The Best Branding in the NFL

…more like our favorite.

With the 2014–15 NFL season in full swing, we decided to analyze our favorite branding around the league. It wasn’t easy. There was plenty of debate on what makes a good team identity. The logo? Its application through apparel and marketing? The typography? So we decided to make some criteria to make it easier on us. The four categories are:

  • Logo / Color
  • Typography
  • Uniforms and apparel
  • Marketing materials

We could’ve gone crazy into social (some teams use Instagram and Snapchat very well), brand evolution (we touch on that, don’t worry), and fan extensions (The 12th Man anyone?), but wanted to keep it simple.

Without further ado, here’s our six favorite NFL team identities. These are in no specific order, and we tried our best not to have any bias based on divisional hate or hometown favoritism.

Dallas Cowboys

  • Logo: 4/5
  • Type: 2/5
  • Uniforms: 3/5
  • Marketing: 4/5

This was an easy choice for the sole reason of legacy. The Cowboy brand has barely changed over the years. It’s rooted deeply in its color scheme, simplistic logo, and “America’s Team” bragging rights. The fact they have taken something as common as a star and twisted it into their own stamp of recognition is impressive. How many other teams have tried to incorporate or own a star? Dallas Stars? Orlando Magic? The Cowboys ARE the star.C

Dez Bryant showing off the silver and blue. Courtesy of
The ‘C’, ‘Y’ and overall tracking are a nightmare.

A lot of it can be attributed to their dominance in the 80s and 90s, but their brand has held up well. Without using red white and blue, their colors are intently patriotic. The silver glistens off their helmets, and the navy blue is reminiscent of military prowess. Jerry Jones has funded a well-oiled machine that hasn’t had to pivot or really renew its brand graphically at all. In fact, I can only imagine the uproar from loyal fans if they were to do so.

Simplicity is an undervalued trait in NFL (and sports in general) branding. If you can display your message and team soul with something like a star, it truly shows the power you have over your fans and legacy. Dallas made the list for really balancing the NFL’s strict guidelines, smart graphical decisions, and sticking to their guns for decades. Well done, Dallas.

Seattle Seahawks

  • Logo: 3/5
  • Type: 3/5
  • Uniforms: 4/5
  • Marketing: 3/5

The reigning Superbowl champs are a relative new fixture in America’s understanding of the sport. A perennial ‘nobody’ for years has finally become an elite threat in the league. Since the early/mid 2000s, Seattle has had a renaissance that some can attribute to way back to losing the Supersonics to Oklahoma City. Either way, Seattle loves their sports, and the Seahawks are their current crown jewel.

The ‘Hawks logo has a beautiful balance to it. Modeled after the mythological Thunder Birds of indigenous tribes in the Pacific Northwest, it holds some true meaning to the region (thank you Patrick Gunderson for this tidbit). A deep blue and white intertwine into a menacing bird ready to pounce on your unsuspecting quarterback. The neon green eye is a nice touch as well. Their typography is forgettable and an afterthought in most applications. Not to worry, though. It’s a common trend in the entire league.

Marshawn Lynch flaunting the neon green highlights.

What elevates Seattle is their uniforms and merchandise. They were the first to take a real risk in the new uniform designs. Applying (admittedly cheesy) kevlar patterns to their helmets, and neon green accents on their uniforms. Gigantic numbers, deeps blues, and grays bob up and down the field in a memorable display of confidence. Their whole design system has helped pump up their branding out of obscurity. It is slightly evil, slightly techie, and fully in your face. It really feels like Seattle. Cloudy and overcast, yet terrifying for teams to play. Many teams will follow their radical new designs in the near future, and for that we salute them.

Denver Broncos

  • Logo: 2/5
  • Type: 3/5
  • Uniforms: 4/5
  • Marketing: 4/5

John Elway’s gang of orange from Denver enters our ranks with a good mix of classy marketing materials, clean typography, and badass uniforms. Some like the logo, and others find it juvenile and college-y. The Seahawk’s logo feels like Seattle, while Denver’s can be from anywhere that hosts a rodeo. But where that falls flat, a distinct typeface saves the otherwise bland graphics. The colors, while contrasting, have pivoted strongly from their earlier sky blue and tangerine orange days. Hard to say which is better, but these feel more like a football team ready to rip your head off.

A good example of strong typography and a retina-burning orange coming together in solid harmony.
The random crossbar extensions look good on the numbers.

Much like Seattle, The Broncos uniforms fit well together. Orange jerseys just jump off a green field. Touches of white and generous navy blue keep the system in place. There’s rumors of a complete re-design of the Broncos brand haven’t been met with total rioting force, but keeping the orange seems like a must. If only they had matching pants for these jerseys…

Either way, one thing to really note here is how Peyton Manning has replenished the Broncos organization with commercials, endorsements, and clout amongst the corporate overlords. This creates an aura of unmistakable importance for the franchise, and the identity has held up with with the onslaught of attention. Where other franchises may have let this get to their head, the Broncos have kept themselves in check. And with that modesty, we give them a thumbs up. but please, get orange pants.

New Orleans Saints

  • Logo: 3/5
  • Type: 1/5
  • Uniforms: 3/5
  • Marketing: 4/5

Who Dat? The idiom synonymous with the Saints is just one example of the culture New Orleans has built around their team. After Hurricane Katrina, all of the USA could feel their pride when they began to rebuild their beloved city. This is an incredible study in how truly build a teams history more so than the actual organization. But back to the boring stuff. Their fleur-de-lis is great. There is no mascot. No animal. Just a badass symbol that represents the undeniable roots of the entire city. The colors fit it well, too. the gothic Louisiana bayou of gilded gold and muggy dark dusk scenery are represented in the minimal color scheme. Add some unnecessary line strokes and you have a well made logo. Unfortunately, the typeface looks like it was designed for an amateur metal band. Throw it away and burn it.

Heavy metal typeface.
Courtesy of Bill Haber.

Black jerseys are always cool, but adding gold accents make them even cooler. It also incorporates the inescapable white away jerseys well. You could argue that its pompous and risky to make gold your main color. Are you trying to say you represent one of Earth’s most precious metal on the football field? Are you worth more than other teams? Probably not. But it is something to think about. No other team uses the color — Jaguars and Buccaneers are close. That big-headed attitude is respectable in my opinion. Own the color. Own the field. Do what you gotta do.

The Saints brand, as we mentioned, is amazingly intertwined with the city’s culture. No other NFL team can truly say that. Maybe it’s because most cities lack the historical résumé that New Orleans does, but I’m not sure how many Panthers are in North Carolina, or how many Bears are in Chicago. This extensive network of prideful fans, coined phrases, and tragic footholds give the Saints a big boost in our rankings. Be proud to be a Saint, guys. You earned it.

New England Patriots

  • Logo: 3/5
  • Type: 3/5
  • Uniforms: 2/5
  • Marketing: 3/5

Tom Brady and Company make the list for the sheer amount of pain they have inflicted on their division in the past decade. I’m only slightly kidding.

The most American looking team ever makes the list because they don’t do anything outstanding, but don’t do anything bad either. I find their USA color scheme annoying at times, but the more you think about it, I’m not sure any other region really deserves it more than the founding corner of the country. So I’ll let them have it. On top of that, they keep the red to a minimum as to not go all Old Glory on us. Smart move.

The Patriots logo is nice. The emotionless face makes you not want to punch it, and the flowing red hat stripes are great on a helmet. It implies movement when there is none. Many probably remember the old logo of a guy hiking the football. A real classic. It was terrible but endearing, so I can’t knock it too hard at this point. The typography is scripty and kind of feminine, which is great in a league filled with weak italics and jagged block type. I would like to think it is supposed to represent the Declaration of Independence or Bill of Rights or something along these lines. The new logotype is a bit more conventional with what look like Franskenstein bolts on all the letters. The nice curve below holds it together when placed with the logo. Overall, it is well thought out and crafted towards the region and history of the place. The ocean of silver also matches their treasure chest of Superbowl rings.

The swoosh patriot works very well on the helmets. Notice the chin strap silencing the poor guy.

Their uniforms are basic but classy. No awkward gradients or out of place swooshes (yet). Perhaps the best part of their brand is Bill Belichick. I find it hard to hate the guy. His post-game media conferences are hilarious, and the guy wins a shit ton of football games without showing even a moment of emotion. Spygate is an obvious bruise on their reputation, but they handled it like adults and just forked over money and apologized. Besides the cold shoulders from Belechik, Mr. Craft keeps the brand on a respectable leash with off-the-field matters. For a team that is basically the enemy to every other organization, you have to respect their fortitude. If you are going to represent the US of A as hard as they do, you might as well kick some major ass and not apologize.

Indianapolis Colts

  • Logo: 4/5
  • Type: 2/5
  • Uniforms: 4/5
  • Marketing: 2/5

The Colts are another great exercise in brand simplicity. One color. One shape. And that’s pretty much it.

The Colts, originally coming from Baltimore where the horse motif makes way more sense, have stayed relevant and powerful in their Post-Manning hangover. It doesn’t hurt they nursed it with Andrew Luck.

Graphically, the horseshoe is memorable, simple, and fits perfectly on a helmet. There’s no bevel, shading, or weird perspective. Just a blue horseshoe head on. You can’t help but pair it with that deep blue and crisp pure white. Can there be a simpler palette? Even black and white have more weight and meaning than just blue and white. I remember back in the day, maybe mid-2000s, the Colts would all wear black cleats to compliment the outfit. It looked like hoofs. Definitely an awesome small detail to their overall uniform. Which, by the way, look like they could work even in the 1970s. While most teams wear a whacky throwback once or twice a year, the Colts unintentionally wear it every week. There’s some comparison to Premier League kits as well. An NFL team that looks like a soccer team? Better call Uncle Sam.

The awful typeface, with the awesome uniforms.

Nerding out on the simple logo and color palette is easy, but screaming bloody murder at the typeface is even easier. Stretched, bubbly, out of place, and weirdly western. Even when the primary typeface isn’t used, the juxtaposition of the long ‘Indianapolis’ and short ‘Colts’ makes every possible choice awkward as hell. Like I said, the NFL has a typography problem, so there isn’t a reason to single the Colts out for it. Understandably, this is by far one of the least of the NFL’s worries at the moment.

There’s some terrible examples of drop shadow horseshoes, wrong blues, and half-assed marketing materials everywhere online, but I can let that slide for highlighting what an NFL identity should be. An obvious rift has formed between the glossy, thickly stroked characters (Jaguars, Vikings, Eagles), and the simple abstraction of the Colts, Cowboys, and Chargers. Really, it comes down to preference, but the Colts are striking and proud. Like a stallion.

And there you have it. Our favorite NFL identities. Some things we noticed were the overwhelmingly bad type choices, hilarious team-based forums, and the obscurity of the Tennessee Titans. We don’t hate you, we just might have forgot you existed for a second. Stay tuned for more sports leagues.

Notable Mentions:

  • Washington Redskins
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Green Bay Packers