Those small sports logos plastered all over a team’s uniform, merchandise and stadium signage obviously have little impact on how the team they represent performs on the field. Or do they?
In an industry in which hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year on scouting, training facilities, player contracts and coaches’ salaries, [the] logo and uniform have always been a wild card. —Time Magazine
The same way a new coach, practice facility or free agent can always signal change or growth within a franchise, a logo update can offer a similar culture shift. An update in team branding, like in any business, breathes new life into an organization.
And a few recent examples prove that.
The MLB’s Baltimore Orioles endured 14 straight losing seasons before they switched from a realistic oriole to the cartoon bird of their heyday. The very next season, they returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
The NFL has similar stories to tell.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers stumbled through 14 straight losing seasons, then they changed the logo they’d had since their inception. Five years later, they were Super Bowl champions.
Sports logos seem to have a profound effect on a team. But never have those changes marked such stark losing and winning eras as with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, a team that’s had transcendent success on and off the court for the past three years.
But it didn’t always used to be this way.
The City logo (1969-1971)
Record: 71-93 (.433)
After finally moving on from various logos based on caricatures of Native Americans (come on, guys…), the San Francisco Warriors adopted a brand new logo in 1969.
During this era, the team dealt with identity issues as they moved back and forth across The Bay, from playing primarily in San Francisco to playing in Oakland full-time. This jersey, complete with trolley-car imagery, became iconic and quickly grew into a fan favorite.
The logo reflected a break from the old by introducing bright gold to the mix for the first time in team history. The change to simple Bay Area iconography and the whimsical theme of the script letters played well into local culture. Using “The City” in their logo denoted a team that showed ownership of the San Francisco market, even though they gradually moved away from that city in favor of the East Bay.
The California logo (1971-1997)
Record: 1020-1112 (.478) — One championship
The longest-used of all the Warriors logos was the Western-themed “California” variation, which did away with the image of the Bay Bridge. This logo cornered the squad as “the team of California” by also changing the name of the team to the Golden State Warriors.
Now, while the Dubs obviously weren’t the best team in the state (the Los Angeles Lakers won six titles during this time), the update did seem to have a positive effect on the team, especially considering the previous design. The Warriors missed the playoffs just once from 1971-1977 and even won a championship in 1975.
Failed modernity logo (1997-2010)
Record: 385-649 (.372)
With the worst logo and record of any era by far, the Warriors teams that wore these ugly jerseys were undone by poor scouting in the front office and inconsistency in coaching philosophy.
The logo itself seemed almost sacrilegious, abandoning nearly every interesting aspect of the logos that came before. The colors, style and theme were all different and disparate, and the on-court product didn’t exactly inspire either.
The highlight of this era was the “We Believe” season of 2006-2007. After missing the playoffs for 12 straight years, the Warriors adopted a more modern, “Run and Gun” play style and made it to the postseason. In the first round, they became the first no. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in a 7-game series in league history. While they would eventually be downed by the Utah Jazz, this team injected life into a fanbase and started a game plan that would soon win the team titles.
The Warriors’ entire history shows the power of branding on team success, but the drastic trajectory-switch that occurred after this logo has become the best team’s very best years.
The Gold Standard logo (2010-present)
364-194 record (.652) — Two championships thus far
From now on, when NBA teams look to update their branding to revamp their tradition and on-court improvement, this logo will be Exhibit A.
The Warriors’ 2010 logo refresh ties the rich roots of the franchise and their Oakland home with the hope for the future (the segment of the Bay Bridge pictured in the logo was incomplete at the time of the redesign). The execution is nearly perfect. It’s hip without looking overly modern. It’s sleek without being too minimal. It’s bright, clean and easily recognizable, just like the team’s been over the best stretch in its history.
Since the switch, two titles have already been won, and more are seemingly on the horizon. The team’s branding success has even overflowed to off-the-court endeavors. Steph Curry has become the poster boy for Under Armor, Kevin Durant is one of Nike’s biggest clients, and Klay Thompson has an extended Anta shoe deal in China for five more years. Japanese tech company, Rakuten, will be paying $20 million a year for the next three seasons for an ad on the jerseys.
The Warriors were the highest team in merchandise sales by a landslide last year. Curry led the NBA’s jersey sales for two straight seasons, and this year Durant placed third. This brand will be celebrated not just now, but for years to come.
Champions change it up.
So there you have it: sports logos really do matter. And it’s not just to the office-confined business side of the industry. In a world where teams lose sleep over every possible advantage they can muster, a thorough change of brand identity can be a powerful source of inspiration and a winning spirit.