April 1, 2014


Rafael Esquer


The Graphic Design of Major League Soccer

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As you might have noticed we are avid soccer fans. We love the game and, being a communication design firm focused on sport graphics, we pay special attention to their branding. Recently, I reviewed The Graphic Design of Mexican Fútbol; then Guillaume shared his opinion on France’s First League Logos; …

new york sports branding graphic design agency

As you might have noticed we are avid soccer fans. We love the game and, being a communication design firm focused on sport graphics, we pay special attention to their branding. Recently, I reviewed The Graphic Design of Mexican Fútbol; then Guillaume shared his opinion on France’s First League Logos; Calum ranked The English Premier League design and Povilas spotlighted The Design of Lithuanian Soccer badges. It was only natural that we would eventually review the branding of the Major League Soccer aka MLS.

Founded in 1993 as part of the United States’ successful bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup, the MLS represents the sport’s highest level in both the United States and Canada. The first season took place in 1996 beginning with ten teams. Since then, MLS has expanded to 19 teams (to 21 teams in 2015), owners have built soccer-specific stadiums, average attendance exceeds that of the NBA and NHL, MLS has national TV contracts, and the league is now profitable.

Knowing first hand, that creating a team’s badge in not an easy task for any designer (check out the development of NYCFC’s badge), today’s post focuses on the graphics of the existing MLS teams’ badges. Since the league is very young, this age is reflected in their graphic design; many crests seem confused about their own identity. Most of them are heavily influenced by other American sports—mainly professional American football, followed by basketball. Overall, there is a lack of authenticity. That said, which ones hit the mark?

The biggest miss in the entire league. This design looks like anything except a soccer badge! It makes me think of some kind of patriotic festival or kids Olympics and the style is absolutely outdated.

Here is the thing: the team has all the ingredients to have a winning badge. First, a great name, Revolution is a salute to New England’s significant participation in the American Revolution. Second, a loyal fan base that has shown strong attendance since the early years. Most importantly, they have a good product—the team is one of the strongest in the league. Indeed, too bad their badge doesn’t ‘dress the part’. The sport, the team and the fans deserve better. The New England Revolution needs a re-branding ASAP.
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I’ll keep this one simple. This is just a billboard for a brand, not a soccer badge. I wish the crest would have been, at least, drawn a little better. Next!
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Apparently, when taking an informal poll of various MLS fans on social media, asking which club could, or perhaps should, be next to re-work its current logo and visual identity, one name that consistently came up was that of the Columbus Crew, one of MLS’s original clubs going all the way back to 1996. I agree, this logo featuring three stoic construction workers shoulder to shoulder with hard hats, a not-so-subtle nod to the city’s working-class roots would benefit from a re-design. It just looks a bit out of place next to the rest.
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There is a rumor that this badge will be having its much needed re-designed soon. Importing the exact original logo from the Chivas de Guadalajara was a bad idea. it seems as though the Chivas brand are finally admitting defeat in trying to spread their name in the marketplace in LA and California. Let’s hope the new badge helps Chivas USA’s future, for the better.
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Because Kansas is a sports city, and Sporting Kansas City is a superb team, it should have a better badge. The typography is distorted and it shows too much the software used to create it. It’s too trendy, therefore already passé. Actually, it makes me think of an expensive sports car instead of a soccer team.
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In 2007 Colorado rebranded themselves to link in with other teams that owner Stan Kroenke holds. I personally think it’s not right to put a corporation before an authentic representation of a team. The shape of the crest itself seems like a skinny variation of the LA Galaxy. Maybe there is a reason behind it, but, still it could have been better.
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I lived in Los Angeles for a number of years, the wrong reputation of the city is that it lacks roots. Sadly, this logo helps perpetuate this inaccurate myth. It’s just plain and childish. Hey, Galaxy owners, the City of Los Angeles has some of the finest designers in the world, why not hire one of them for your badge?

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This team has very recently unveiled its new badge and identity to celebrate the club’s 40th anniversary. Even though the new logo had a ‘shaky reception,’ I think the designers did a good job. The type is bold and powerful, and the color palette besides working well, pays an homage to the club history. I usually don’t care for badges that feature a soccer ball, but I think the Quakes have an interesting one, if anything a bit too mechanic. My advise for the unavoidable next re-design: get rid of the ball.

If interested in reading more about the new logo’s reception by the fans, Alfalfa’s own Calum Harbison reviewed the unveiling of their new logo in this post. In addition, below is the official logo unveil video.
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Even though everything in the badge means something, there is something missing in the badge. It almost didn’t make it into the top ten mainly because of the excessive use of illustrator and photoshop filters, gradients, and so on. It was designed couple of years back and it looks very 2011.

As you can see from the before and after, the MLS’ 19th franchise and third Canadian club’s badge re-design improved significantly from the old one. Don’t miss the introductory video below.

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Before and after

This badge works because of its color palette, and its high legibility. I also like the position of the star and the emanating rays. My criticism is that it looks ‘too new’ therefore, it will look out of date very soon. It might also get confused with other American football logos, maybe this is the reason why they had to put a soccer ball right in the middle.
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This badge looks authentic and all the elements have a meaning. The name Fire has such a history in Chicago, it reflects the great city as everyone in Chicago knows about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The rebuilding process has become a great sense of Pride for all Chicagoans. The six-pointed star in the middle of the logo represent the four six-pointed stars in the city’s flag. This design is classic and distinctive.
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The previous badge for Real Salt Lake was way too busy. It seems like it was designed by committee where everyone had to have their two cents: Yes, let’s put a crown in it; why not have a soccer ball?; Let’s make one letter slanted; And, we want a monogram; Don’t forget the circles around the monogram; of course, make sure everything fits inside a crest; The crest cannot be left alone, let’s do an inline and an outline…I’m sure it was a nightmare to reproduce and most details got lost when printed small.

Luckily, in 2010, the team launched a simpler one that retains the legacy of the old while making it visually stronger.
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Seven of the nine surviving original MLS teams have altered their badge over the years—including D.C. United. The team’s current crest was introduced in 1998. As you can see below, it was a big improvement from the original design which many thought invoked World War II German images.

The re-designed badge uplifted the eagle’s wings to reflect the team’s attacking spirit and consolidated the three soccer balls below the eagle into one, placing it on a star inside the eagle to honor D.C. United winning the league’s first ever championship.

Wisely, D.C United kept some of the best elements featured in the original crest: The distinctive shape, the visually strong color palette and the bald eagle. The typography also changed, I wished it was bolder and stylistically closer to the rest of the crest.

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Overall, the Toronto FC badge is graphically successful. First, the color palette is unmistakably Canadian. It was a good idea to use charcoal gray instead of black to avoid a palette associated with Russia’s propaganda posters. Second, the Canadian imagery is subtle and well integrated. That is, the ubiquitous maple leaf presented at the top of the crest works: it’s graphic, not in-your-face, and nicely integrated with the rest of the elements.

The unity of all the elements makes it memorable and appropriate to the category. If I could, I’d remove the fake drop shadow shapes under TORONTO. Enough of bad drop shadows and highlights in sport graphics. Don’t you think?

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When researching about this badge, I enjoy the thinking behind it: “The team’s primary crest is circular, symbolizing unity. The thirteen gold stars displayed along the base of the crest represent the original Thirteen Colonies, while the shield’s contour derives from the Philadelphia coat of arms. The rattlesnake featured in the center of the shield pays homage to a political cartoon by Benjamin Franklin that was featured in multiple editions of the Pennsylvania Gazette in the 1750s.”

The thing I find puzzling is the badge inside the badge. Also, the lack of contrast in the overall color palette makes the logo weak. More contrast to increase the legibility and Philly will have a winning badge.
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In 2010, when the Timbers unveiled their logo, many supporters expressed concerns that the new logo would not represent them well and would be too far removed from the old one. As a designer I know how delicate a re-design can be, particularly in the sports category. The design team did a good job in keeping all the elements of the old badge yet simplifying them. It makes the logo contemporary and memorable. The typography is bold, clean and confident, it matches its unapologetic color palette. My only criticism is the type going over the axe’s handle as it’d have been better having all the elements complementing each other.

From the design firm’s blog:
“The new primary mark features four main elements which all pay homage to the team’s history while signifying the new area of Timbers soccer. The new mark’s central focus remains the T-shaped axe, which now breaks free of the confines of the original crest.”

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Before and after

The Seattle Sounders FC were named after a public poll that included the names Seattle Alliance, Seattle FC and Seattle Republic. The team logo, colors and badge design were unveiled in 2007.

The badge design resembles a heraldic shield, and consists of two layers representing “the partnership between the ownership, the community, the players and the fans.” The fantasy shape’ of this team is a modern classification that doesn’t fit traditional models. What works is that there is no other shield like it; what doesn’t quite work are all the too many elements: multiple strokes, banner, illustration, spikiness. It screams “designed by committee.”

The logo incorporates the internationally recognized Seattle landmark Space Needle in the center. The official team colors are Sounder Blue, signifying the waters of the Puget Sound; Rave Green, representing the forests of the Pacific Northwest; and Cascade Shale, representing the Cascade Range to the east of Seattle.

All things considered, I like this badge. The over the top elements makes it unique, energetic and dynamic. Check out their launch video (don’t miss the last minute).

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When doing research for the NYC FC badge design, I carefully studied every existing badge. The FC Dallas immediately became my favorite. It is graphically strong and unabashedly Texan in both colors and imagery. It exudes confidence, authority and regional pride.

The abstraction of the symbol is just right, no line or shape is excessive. The typography, like the rest of the crest, is bold and commanding. Good job Dallas FC!

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The name alludes to the geographic features surrounding the city: white-capped mountains to the north and the Pacific Ocean’s white-crested waves to the west. I respect the audacity, the designers and the team demonstrated, of presenting these two iconic landmarks—the mountains on top and the waterfront below—in a clean, geometric way. Its honesty and simplicity make it an instant classic.

“We needed a logo that was very clean and efficient — on the jersey and on the screen and on pages and on paper,” the owners said. They got a terrific design that stands up to all sorts of mediums.

Luckily, the Whitecaps didn’t fall into the tempting sports logo trend of using a mascot or a ball to sell a brand. The old logo is cartoony and over-illustrative. The Vancouver Whitecaps FC is the best re-designed badge in MLS history, it gives any badge around the world a ‘run for their money.’ Kudos for taking a risk, it paid off!

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Old logo

From their press release:
“The new logo sees the words ‘Vancouver Whitecaps FC’ written in white on a deep sea blue background, with the renowned mountains of Vancouver’s north shore sitting above the club’s name in white and reflecting down on the city’s waterfront – below the club name. The colour used to symbolize the refection of the mountains on the waterfront is a lighter blue or “Whitecaps blue”, which pays tribute to the primary colour on the club’s logo worn during the historic 1979 Soccer Bowl championship. Lining the new mark is the colour silver, a distinct nod to the club’s numerous championship titles that have been won since 1974.”

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