Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
For decades, the NFL favored designs celebrating the game's host cities over the boring logos we're stuck with today.
There is only one thing, just one thing, that Seattle Seahawks fans and New England Patriots supporters can agree on (beyond 12.5 PSI, at least this week). And that's the logo for the Super Bowl. It's got to go.
This is the logo that has graced the Super Bowl for the last five years. The only things that have changed are the Roman numerals and the shape of the chrome stadium behind the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Even the teams in the last few Super Bowls are the same.
"If you’re a fan of the Seattle Seahawks, quite possibly, whatever happens to them in the game coming up, the events will run together," says Todd Radom, a graphic designer who specializes in sports teams and events. "The same can be said for Patriots fans who have seen this logo before."
Radom is the designer responsible for the graphic identities of the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Angels. He also designed the logos—what he refers to as "event marks"—for the 2009 NBA All-Star Game and Super Bowl XXXVIII.
"The Super Bowl is the biggest one-day sporting event on the face of the earth," Radom says. "Sports is about passion, sports is about color, and rivalry, and tribalism. This current system is corporate, shiny, and soulless."
The logo of the Super Bowl has evolved continually since the first contest in 1966. The changes reflect tidal shifts as the NFL moved away from logos that emphasized the time and place of the Super Bowl game in favor of highlighting the Super Bowl trophy and the primacy of the NFL.
"Think about a Seahawks fan shopping at Dick’s Sporting Goods in the Pacific Northwest right now," he says. "They are faced with an array of Super Bowl-licensed merchandise. They are going to buy something. They are going to wear it Sunday."
But the graphic identity of the Super Bowl is barely changed since the Seahawks' last appearance, in Super Bowl XLIX. "They’re looking at the exact same thing, for the most part, that they looked at last year," Radom says.
That wasn't always the case. For a long stretch of Super Bowls, the NFL partnered with designers who created visual identities corresponding to the city hosting the team. The trend started roughly in 1992, when the Super Bowl was held in Pasadena (home of the Rose Bowl, hence the roses in the event mark). Subsequent Super Bowl logos borrowed heavily from their cities. Some of the best games ever—including Super Bowl XXVIII in Georgia and Super Bowl XXX in Arizona—featured logos with real geographic resonance.
"Those logos of the late ‘70s and early '80s really reflect the rise of the game itself in the American consciousness to me," Radom says. Your mileage may vary, but logos distinguished by typographical and geographical markers distinct to the cities that host the game help mark them as events.
Not lately, though. Design's forward progress was cut short with Super Bowl XLV and the 2010-11 season. There's no obvious reason why. It's not like the NFL benefits by putting the Lombardi Trophy in the logo. After all, it's not just Seahawks and Patriots fans who have to buy the same swag every year, it's fans everywhere who are putting down for game-day napkins, beer cans, paper plates, and other stuff.
"The Super Bowl is an American holiday," Radom says. "Those particular logos really travel with the event in a certain sense."
If NFL commissioner Roger Goodell can commit to no other reform in this awful, awful game that we love, maybe he can at least relinquish the iron grip on the graphic designers?
There is one change looming for the next Super Bowl logo: For the 2016 game, the NFL won't use Roman numerals for Super Bowl L—that is, Super Bowl 50. Beyond that change, the NFL isn't planning anything visually striking to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl. After that, presumably it's back to a logo featuring numerals you can't read, a stadium you can't identify, and a trophy that Bill Belichick will somehow contrive to steal.