Subliminal messages aren’t always limited to advertisements about cheeseburgers and/or corporate logos. College and professional sports franchises have also been doing the same things with their logos for decades and decades, with some of them being so clever that they probably work a little too well. Negative spacing, hidden references, and distinctive outlining are all subtle ways that a message is passed down from the franchise to the viewer and this list is a compilation of 15 our favorite ones throughout the sports landscape.
Sometimes a hidden message is so perfectly executed that it might go completely unnoticed and there are probably some of those ones featured on this list. Yeah, maybe most of these were obvious to you, but some people may have glossed over those subtle nuances entirely or just never bothered to care to look further into a logo for a team. Either way, it’s always appreciated when a franchise takes the time to incorporate hidden meanings within their logos that sometimes offer a little more insight into why their team exists in the first place.
We’re not trying to have a contest to see how many of these you knew about prior to viewing this list. All we’re attempting to do is shed some light on the more clever usages of logos within sports. So with getting all of that out of the way, here are 15 examples of some of the better logos to feature some hidden meanings. We hope you enjoy this list as much as we do.
15. The Old/New Big Ten Logo
We’ll start this list with the first time I ever saw a hidden message in a sports logo when I was a kid, and that was the Big Ten logo that was used from 1990 to 2011. For just about a century, the Big Ten Conference only had — you guessed it — ten teams, but when they added Penn State in 1990, it forced them to somehow incorporate the number 11 into the logo to fully represent all of the current teams. The result was the usage of negative space to the right sides of the “G” and the “T,” clearly forming a hidden 11. They’ve since bumped the number of teams up to 14, so their new logo is simply “B1G” (with the 1 and G making a 10), no longer needing to state how many teams are actually in the conference.
14. Minnesota Twins
In one of the better uses of subliminal messaging, have you ever taken a closer look at specifically where the line under “Twins” just happens to start and stop? Yeah, I never took the time to do it either, but you’ll notice that the line doesn’t underline the entire word, instead it starts at the “w” in “Twins” and stops before the “s,” to underline the word “win.” I suppose this is a nod to an earlier logo that was used for ten years from 1976 to 1986 that featured the words “Win! Twins!” with two players from Minneapolis and St. Paul shaking hands.
13. New York Mets
There’s a lot going on within this New York Mets logo and many of them are really obvious. Clearly you can see a bridge and several of the actual buildings that make up New York City’s iconic skyline, but the real hidden message is maybe something that goes unnoticed to most people, and it has nothing to do with the logo itself but rather the team’s colors. The Mets chose two very specific shades of blue and orange for their uniforms, those being “Dodger blue” and “Giants orange,” respectively. The Mets decided to use those colors as an homage to the two teams that played in New York before heading out west and maintaining their bitter rivalry in California.
12. George Washington University
Much like the Washington Capitals’ alternate shoulder logo that has an outline of the Capital building in D.C., George Washington University also uses a hidden D.C. landmark within their logo and maybe you can spot it if you know exactly what landmark you might be on the lookout for. Consider the name of the University, now look for a small Washington Monument. Do you see it yet? I promise that it’s in there somewhere. Look within the “W” (for Washington). Yup, there it is, forming the middle of the “W ” in the logo. Pretty cool, if you ask me.
11. Philadelphia Eagles
This is purely speculation on a lot of people’s part, but it has been pointed out that the Philadelphia Eagles logo faces to the left, while most of the rest of the NFL’s logos (especially ones based on birds) all face toward the right. Interesting, isn’t it? This might be the case because the Eagles wanted to add a cryptic message hidden in the bird’s nape, which if you look closely clearly resembles the letter “E.” Nothing has been confirmed on either side, but it would be a little suspicious if they had no intention of making that E formation.
10. Atlanta Falcons
I suppose this one should have been obvious, but it took me an absurd amount of time to realize that the Atlanta Falcons logo is shaped like an F. You know, for “Falcons,” because that’s the name and logo for the team… Sigh. Well, maybe I’m not alone (I am), and maybe other people didn’t see it immediately (they did). Either way, the logo makes good use of the flying motion of the falcon with a downward motion of the wings, the feet pointing outward, and the straightened body looking toward the right. Anyone who isn’t me probably saw that and thought nothing of it.
9. Minnesota Wild
Looks like the state of Minnesota has an affinity for subtle meanings in their logos, which is perfectly all right with me. This one has messages all over the place, which mostly features a sunset through a wilderness landscape (hence the Minnesota Wild), but if you look at why they shaped the river that leads to the trees the way that they did (along with the North Star in the sky), you’ll see that it actually forms the mouth and eye of a wild animal while the rest of the logo’s outline details the remaining part of the head. This is probably pretty clear to most people, but its double meaning of “wild” is nicely done.
8. Dallas Mavericks
If you look closely at the horse’s head, there’s clearly a shape of the letter “M” shown distinctly on its forehead. Now, why that’s there, however, can be debated forever. It could be really easy to say that the “M” stands for “Mavericks,” since that’s the name of the team, after all. But would anyone be surprised if owner Mark Cuban incorporated his own initials into the logo? In fact, I’ll even take the conspiracy one step further and suggest that there’s also a hidden “C” located directly next to the “M.” The horse’s left ear and the top line of the background basketball looks an awful lot like a “C,” doesn’t it?
7. Winnipeg Jets
For the record, I really liked the fact that when they became a team once again after leaving Atlanta, they didn’t just resort to using their old “hockey stick” logo. That one was pretty outdated and their newer one is much cleaner looking overall. While there is really nothing subliminal at first glance about this logo since it has an obligatory jet on top of a maple leaf inside the middle of a circle, if you look at the very top you’ll see that there is a notch taken out of the circle right by the nose of the plane. This minor detail actually makes the circle into a compass that’s reading “true north,” which is a nod to True North Sports and Entertainment, the company that owns the Winnipeg Jets.
6. Arizona Diamondbacks
Most of the Arizona Diamondbacks logos throughout the years have featured great usage of subtle messaging and two of them in particular are terrific. The secondary sleeve patch logo that was used from 2008-2015 was a snake’s head that was formed by the lowercase letters “d” and “b” back-to-back (an obvious reference to “diamondback”), also adding eyes into the empty space between to make the snake more apparent. Their primary logo currently in use is a capital “A” with several references to a snake: a diamondback pattern along the left side, a forked tongue being the bridge between both sides, and the inner perimeter being shaped like yet another snake. Triple points for quality.
5. Chicago Bulls
Now, this is a city where I’m awfully familiar with all of their sports logos, but I have to admit that I have NEVER heard about the conspiracy theory surrounding the Chicago Bulls logo. Apparently if you flip the logo upside down, you (at some point) will see a frowning robot reading an open book on a park bench. Does it make any sense? No. Does it kind of look like that if you choose to look at it in a very specific way? I suppose. Either way, some people may not be aware that the tips of the Bulls’ logo are noticeably red because that’s their way of saying that they’re going to beat their opponents by any means necessary. That’s the real subtle message…
4. Carolina Panthers
The two professional franchises that simply have Carolina listed as their location (the Panthers and Hurricanes) are both actually located within North Carolina, despite their names not specifically saying so. South Carolina doesn’t have any professional franchises to speak of, but the Carolina Panthers felt like incorporating both states within their logo anyway, at least according to some theories. Word on the street is that if you flip the logo backwards, angle it, and then re-size and maneuver it in a very, very specific way, it sort of looks as though the outline does indeed match with the outline of both states.
3. Missouri Western State University
This is probably my favorite one on the list, because it might take quite a while to figure out what makes it so good. If you look at it long enough, you’ll notice that there’s nothing special about the logo itself; nothing hidden in the griffin’s wings, face, or body. But if you’re familiar with the state of Missouri itself, it might become obvious to you that the outline of the state is what the griffin is representing. This kind of hidden message isn’t exactly possible for a lot of oddly shaped states, so this one gets my approval as a great usage of discretion.
2. Milwaukee Brewers
I can’t believe it took me until well after they changed to their current logo to see that this older version has an “m” being formed by the fingers and a “b” formed by the thumb and palm. I always knew it was a glove, that’s a given, but the subtlety of the genius within the artwork was lost on an idiot like me. It seems so obvious now, but it took a little over 20 years until after it was retired in 1993 for me to be made aware of just how good that logo really was. Brewers fans still embrace this logo and rightfully so; it’s perfect.
1. Hartford Whalers
This one, much like the brilliant Milwaukee Brewers logo, is also essentially perfect. When you think about it, this classic has all three things that a good logo needs: a subtle reference to the team name (the whale fin at the top), a simple mix of colors that aren’t too loud, and the best use of negative space that makes a good logo great. The “H” for Hartford is lodged nicely in between the W and the whale fin, but it’s subtle enough that it looks very cohesive. The Whalers have since moved to Carolina, but their old logo lives on as one of the greatest to ever be created.
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