the football, and three swords is a lot.
FanJuicer: You’ve talked a lot about implied motion. Is that a common design principle?
The Graphic Designer: No, not really. For me personally, however, in a sports logo having implied motion helps drive home the point. Sports are about movement and action. This logo has that with the angling of the saber and waving of the flag. Some might say this is a little cartoonish, but a lot of the logos I like have cartoonish elements. Lastly, I really like the final gray outline around everything, it would really make this work with white and darker backgrounds.
#16 Oakland Raiders
The Graphic Designer: My immediate thought is that there is too much going on. You have this detailed drawing of the figure, the swords, and the font pushed up very high in the shield almost against the boundary of the logo. It is just a little too much in my opinion. I almost want to move the figure of the man outside of the shield in some way because everything feels really squashed.
FanJuicer: In the 80’s the Raiders were sort of the “bad boys” of the NFL. Do you get that from this logo?
The Graphic Designer: I don’t necessarily get that from this logo. It kind of just looks dated and flat to me.
#15 Miami Dolphins
The Graphic Designer: I like the color scheme overall. I’m not sure if this color scheme is my favorite overall in the context of an NFL team, but I do like them overall. I’m just not sure if there are enough contrasts here. There’s a lot of white that isn’t fully working. There’s a lot of white in the middle of the circle, but there’s also this big white line within the dolphin itself. I think they could have gone with a different shade of green here and it would stand out more. I actually think this white line makes it look dated even. I really do like the shape of the dolphin a lot against the circle. That works. It’s a natural shape.
FanJuicer: That’s funny you mention the shape of the dolphin. They recently redesigned this logo to change the shape of the dolphin.
The Graphic Designer: I actually do like the newer logo more than the old. The new shape just looks more natural and a little more intimidating even.
#14 Dallas Cowboys
The Graphic Designer: It’s maybe a touch more dull than say, the Panthers logo, but overall I like this logo. It feels classic. It has a classic shape, easily recognizable symbolism with Texas, and I don’t think there is a situation where this wouldn’t work. I might could see how some could say this is boring, but I personally don’t think so. I really like the white outline followed by another navy outline. I could see how this logo would stand the test of time.
#13 Arizona Cardinals
The Graphic Designer: I like this logo a lot. It is a bit scary, it has that great cartoon look that I mentioned earlier that works in sports logo, but it still looks aggressive. I like the color contrasts with the dark red, black, and yellow. There is this great swoop from the top of the head, but it still maintains a great shape that would look good if you were to view this on a hat or t-shirt. Overall, it’s just well done.
#12 Jacksonville Jaguars
The Graphic Designer: This is another good one. It’s fierce, a bit scary. I like this one for a lot of the reasons I like the Arizona Cardinals logo. It has those cartoon elements I’ve mentioned but it still manages to look aggressive and fierce. There’s great color contrast with the orange and black jaguar pattern, but it merges will with the green accents. It also has a great swooping shape, but manages to overall maintain a shape that’s going to look good on their helmets as well as on apparel.
#11 Carolina Panters
FanJuicer: You’ve alluded to this one quite a bit when we’ve talked about some of the other logos.
The Graphic Designer: It is definitely one of my favorites. I don’t think I realized that until I started comparing all the logos to one another.
FanJuicer: So from a graphic design standpoint, what works about it?
The Graphic Designer: The colors are the first thing that sticks out. The black and the blue look great. You have this excellent bright blue to contrast this deep dark black that gives the shadowy effect of the panther. The white teeth and the eyes contrast very well with the darkness of the figure. They stand out well against the dark shadowy figure. It communicates toughness and aggression in a visually pleasing way. It’s an ominous effect that the designers achieved without looking like they were trying too hard. That’s tough to pull off. I love how this looks.
#10 Seattle Seahawks
The Graphic Designer: I don’t like this as much as the Panthers, but I do like the navy with the lime green. I like that the beak hooks under, and for symmetry purposes they create a similar peak at the top left of the logo. In fact, those two details really help this logo to not look too boring and rectangular. There are great angles [ON THE BIRD] that keep it out of that purely rectangular form. It is a little narrow, so I wonder how challenging it might be to work with in some formats. The green eye works here in a very effective way similar to how the red eye works in the Ravens logo. On the other hand, I think they overuse the grays to an extent, and there isn’t a whole lot of depth. It would surprise me if this was in the top ten, but it’s a good logo overall.
#9 Houston Texans
The Graphic Designer: Yeah, this is one that stood out to me as one of the best logos. It has this great roundness to it to keep it from feeling flat. They aren’t using color here to create depth, they are purely using shape, and that is very interesting and difficult to do this well. It takes some technique to create depth with shape alone. For instance, this star on the head isn’t a correctly shaped star, it is very asymmetrical, but the way it is shaped flows with overall figure to give the illusion that the bull’s head is leaning forward. That’s what I mean by the shape giving the illusion of depth. In addition, this whole thing is clean, it’s classic, and also modern at the same time. The colors are also very Texas. I really like it. I’ve talked a lot about implied motion, and how much I like that in sports logos, and it is done well here.
#8 Denver Broncos
The Graphic Designer: Again, the implied motion is strong here, but what stands out on this logo are the great angles. The eye is also a great detail. The little speck of orange against the blue works very well. There’s a lot of white here, but it isn’t bothering me that much. I think it is due to this great blue border. The thick outline clearly separates it from the environment around it, which is important.
FanJuicer: So, you’d say this is one of the better ones?.
The Graphic Designer: Yes, I would put this one in my top five.
#7 Buffalo Bills
The Graphic Designer: I actually like the Broncos better than this one. However, again, there is a lot of great implied motion with the stripe. There’s a great organic form of the bison paired with the somewhat unnatural stripe to create the effect of movement. Somehow, it still works. It is definitely one that I can see working in the past as well as now. How old is this one?
FanJuicer: It is a little over 40 years old.
The Graphic Designer: I think it is one that would work back then and now. It feels modern and realistic even now still. This is a good one.
#6 Philadelphia Eagles
The Graphic Designer: I like this one overall. What sticks out about this one is that it has great depth. The subtle gray contrasts make it feel like there are multiple layers. The much darker outline contains everything well while working with the interior colors. Like a lot of the other great good NFL logos, there’s great implied motion. I like how the shape of the beak implies that an attack is about to happen. The whole thing has an organic shape, but has a more modern NFL look.
FanJuicer: Do you like that this one is facing “the wrong way,” or the opposite way as the the other logos?
The Graphic Designer: It doesn’t bother me. I see that they did that to create this “E” shape with the feathers. I don’t particularly like the “E”, but the fact that this logo faces the opposite direction does not bother me.
#5 Minnesota Vikings
The Graphic Designer: Anything that I don’t like about this logo comes down to personal preference.
FanJuicer: What do you mean by that?
The Graphic Designer: It is very manly, which is great for football. It’s not my personal style, but from a design standpoint it is well done, and I can understand why it may be one of the higher ranked ones. The outline of the figurine is great and sends a distinct message. He has a strong jaw and facial features, and I really like the implied shape of his shoulder – that creates a nice effect. I imagine it might be difficult to fit typography under the logo with this braid sticking out. There’s quite a few shapes sticking out from the central figure, but again, my hangup with that is personal preference. Regardless of any of my hangups, it still feels classic, and I mean that in a good way.
#4 LA Rams
The Graphic Designer: I like the gold and the blue. I love the subtle, white details. There is a good amount of depth they’ve created with this interesting shape here. Kind of like a corkscrew. There’s definitely a good amount of implied motion here. You feel like he is about to headbut someone really hard, and he is growling and fierce. There’s a little bit less detail here than some of the other logos but it is made up for with this great corkscrew shape. With a great shape like this, if you add too much detail, it might become overwhelming. Overall, this one works and I like it.
#3 Atlanta Falcons
The Graphic Designer: Despite being a Saints fan, I do like this logo. I like the simplicity, and also there’s no lack of detail here [REFERRING TO THE LOOK ON FALCON’S FACE]. There’s a great shape in his wing and his claws. The shape of the bird is a little unnatural, but it is very sharp, with a lot of great implied motion, and I like it as a football logo. You can still tell that it is a bird.
#2 Detroit Lions
The Graphic Designer: I’m not sure about the blue. It is a little tame, but there is a great organic shape here with some great subtle details that give it a bit of depth and interest. It isn’t just a silhouette. Still, I’m not sure if I would put this one in my top ten. I don’t think it is that exciting. I like the ones with a little more depth. It’s a great logo overall, but it doesn’t excite me quite as much as some of the others. This is still a really good shape, which is important. The shape itself is what makes this logo work. I just feel there might be something missing.
#1 New Orleans Saints
The Graphic Designer: I am a Saints fan, so I’m going to have a biased opinion. But to start, this one has a great color combination with the black and gold. The triple black-white-black outline works very nicely here to create depth around the gold interior. As far as the actual symbol goes, the fleur-de-lis is just a classic symbol representing New Orleans. You see the symbol all around the city in non-sports contexts; it is even on the city flag. However, the designers made some effective adaptations to the fleur-de-lis symbol to make it work here as a sports logo. The symbol itself has a great symmetrical shape. Particularly, there’s a great combination of sharp points and smooth roundness, which creates a pleasing effect on the eye. I think that’s what gives it a bit of a formal, austere feel. Maybe even a bit intimidating.
FanJuicer: One criticism I’ve heard is that this doesn’t scream “football.”
The Graphic Designer: I guess I can see that, but it would have looked hokey if they would have tried to add in a football or something similar to what they did with the Jets logo. I just think the symbol itself is powerful enough to stand on its own. They’ve done enough here to make this work as a sports logo. You see the three outlines of the original shape to create almost four points at the top here. I think that adds depth and makes it look sportier. I think an effect like that may even help the Colts logo, which is a little too simple, but I’m not sure. Everything is subjective and situational in graphic design.
Notes on the Sample and Bias
We received a good amount of participation from every NFL fanbase. To bias the total results, you have to have a fanbase that participates in proportionately larger numbers than the others and has a particularly more favorable opinion of themselves than everyone else. I didn’t find that to be the case in this research, so I ultimately decided not to weight the data. Firstly, there was no single fanbase overhwelming the sample enough to push the results in their favor.
Homer bias is always an interesting topic of discussion in studies like this, and there was actually quite a bit of homer bias in this research. Still, every fanbase displayed some bias in this research, and I didn’t find that problematic since again, there was not a particular fanbase that was represented in large enough numbers for their bias to not be counterbalanced by the bias of the other fanbases.