Branded in Memory: NFL Edition

Across the world, sports franchises and teams are big business, and in the U.S., the National Football League is king. The 32 teams that make up the NFL are worth slightly less than every club in the MLB and NBA combined.

And while an average of 15 million people tuned into the first six weeks of the 2017 NFL season and over 111 million people watched Super Bowl LI – there’s one thing each team has in common, and it’s the same thing that sets them apart: their logos.

Considering how important the NFL and its teams are to millions of people, we asked over 150 people to draw 12 of the most popular team logos from memory. With nothing to go off of but their own recollection, we wanted to know just how well these sports icons stand out in the mind of NFL fans and non-fans alike. Here’s what they showed us.

Choose from the team logos below to jump to individual results, or read a summary of all findings here.

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Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons

As one of two teams to make it to the NFL's most prestigious game in 2017, the Atlanta Falcons may have lost the Super Bowl to the New England Patriots, but their logo got some serious screen time with over 111 million viewers.

Having been christened by fans as part of a radio station contest in 1966, the Falcons were so named partially because the bird “is proud and dignified, with great courage and fight.” Having earned the chance to compete in the 2017-18 playoffs as wild-card contenders, the Falcons failed to return to the big show but hope to build on their recent successes.

evolution of the Atlanta Falcons Logo

As the team name suggests, the Atlanta Falcons logo has always featured a black bird, with talons extended to the left and wings cast down as if in flight. While the first revisions to the logo in 1990 added a simple white border, the 2003 (and current) redesign added color for the first time. With red highlights and an updated silhouette, the Atlanta Falcons logo remains one of the more simplistic designs in the NFL. But did that help the 150 people commissioned to draw the logo from memory remember it correctly? Unfortunately, no.

Atlanta Falcons alternate logo

While fans of the sport rated their confidence with the logo a 4.7 out of 10, their accuracy didn’t live up to their own hype. Having been drawn correctly only a small percentage of the time, we found the average accuracy from NFL fans was a 2.7 out of 10. Occasionally drawn facing the right or with both wings extended upward, some of our artists even colored in the talons and claws of the bird yellow. Non-fans weren’t as confident, but their interpretations were only slightly worse – a 2.4. With such small margins between them, NFL fans were only able to draw the Falcons logo 12 percent more accurately than non-fans.

if falcons logo was rebranded

Chicago Bears

Chicago Bears logo drawn by more than 150 people

As fans of the sport may know, the National Football League has gone through a handful of changes over the years. Having been introduced in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association (APFA) and changing its name in 1922, only 10 teams existed when professional football came onto the scene in the U.S. Of those, the Chicago Bears are one of the oldest teams in the country. Originally called the Decatur Staleys, the Bears didn’t adopt their current nickname until 1922 after being purchased by George Halas and moving to their current home in Chicago.

evolution of the Chicago Bears logo

Since 1940, the Chicago Bears logo has gone through a handful of drastic revisions. While the original icon for the team adopted a more literal interpretation of the team’s ursine theme with a large black bear handling a small football, even the 1946 redesign retained the blue bear crawling dramatically across a horizontal orange football. In 1962, the Bears adopted what would go on to become their primary logo design: a simple, stylized letter “C” with a dark outline and white fill. In 1974, the logo would receive its final alterations to date, maintaining its style and adopting the classic blue and orange coloring the team is known for. Alternate versions of the logo have kept the bear’s head colored in deep shades of orange and blue.

alternate Chicago Bears logo

Perhaps because NFL fans have been looking at the Chicago Bears logo for so long, those we polled were fairly confident in their ability to recall the current version of the design. Rating their confidence a 6.4 out of 10, fans managed to score a 3.4 overall. Non-fans were less confident (a 4.8 out of 10) and scored a 2.3 on our scale. While fans were 39 percent more accurate, most people struggled with the pull on the curve of the “C” and blue color around the border. Some even tried their hand at the alternate versions of the logo and failed to recall that the bear’s head faces straight rather than looking to the left or right.

if the Chicago Bears logo was rebranded

Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys logo drawn by more than 150 people

Across the 32 teams of the NFL, only one earns the distinction of being both “America’s Team” and the most valuable of the bunch: the Dallas Cowboys. As one of the few franchises to be known as much for the personality of their current owner, Jerry Jones, as for players past and present, the Dallas Cowboys are valued at $2.1 billion today. As the first sports franchise to reach (and surpass) a $2 billion valuation, the Cowboys are one of the most well-recognized NFL teams in the world.

evolution of the Dallas Cowboys logo

But how does that translate to logo recognition and accuracy? Fans of the NFL rated their confidence at being able to reproduce the Cowboys logo – a single blue star with a white inlaid border, largely unchanged since 1960 – a 7.4 out of 10, the highest of any team logo we asked people to draw. Their recollections were somewhat less impressive than their expectations. With an average accuracy of just 3.5 out of 10, some people were completely unaware of what the logo for “America’s Team” actually looked like. Some people outlined a star with a white fill, while others drew horseshoes reminiscent of the Indianapolis Colts.

Dallas Cowboys alternate logo

Some alternate team logos did include a more literal interpretation of a cowboy, featuring a man on a galloping horse wearing a football helmet and carrying a ball under his arm. While non-fans only rated their confidence a 5.9 out of 10 (also the highest of any team asked about), their recollections were 22 percent less accurate than fans.

if the Dallas Cowboys logo was rebranded

Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos logo drawn by more than 150 people

When the National Football League and American Football League (AFL) merged in 1970, several new teams joined the ranks of pre-existing clubs. Among them were the Denver Broncos. Having been a founding team of the AFL in 1960, the Denver Broncos were named by fans who submitted the moniker to a contest that same year. Having won Super Bowl 50 at the end of the 2015 season, the Denver Broncos are one of just a few teams to have enjoyed the kind of worldwide publicity associated with playing on the biggest stage in sports.

evolution of the Denver Broncos logo

Like many of the original NFL team logos, the 1960 rendition of the Denver Broncos icon was a far more literal translation of the team’s namesake. A gold-colored football player can be seen riding a bucking bronco while casually chewing on a piece of straw. In 1962, the logo was modified significantly to feature a more engaging version of the rider and transitioned to the now classic orange and blue coloration. In 1970, after merging with the NFL, the Broncos adopted the large “D” as their primary graphic, with the white bronco framed inside the letter. After another small revision in 1993, the Broncos moved on to the now current angular bronco head with blue outlining, bright orange mane, and glowing eyes. Since changing their logo, the Broncos have won 8 AFC Championships and 3 Super Bowls, including back-to-back Lombardi Trophy wins in the 1997 and 1998 seasons and most recently at the end of the 2015 season.

alternate Denver Broncos logo

Perhaps as a result of many changes or the complexity of the design, many people failed to accurately recreate the logo for us. Admittedly, drawing a horse head in detail might not be as easy as drawing a big blue star for the Cowboys or even the green and yellow “G” of the Green Bay Packers, but a few did come close to getting the Denver Broncos emblem correct. Fans rated their accuracy a 5.5 out of 10 and scored only a 2.2, while non-fans gave themselves a 4.0 and scored only a 1.0. Some of our participants couldn’t quite remember the coloring of the icon, while others may have forgotten what a horse head looks like entirely.

if Denver Broncos logo was rebranded

Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers logo drawn by more than 150 people

Like the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers are one of the founding members of the original National Football League. Unlike the Cardinals and Bears, who both transferred cities and changed their names along the way, the Packers have been in Green Bay, Wisconsin, since 1921. And unlike other teams in the league, the Packers are also owned by a collection of over 360,000 fans who are possibly the only people in the country who can claim the title “NFL owner” without being multi-billionaires. With voting rights, their own dedicated pro shop, and access to an annual shareholders meeting, fans of the Green Bay Packers aren’t just proud of their Frozen Tundra – they own it.

evolution of Green Bay Packers logl

While the logo has remained largely unchanged since 1961, even earlier iterations were far more complicated than what dons a Packers helmet today. In 1951, the logo included the Packers name written out in thick green lettering with an orange football floating in the background. In 1956, that logo evolved into an upright mustard-yellow football with the Wisconsin state outline and a football player in the foreground ready to make a pass. Those logos didn’t last long, however, and in 1961 the Packers adopted what has essentially remained the iconic team design ever since: a white letter “G” surrounded by a green outline and fill, which later changed slightly to include a golden ring along the outside.

alternate Green Bay Packers logo

As we found out, non-fans were the most confident in their ability to remember the Green Bay Packers than any other team we examined. Having rated themselves a 6.0 out of 10 (compared to a 6.8 from fans), their actual renditions didn’t quite measure up - non-fans averaged a 2.9 accuracy. In contrast, fans earned a 3.3 on average, making them 13 percent more accurate in their designs. Drawn sometimes as a solid “G” with no outline, a helmet with no “G” at all, or with the colors interchanged, the Green Bay Packers logo might not be as easy to remember as people expect.

if the Green Bay Packers logo was rebranded

Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vickings logo Drawn by More Than 150 People

The first NFL team to represent an entire state rather than just one city, the Minnesota Vikings joined the NFL in 1961, predating the merger between the AFL and NFL in 1970 and making the Vikings one of the original and founding clubs of the league today. Named the Vikings because the team “represented both an aggressive person with the will to win and the Nordic tradition in the northern Midwest,” the logo has remained largely the same since 1961.

evolution of Minnesota Vikings logo

Originally designed as a Viking’s head facing to the left with a golden helmet and horns, the logo was modified slightly in 1966 into what essentially remains today. Turned so that the head faces to the right, the basic design elements of the logo remain intact with subtle color variations and the addition of a purple headband. In 2013, the design received very subtle changes, slightly adjusting the hue of the hair and crown and minimizing the shading of the Viking’s horns.

Vikings alternate logo

Both fans and non-fans rated their overall confidence nearly the same – a 5.4 and 4.7 out of 10, respectively – although fans ultimately drew the logo 26 percent more accurately. Some missed his helmet or horns (which can blend into the hair of the Viking), while others drew the face facing to the left as in previous iterations of the logo. Perhaps most notably, many of the people asked to recall the logo from memory remembered to include the Viking’s mustache in addition to his brightly colored hair.

if the Minnesota Vikings logo was rebranded

New England Patriots

The New England Patriots logo Drawn by More Than 150 People

Originally named the Boston Patriots, no other team has been to the Super Bowl more times in the past decade than the New England Patriots. Having won the championship title in 2017, the Patriots have played in the Super Bowl seven times since 2002 and won five of those matches including the first-ever Super Bowl to go into overtime. Decided on by another name-the-team contest, the Patriots were one of the original 1960 AFL franchises before merging with the National Football League in 1970.

evolution of the New England Patriots logo

In 1960, the Patriots took their nickname to heart with a simple logo design of a blue tricorn hat customary to Revolutionary War uniforms. In 1961, the logo changed to the now famous “Pat Patriot” as designed by a cartoonist at The Boston Globe. Pat Patriot, a Revolutionary War soldier with a blue jacket and red tricorn hat stands at the ready with a football in the hike position. Pat Patriot was refined over the years, earning a more modern (and muscular) physique, but was ultimately retired in 1993 in favor of the current silhouette of a head and flag design referred to as “Flying Elvis” by fans.

Patriots alternate logos

Since adopting their most recent version, the Patriots have gone on to be arguably the most successful NFL franchise, winning 5 Super Bowls since 2001, and most recently in 2016. Whether you refer to the flag-and-head combination of the New England Patriots logo as “Flying Elvis,” the odds are it might be pretty difficult to accurately draw the design from memory. While NFL fans rated their confidence in the design a 5.7 out of 10, their renditions earned an accuracy score of just 2.3. Still, despite room for improvement, NFL fans drew the Patriots logo 79 percent more accurately than non-fans.

if Patriots logo was rebranded

New York Giants

The New York Giants Logo Drawn by More than 150 people

When baseball was America’s favorite pastime, it wasn’t uncommon for NFL team owners to take the names of well-known and popular baseball teams in their areas. As such, New York Giants owner Tim Mara “borrowed” the nickname from the New York Giants baseball team, which later relocated to San Francisco in 1958.

evolution of the New York Giants logo

Perhaps to differentiate the club from the similarly named baseball team, the Giants were referred to as the New York Football Giants in their team logos from 1945 to 1955. Both logos featured a player in mid-throw against the New York City skyline. In 1956, the logo changed to feature a player in a similar pose but positioned behind a football stadium rather than the cityscape. In 1961, the Giants adopted what would be their modern-day logo – even if it changed a few more times along the way. Featuring a lowercase “NY” in bold blue letters, the present design was modified from the original only slightly in 2000 to include a red outline while maintaining the classic font choice of the ’60s.

Alternate New York Giants logo

Despite being another relatively simple design, fans and non-fans may confuse the current logo with previous iterations of the design or even with other New York City sports teams. While rating their confidence a 6.7 out of 10, fans only scored a 2.9 in their accuracy. Non-fans were slightly more honest about their ability to recall the design, rating their confidence a 4.4 and earning an accuracy of 1.5. Some people confused the colors of the logo or forgot the red border of the letters, and at least one person drew the “N” and “Y” on top of each other in thin black lettering – clearly confusing the New York Giants for the New York Yankees.

if the New York Giant's log was rebranded

Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles Logo Drawn by More than 150 People

The Philadelphia Eagles, originally named the Frankford Yellowjackets, joined the NFL in 1933. The Eagles earned their name after the team was purchased by Bert Bell and Lud Wray who wanted to honor the symbol of the National Recovery Act, a part of the New Deal established by Franklin D. Roosevelt. For a single year (1943), the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers merged into a single team (the Steagles) after losing players to the U.S. armed forces in World War II.

Evolution of the Philadelphia Eagles Logo

Despite having gone through revisions over the years, the Eagles logo has always maintained a fairly literal interpretation of its nickname. In 1948, the design featured a bald eagle in flight, colored in green and white, with a football clutched in its talons. In 1969, the logo featured a less detailed but more angular version of the bird. For a period, the Eagles changed their logo entirely, opting for a set of wings that extended from the front of each player’s helmet. In 1987, the team went back to a visual representation of the bird, this time introducing a style choice no team has yet to replicate. The eagle used in the late ’80s through the mid-1990s was more detailed and colorful than ever before, and for the first time, faced left rather than right. The present-day logo, a simple eagle’s head outlined in green and filled with white and gray still faces to the left, with a subtle “E” outlined in the bird’s feathers.

alternate Philidelphia Eagles Logos

Despite this subtle shift, many fans and non-fans managed to capture the left-facing nature of the Eagles logo. Unfortunately, that’s where much of their accuracy ended. Despite ranking their confidence a 5.1 out of 10, fans only managed to score a 1.9 for accuracy, while non-fans earned a 0.8 for their efforts – the lowest of any team we asked about. Many struggled to capture the exact coloring of the Eagles logo, while others couldn’t quite recreate the angular nature of its head or feathers.

if The Philidelphia Eagles Logo was rebranded

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers Logo Drawn by More Than 150 People

Like the Philadelphia Eagles, the Pittsburgh Steelers (formally called the Pirates, a name they shared with the city’s baseball team) joined the league in 1933. In 1940, owner Art Rooney hosted another name-the-team contest, and after several similar submissions, the Pittsburgh Steelers were born after a fan working in a steel mill (along with several others) suggested the moniker. Despite being in a seven-year losing streak at the time of rebranding, the Steelers went on to become one of the winningest teams in NFL history and have earned more Super Bowl victories than any other team (at least at the time of this writing).

Evolution of the Pittsburgh Steelers Logo

Like the dramatic name change, the Steelers logo has gone through changes over the years. In 1945, the logo, shaped like a football, featured the name “Pittsburgh Steelers Football Club” with images from the steel mill at its center. In 1962, the logo changed to a steel worker, walking along a steel beam kicking a football. In 1969, the Steelers adopted what would ultimately become their modern-day logo, a silver circular emblem with the team’s name in the center and three colorful icons meant to represent the materials used to create steel – gold for coal, red for ore, and blue for steel scrap. Since the late ’60s, the only change to the Steelers logo has been an additional black border around the gray emblem.

Alternate Steelers Logo

The Steelers defense garnered a reputation during the 70’s as the “Steel Curtain,” and with their help they won their first 4 Super Bowls between 1974 and 1979, with two more recent victories in 2005 and 2008 for a league leading 6 total Super Bowl victories. Perhaps because the team’s logo has gone unchanged for the last several decades, fans and non-fans were fairly confident in their ability to reproduce it. While fans of the NFL rated their confidence a 6.4 and non-fans gave themselves a 4.9, their renditions were more accurate than for some of the other teams surveyed. Many people remembered the three multicolored stars in the logo, and even which colors to shade them in. A few people couldn’t recall which side of the logo the stars should be placed, and at least one person simply drew a block of steel in their effort.

if Steelers logo was rebranded

San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers Logo Drawn by More than 150 People

Aptly named for the settlers who migrated west to California because of the gold rush in 1849, the San Francisco 49ers joined the NFL in 1950 – the same year as the Cleveland Browns. While the original logo design may have been a more literal interpretation of the gold rush (featuring a bandit in red flannel pants, cowboy boots, and pistols), the design since 1968 has stayed fairly consistent.

Evolution of the San Francisco 49ers Logo

With the city’s initials in bold, white letters at the center against a red background, the logo was changed slightly in 1996 after 5 Super Bowl wins between 1981 and 1994 to incorporate a gold trim and slightly thicker black border. In 2009, the design received a final minor update, maintaining the structure of the logo but brightening the colors for a starker, more vivid contrast.

Alternate San Francisco 49ers Logo

Fans of the NFL were fairly confident in their ability to reproduce the logo, rating themselves a 6.0 out of 10 on our scale and earning a 2.8 in their final accuracy. While non-fans were slightly less confident (4.7) and accurate (1.6), most attempts at recreating the 49ers logo from memory managed to accurately capture the color scheme but not quite the font or placement of the letters, which sit on top of each other rather than side by side.

if the San Francisco 49ers Logo was rebranded

Seattle Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks Logo Drawn by More than 150 People

While some of the teams in the NFL predate the league, some are newer to the fold. Having only been introduced in 1976, the Seattle Seahawks are one of only six teams to be inducted into professional football since the merger between the AFL and NFL in 1970. With 1,700 unique ideas submitted to the name-the-team contest held in 1975, roughly 150 people suggested Seattle’s new team be called the “Seahawks.” Meant to reflect a “soaring Northwest heritage,” the logo design has featured an osprey (a fish-eating hawk found in the region) since its inception.

Evolution of the Seattle Seahawks Logo

Designed as a bird’s head facing right, the original Seahawks logo featured bright blue and green coloring with a green eye. While the bird’s face has maintained a menacing look over the years, the logo has gotten slightly smaller over time and has adopted more neutral coloring. Today, the bird is outlined in dark blue with a light gray contrast, although he has managed to keep his glowing green eye.

Alternate Seattle Seahawks Logo

Despite having only ever gone through subtle changes since being introduced to the NFL, fans of the sports team rated their confidence a 4.3 out of 10 and scored just a 2.0. Non-fans were slightly more confident (4.7) but less successful (1.3) in their renditions. While some drawings attempted to create the hooked bill of the Seahawks osprey, many forgot the current coloring or the shape of the bird entirely. Some even recalled it being set inside a circular emblem, although no such design has ever been a part of the Seahawks logo.

if the Seattle Seahawks Logo was rebranded

The Accuracy of Popular NFL Logos Drawn by 157 People

Most people might see these logos regularly but not actually look at them. Despite feeling confident, the accuracy of fans and non-fans never fully matched up to the certainty of their renderings.

Still, some drawings were better than others, and they typically involved logos with less complex designs. For the Chicago Bears, 10 percent of the more than 150 submissions were near-perfect drawings of the almost 100-year-old team’s logo. Nine percent of the Green Bay Packers (whose logo is somewhat similar to the Bears) designs were also near perfect, and another nine percent were good efforts by our standards. In contrast, only three percent of submissions for the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles were close enough to the real deal to be called near perfect.

And while they might have one of the simplest designs across the NFL, fans and non-fans were the most overconfident in their ability to recall the star of the Dallas Cowboys. With only 3 percent of drawings being near perfect, and 14 percent qualifying as good, the average self-proclaimed accuracy was nowhere near the final product most people produced. Despite being worth over $2 billion, the Cowboys might not be leaving a memorable impression on the people who tune in to watch them play.

You don’t necessarily have to tune into an NFL game every Sunday to recognize some of the league's most popular teams, but being a fan helps make their logos much more memorable. On average, NFL fans were able to recreate team logos with 40 percent more accuracy than non-fans – and for some teams, the gap was even wider. For the Philadelphia Eagles (82 percent), New England Patriots (79 percent), and Denver Broncos (75 percent), fans scored an accuracy rating on their logo renditions far above that of non-fans.

It appears NFL brands and the human element of players and coaches, as well as the shared human experiences of ‘living and dying’ with a team and experiencing iconic moments, create emotional connections that sear logos into a fan’s memory like consumer brands have not been able to accomplish.

While fans, like customers of regular consumer brands, may follow the company or team, engage with them on social media and regularly interact with the product or team, it seems this emotional connection, and in some cases a self-identity forged around a team, leads to the ability to recreate logos far better than non-fans and the average person of consumer brands. This significant finding should be studied by those building consumer brands and how they can imitate creating brands and logos that are truly branded in our collective memories.

Logo Gallery

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Conclusion

In a similar study where Americans were asked to recall the logos of some of the most popular brands (including Starbucks, Nike, and Apple), our independent judges rated their combined accuracy a 3.8. In comparison, non-fans of the NFL averaged a 4.6 for their renditions of the 12 NFL team logos shown here, and fans of the sport scored even higher: a 5.9 on average. Fans of the NFL spend over $2,300, on average, to support their franchise of choice by purchasing tickets to the game, merchandise, and even food. And let’s say your team makes it to the Super Bowl this year. Not including the cost of travel, tickets could cost between $2,500 and $3,000 on average.

Being a fan of an NFL team doesn’t just mean tuning in to watch them play or occasionally showing up to a game in person – it’s about loyalty. Whether a team has been in the league for nearly 100 years (like the Chicago Bears) or just 16 (like the Houston Texans), people remember their logos more easily because of the passion they feel toward the teams they root for. Standing in line for a few hours to buy the newest iPhone is one thing, but showing up to the game early to help shovel snow at a stadium aptly referred to as the “Frozen Tundra” or jumping at the opportunity to tend to its turf is something else. As our study found, this could be the dedication that helps you recall the logo (intricate or otherwise) of your favorite team at a moment’s notice.

Try It Yourself


Methodology

We recruited 157 Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 to take part in our drawing experiment, with an average age of 34. Forty-three percent of participants were female, and 57 percent were male.

Each person was taught how to use the drawing software to maximize his or her ability to draw accurately. They were asked to rate each of their attempts for accuracy out of 7 as well as indicate their level of engagement with the respective brand.

Logos were also independently rated for accuracy by a panel of five independent scorers – two females and three males between the ages of 21 and 55. Each gave the over 1,800 drawings a score out of 10 based on the included features, proportions, and color palettes. The scores were then averaged to establish accuracy ratings for each drawing and participant. To determine the average and proportions of the colors used in the drawings, the images were compiled into a composite and uploaded to CoolPHPTools.com’s Image Color Extract Tool.

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Sources

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