If sport is about anything, it’s passion. Fans are passionate about the sports brands they wear, and what they represent. They’re passionate about sports they pursue, and the events they attend. Right now, the UEFA Euro 2020 championship is in full swing, and after a year of cancelled and delayed events, that passion has never been more evident than ever.
Designing a sports logo can be a nerve-wracking prospect. Your designs are probably going to be under more scrutiny than in any other area of life. And if people don’t like what you’ve created, they’re going to let you know in no uncertain terms. But get it right, and you could end up with one of the best logos of all time.
So to inspire you, we’ve brought together the 10 greatest sports logos of all time. Some are old, some are new, but all encapsulate what people love about sport, in a way that resonates on a deep and emotional level.
01. Olympic rings
The phrase “design classic” is thrown around a lot. But the Olympic Rings – five interlocking circles, coloured blue, yellow, black, green, and red – surely deserve the title. Instantly recognisable by people across the entire world, this iconic emblem was created in 1913 by Pierre de Coubertin.
The design was richly symbolic: as de Coubertin wrote at the time: “It represents the five continents of the world, united by Olympism, while the six colours are those that appear on all the national flags of the world at the present time.”
More than a century later, so much emotion has been invested, by so many, in this beautifully simple yet powerfully unique design, making it one of those logos we never want to see changed.
Another logo that’s immediately recognisable around the world, the Nike Swoosh was originally created by Portland student Carolyn Davidson in 1971. Paid $35 for her work at the time, a decade later she was given a gold and diamond swoosh ring and Nike stock by founder Phillip Knight.
Effortlessly conveying the key elements of speed, agility and positive thinking, this logo has been the perfect representation of the brand for almost half a century, and shows no signs of needing to be retired any time soon.
Occupying the same kind of iconic territory as the Nike Swoosh, the Adidas trefoil was also created in 1971. Incorporating the three stripes that Adolf ‘Adi’ Dassler had been using to identify its footwear since 1967, the three-leaf shape represents the main landmasses of the world: the Americas, Europe and Africa, and Asia.
Actually, though, no-one at Adidas designed it. The original owner of the logo was a Finnish company, Karhu Sports, who made sports shoes and spikes. But the company was hit hard by the Second World War and agreed to sell the design to Adidas for the equivalent of €1,600 and two bottles of whiskey. (It didn’t do them any harm though; they’re still a successful company today.)
04. Manchester United
Manchester United may nowadays be a multinational business and media entity worth somewhere close to five billion pounds. But its still an organisation that’s richly steeped in heritage, and that’s clear from its logo.
The current version, which was crafted in 1998, represents a gradual evolution over the decades from the original 1963 design, which was based on the coat of arms of Manchester City Council. The red devil, based on the club’s nickname, was added in the 1970s, and the word ‘Football Club’ were removed in the 1990s.
Overall, though, a time traveller from half a century ago would not find difficulty in recognising the current logo. And as such it remains a beacon of steadfastness, linking today’s global, big-money operation back to a more communal and local past.
05. Dallas Cowboys
Known as “America’s Team”, The Dallas Cowboys have been named by Forbes as the most valuable sports franchise in the world. And at the centre of this powerful brand lies a sports logo that is all-encompassing in its simplicity.
The original Dallas Cowboys logo, used from 1960 to 1963, was an identical blue star, but without the border. It was an obvious tribute to Texas, known as the ‘Lone Star’ state. The logo was redesigned by Jack Eskridge after he joined the team in 1959, who added the border and made the logo look more 3D.
Still used today on everything from team helmets to supporter merchandise, the Dallas Cowboys logo has proved to be as versatile as it is iconic.
06. New York Yankees
The famous baseball team’s interlocking ‘NY’ logo actually predates the Yankees themselves. One of the team’s co-owners was former police chief ‘Big’ Bill Devery, and in 1877 he commissioned Tiffany & Co to design a police medal to honour a fallen officer, John McDowell, who’d been shot in the line of duty .
A few years later, Devery realised that this design could be used as a way of conveying team unity. And so in 1905, the players, then known as the New York Highlanders, adopted a version of the medal design as their official logo.
Over the years, it came and went from season to season, but has since become established as one of baseball’s (and New York’s) most enduring symbols, not to mention a global fashion statement in its own right.
That said, it’s worth noting that their most famous player, Babe Ruth, never actually wore it on his jersey. Future biopic makers, take note!
07. Chicago Bulls
Although US basketball is not widely followed outside of North America, there are two things people all around the world will recognise: the name Michael Jordan and the striking Chicago Bulls logo.
This cartoonish design featuring an angry red bull has been in place since the team began in 1966, and seems unlikely ever to be altered. It was designed by the late cartoonist and graphic artist Dean Wessel, although he unfortunately never received any payment for his effort beyond a few free tickets.
08. Premier League
Although the sports logos on our list so far have all been around for decades, that doesn’t mean a new logo can’t quickly become a classic. And here’s a great example.
The lion had been a part of the Premier League identity for decades. But in 2016, this vibrant new version of its logo was created by DesignStudio and Robin Brand Consultants. And, somewhat unusually for a new logo launch, especially in the impassioned world of sport, it met with near-universal praise.
A defiantly modern design, stripping back the previous design to its bare essentials, and much more flexible when used across digital media, this was a redesign that ticked all the boxes.
Most importantly, it gave the lie to the idea that sports fans are super-traditional and don’t like anything that’s new. Apparently they do, as long as it’s good.
09. Invictus Games
Found in 2014, the Invictus Games is a sporting event for disabled, wounded and sick servicemen and women initiated by Prince Harry. When Lambie-Nairn (now part of Superunion) was asked to create its identity, they discovered that ‘Invictus’ is also a famous poem, with the final lines: ‘I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.’
Following this thread, the team hit on the device of highlighting ‘I Am’ within the logo. And this became not just the founding idea of the Games’ visual identity, but a truly global cultural phenomenon.
Nowadays, if you do Google Image search for ‘I Am Invictus tattoo’, you’ll find that sentiment tattoed on the arms of people from all across the world. Like most great ideas, it’s simple, but powerfully and beautifully realised in an elegant logo design.
10. Tour de France
The Tour de France logo we’ve all come to know and love (above) was created by designer Joel Guenounback in 2002. Its playful brush script and splash of vibrant colour is unmistakably French, and filled with that sense of ‘joie de vivre’ (enjoyment of life) for which the Gallic nation is known. The yellow background symbolises the yellow jersey given to the winner of each stage. And did you spot the clever little sketch of a cyclist that’s formed within the word ‘Tour’?
In 2019, the longstanding logo got an eye-popping refresh (see above), with some tweaks to the typography, the disappearance of the word ‘Le’ and a much brighter yellow to match the jersey colour better. Read more about the latest refresh here.