Jerry Seinfeld had an old bit where he notes that, given the movement of modern athletes from team to team through free agency, fans ultimately end up rooting for the uniforms, not the players wearing them. Take that theory to the next logical step as we point out that uniform styles change from time to time and that, in some cases, the more constant element are the team colors. Now remove those colors…
A popular trend in fan apparel in recent years is the black-on-black or white-on-white baseball cap. That is, taking the traditionally colored hat that players wear on the field and replacing it with a monochromatic version that reduces the team identity to a nearly invisible logo. That logo is often a single letter.
Now to be clear, many baseball logos are recognizable around the world, iconic representations of the individual team and, in certain circumstances, America as a whole. The Yankees’ interlocked “NY” logo is probably on par with the symbols of major religions in terms of cultural significance.
But other logotypes don’t reach that level. The “B” used by the Red Sox is a distinctive style that is recognizable among baseball fans and Bostonians in general, but it certainly isn’t universal. When you see that fancy block “B” in a black-on-black setting, there is a certain disconnect from the commonly-understood brand identity of the Red Sox.
Which is to say nothing of the block “C” hat that I came across last night at the sporting goods store. It wasn’t the familiar Chicago Cubs or Cincinnati Reds font, but the simple style of the letter suggested that it could be a throw-back hat of either of these teams. Or maybe the logo of some team that no longer exists. It’s not unusual, even in 2011, to see a young person wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers cap.
So it was only after I flipped over the hat and checked the price tag that I learned this was a Cleveland Indians logo. But then again, if I’m a fan of the Charlotte Knights or the Dorados de Chihuahua, and I can’t find their cap in my local shopping mall, what’s to keep me from adapting a white-on-white Indians hat to suit my purposes?
And what does this say about the Indians’ logo design? Certainly it suggests that the Indians are relying upon color and context to convey the right message. Clearly a font-based logo must be more distinctive if it is to stand apart from other logotypes. But in fairness to the Indians, is there another environment less monotone than a sports franchise? Aren’t team colors the very thing that makes sports such a unique aspect of our culture? We’re not talking about Steve Jobs deciding to produce his “Bondi-Blue” iMac instead of his traditional beige Mac desktops.
It is the color, or lack of color, that puts the Indians’ use of font in fine focus. Until they move away from their traditional red-and-blue color scheme they probably don’t need to be concerned with a distinctive type face. Unless they’re only concerned with selling stylish hats in the shopping mall.