Pro Sports Logos That Best Represent Their City
Major professional sports teams can do a lot for their cities: provide entertainment, generate revenue, unite the people. The best teams also educate.
The New Orleans Jazz and the Minneapolis Lakers revealed a lot about where they're from, before they moved away.
NFL teams have bird logos, but few of them sum up their fan base or location all that well. The history of actual vikings in Minnesota is suspect at best, and their colors and logo are more West Coast than Midwest.
And if the Toronto Raptors were called the "Rappers," they might be part of this discussion.
You can learn a lot about a community and its history from pro sports logos. These teams represent their hometowns best.
The most representative logo of Pittsburgh's "steel city" is the Pittsburgh Steelers football team. Originally named the Pirates, owner Art Rooney agreed to change the name to "Steelers" in 1940 to better reflect the city's primary source of employment.
The final 1963 Steelers logo fans know today comes from the the "Steelmark" logo, originally developed for U.S. Steel and now a trademark of the American Iron and Steel Institute. It came to represent the three materials used to produce steel: yellow for coal, orange for iron ore, and blue for steel scrap.
Pittsburgh is Pennsylvania’s second-largest city and lies on the western side of the state, opposite Philadelphia. The city’s commerce boomed after the American Revolution, largely because the intersection of three rivers served markets in surrounding states. Three Rivers Stadium, where the Steelers played from 1970 to 2000, reminded residents of that geographic significance.
At its peak, Pittsburgh had more than 300 steel-related businesses and still holds more than 400 steel bridges. It's the place where the underdog son of an immigrant, Andrew Carnegie, made and gave away his fortune. And if that doesn’t convince you of Pittsburgh’s scrappiness, western Pennsylvania also hosted the Whiskey Rebellion and was home to many significant Underground Railroad stops.
Long before Wiz Khalifa rapped about the "Black and Yellow," journalist Herbert N. Casson wrote in his book, "The Romance of Steel," that "Pittsburgh is more than a city." It is "the acme of activity ... an industrial cyclone," a region of "sweat and gold."
Another team logo that reminds fans about the development of cities along rivers is the Minnesota Twins. The "Twin Cities" area refers to the two largest cities in Minnesota, Minneapolis and St. Paul, which are less than 10 miles apart and connected by the Mississippi River.
Minneapolis, also known as "The Mill City," developed near the only natural major waterfall on the Upper Mississippi River, a water source that provided power for sawmills and flour mills. General Mills and Pillsbury started there, for instance.
Saint Paul, the capital of Minnesota, developed because of an early U.S. military fort at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers that sought to establish American dominance over the fur-trading industry on the water.
Even though these two close cities compete for resources, the Twins logo embodies the spirit of "Minnesota Nice," a polite friendliness and an aversion to confrontation.
New Orleans Saints
At the other end of the Mississippi River lies the Creole city of New Orleans, which was founded by the French, ceded to Spain, acquired by the U.S. through the Louisiana Purchase, and now is home to anyone who’s not ashamed to have a good time.
Its NFL team, named the Saints because many citizens have Catholic roots, started in 1966 on "All Saints' Day." The Saints' logo, the iconic fleur-de-lis, is a French-inspired, stylized lily flower with three petals bound together near the base. Although it could be considered a symbol of colonialism, New Orleans fans now see it as a symbol of unity for "Who Dat" Nation.
Fans often sing "When the Saints Go Marching In," and second line brass bands play it on the streets on game day to celebrate the team.
Sticking with the geography theme, look no further than the Colorado Rockies, a rare example of a modern Major League Baseball expansion team that actually chose a representative name.
Maybe it’s because they started playing in Mile High Stadium, but even their current Coors Field incorporates fresh-brewed marketing "in the Rocky Mountain tradition." The purple color in their logo and uniforms comes from the lyrics "for purple mountain majesties" in Katherine Lee Bates' well-known "America the Beautiful" song.
The Rocky Mountains are a major mountain range, towering through the majority of the western United States and Canada, and form the Continental Divide, which separates rivers draining into each ocean. Much of the Rockies are protected through public parks and forest lands, providing space to hike, camp, fish, hunt, bike, ski and snowboard.
What’s more Colorado (and American) than that?
New England Patriots and Philadelphia 76ers
These two logos now rep the most historic cities of the American Revolution — Boston and Philadelphia — and recall the battle between who’s remembered best, as humorously depicted in an SNL skit from Super Bowl 52.
The New England Patriots NFL franchise, whose stadium now sits just outside Boston, has one of the few logos that represents an entire geographic region: Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine. Originally founded as the Boston Patriots, the team never really found a home there and broadened its name to unite the New England region after moving to Foxborough in 1971.
This story bears some strange similarities to Benjamin Franklin’s revolutionary-era "Join or Die" marketing strategy.
Much of the Patriots early history also was a hot mess (literally) as a popcorn machine once set their old stadium on fire and the toilets barely passed a significant "flush test." While it might be tempting to compare Drew Bledsoe to George Washington or Tom Brady to Abraham Lincoln, the rise of one of the winningest organizations in sports history from fires off the field reflects the rise of the United States from scrappy colonial backwater to world superpower.
No other revolution in world history was as successful in establishing a representative government. And no other NFL team has achieved more wins the last decade than the New England Patriots.
In the NBA, the Philadelphia 76ers' logo couldn’t be more American. The 13 stars represent the 13 colonies, and the "76" represents the year 1776 that the Declaration of Independence proclaimed it was "necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them" and that "all men are created equal."
Philadelphia was the early capital of the United States before it moved to Washington, D.C., in 1790, thanks in part to some rowdy actions by Continental soldiers in Philadelphia.
Philly fans still embody this revolutionary rowdiness today.
New York Mets and New York Islanders
For one year, in 1789, New York was the capital of the United States.
George Washington was inaugurated as the first president there. The new secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, wanted New York to become the permanent capital. But Thomas Jefferson, the new secretary of state, wasn’t a fan of the place he described as a "toilet."
New York had something Boston and Philadelphia did not, the Erie Canal, making it the only port city that was able to both penetrate the interior of the American continent and exchange goods with the rest of the world. So New Yorkers decided to become the most economically powerful metropolitan area, raising one of the biggest cities in the world on an island.
Both Major League Baseball’s Mets logo and the National Hockey League’s Islanders logo recall this feat. The Mets' colors even pay homage to other bygone New York teams, blue for the Brooklyn Dodgers and orange for the New York Giants. The Islanders' logo includes the shape of Long Island, and the largest sea evacuation in history occurred on another island nearby.
San Francisco 49ers
The NFL’s San Francisco 49ers are named for the California Gold Rush prospectors who hustled toward Coloma, Calif., in 1849 to try and strike it rich after gold was discovered there.
While North Carolina can claim the first U.S. gold rush 50 years earlier (honorable mention to the Denver Nuggets a little later, too), the California Gold Rush was the largest mass migration in U.S. history.
By 1850, more than 25 percent of California’s population had been born outside the United States. And the vast majority of all 49ers were men, which also embodies the history of football, for better or worse.
Many of the first prospectors arrived by one-way ship ticket in San Francisco. Within months, the tiny town boomed, and today, San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the country.
Football is the only game in the world that’s solely focused on conquering territory, and California can be considered an end zone in American history. The Gold Rush of 1849 represented a touchdown for the growth of San Francisco and its fans.
Seattle is one of the largest sea ports in North America and a main gateway for trade with Asia. Its port provides tens of thousands more jobs than Boeing or Microsoft and also boasts the largest houseboat population in the U.S.
The baseball compass in the Mariners' Major League Baseball logo reminds fans that they aren’t just sailers, but seafarers who navigate ships.
Seattle is the northernmost large city in the U.S., was the first American city to have a female mayor and has the oldest operating public market in U.S.
It’s also the birthplace of many music mariners, like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Kenny G, Brandi Carlile and Macklemore.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Like the New England Patriots, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers represent a region. It includes Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Bradenton and Sarasota.
After a winless start, the Buccaneers became the first expansion team to win a division title. This early history has a lot in common with the privateers of old, who were all once considered outsiders, commissioned by a governing body to capture titles and score wins.
The Spanish colony of Florida was used as a strategic staging ground for commerce in the region, thus attracting bandits who wanted to plunder them.
Tampa still holds an annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival, named for José Gaspar, a Spanish naval officer turned buccaneer, who allegedly used Spanish-Florida’s western coast as a base of pirate operations around 1800.
While Buccaneers Cove at Raymond James Stadium is a little more "Pirates of the Caribbean" than anti-colonial pirate plunderer, the logo and stadium match their historical treasures.
Green Bay Packers
Unlike Tampa Bay, Green Bay is a singular place in Wisconsin, the smallest city in the United States to have a big league team. It’s so small, in fact, that it’s the only community-owned American pro sports team. The Packers have played in their original city longer than any other team in the NFL.
The Packers' stadium is called Lambeau Field, named after Curly Lambeau, the team's founder, who secured a field to play on and funds for the team’s first uniforms from his employer, the Indian Packing Company. After the canned meat-packing company closed because of supply shortages during World War II, they gave the name to the Green Bay Packers football team.
The logo colors should remind Green Bay fans of three important city facts.
It was originally called "Bay of the Stinkers" by French explorers because green algae in the stagnant water stunk.
It’s also known as the "toilet paper capital of the world" because the first "splinter-free" wiping paper was produced there.
And the famous Vince Lombardi Trophy is named after the Packers' coach who led them to first-place finishes in the first two Super Bowls.
If the Green Bay Packers can help fans remember that they once packed meat, the Bulls' logo can remind them that Chicago probably slaughtered it.
For decades around 1900, stock yards epitomized Chicago. At their height, the meat-making facilities processed 18 million livestock in a year, employed 45,000 people daily, and produced millions of pounds of meat, as well as glue, margarine, fertilizer and leather.
The industry was written about in one of the most famous exposés in U.S. history: Upton Sinclair’s "The Jungle." From the meatpacking industry and Sinclair’s exposure of it came refrigerated railcars and the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act, in addition to new lessons about how workers could unionize more successfully.
When Bulls founding owner Dick Klein was brainstorming names for his new franchise in 1966, he wanted a name that represented Chicago's status as the "meat capital of the world" and embodied the strength and toughness of the bull.
The Bulls' logo still reps the people of Chicago well.
Industrial brewers put Milwaukee on the map with some of the most beloved beer in the working man’s word. "Beer Barons" shared brands like Pabst, Schlitz, Miller and Blatz with their employees, the large beer-consuming population of Chicago and the rest of nation, thanks to Lake Michigan.
Beer is what made Milwaukee famous, and the Brewers' baseball logos exemplify that. There aren’t many things more satisfying in sports stadiums than singing the "Beer Barrel Polka" during the seventh inning stretch at Miller Park and watching Bernie Brewer slide into a giant mug of beer after a home run.
Fred Zollner ran a foundry that manufactured pistons for cars, trucks, and trains and launched the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons as an independent team in 1939. They joined the National Basketball League two years later. He moved them to Detroit, the "Motor City," in 1957, since it was a much larger fanbase and the name "Pistons" remained a good fit for the nation’s automobile capital.
Detroit still is the largest city in Michigan and owes its strength to the "Big Three" auto-manufacturers: General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.
In 1903, Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in Detroit, and alongside others like the Dodge brothers and Walter Chrysler, helped the city boom, transforming American land and architecture around the development of garages, service centers and gas stations, as well as factories for parts and tires.
Like the major industries in Chicago and Milwaukee, this rapid economic growth gave rise to unions who fought to organize workers for better conditions and wages. They initiated strikes and other strategies to improve working conditions, and gave rise to infamous names like Jimmy Hoffa and the teamsters.
Automobile pistons harness the immense energy created when gas explodes, plunging vehicles into their working condition.
The Detroit Pistons logo is a reminder that they know how to handle explosions and always get back to work.
Indianapolis is the opposite of Detroit. And Indiana’s NBA basketball team reminds fans of the importance of pace cars at the Indianapolis 500, which elevated the city to greatness.
Tourists used to call Indianapolis "Nap Town" as that seemed to be the only thing to do there ... unless you were at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the host of the Indy 500, which helped the city develop.
Today, Indianapolis is known as a tech hub with major corporations and colleges. Just like the pace car helps the race cars warm up before the race, the Indiana Pacers represent a new Midwestern hot spot.
Maybe that’s why Indiana’s best Pacer, Reggie Miller, always encouraged New York City director Spike Lee to pump his brakes: He knew that Indianapolis could compete with any other big-city players.
Phoenix Suns and Miami Heat
These NBA logos represent something significant about their city’s climate, but the use of a basketball as a sun is especially telling.
Phoenix is the sunniest city in the U.S. and has the most days over 100 degrees. By land area, Phoenix also is bigger than New York City and Los Angeles, in addition to being the most populous capital city. That’s why the sun rises in their logo.
In Miami, the heat gets turned up when the sun goes down, just like the fantastic Will Smith song reiterates. It is the warmest U.S. location during winter months and where sunscreen was invented.
Miami also is the only major U.S. city to be founded by a woman and its famous Miami Beach is largely manmade. As Smith correctly stated, "This the type of town I could spend a few days in / Miami the city that keeps the roof blazin' / Party in the city where the heat is on / All night, on the beach till the break of dawn."
Next time you want to learn a little more about a place, be sure to check out its sports logos first.