To understand the significance and evolution of local sports team logos, take at look at one of our national symbols, the American flag.
Like any good logo, it extends the nation’s brand. Companies vigorously protect their logo, and as recent news events reinforce, Americans feel the same way about the U.S. flag.
The white stripes stand for purity and innocence, according to Charles Thompson, secretary of the Second Continental Congress. The red stripes indicate hardiness and valor. The big blue field symbolizes vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
But as time wore on, the flag changed. Specifically, new states required more stars. The nation’s logo, in other words, evolved to reflect changes in the country.
The Spurs logo, the closest thing to a national flag for San Antonio, has also gone through several incarnations.
Originally, when the team was the Dallas Chaparrals, the logo was a pale green-blue bird running with an orange basketball. Look even more closely and it appears the bird is traveling. Typical Dallas move.
Next came an attempt to save the team by making it a statewide venture, playing games in Dallas, Fort Worth and Lubbock. The logo was changed to show the cheating bird, now dribbling a red, white and blue American Basketball Association ball against an outline of the Lone Star State.
It lasted a year.
When the Spurs arrived in San Antonio in 1973, the team got a new name, and the logo was remade. The word “Spurs” was given a three-dimensional block letter look. The “U” was sideways and resembled a branding iron with a spur — a star-shaped riding tool, ostensibly made of metal — on the end.
After two seasons, that logo was tweaked. The 3-D shading, which had been gray, was now silver. The white shadowing on the branding iron “U” was also silver. This lasted 12 years.
The next change was a radical one. Without naming names or making accusations, suffice it to say the new Spurs logo borrowed liberally from the color scheme of a certain “Mexican Patio Cafe.”
The silver-and-black 3-D Spurs stayed the same. “San Antonio” remained 2-D, but was now in white letters. Behind that, designers used stripes of teal, pink and yellow.
This logo lasted from the 1989-90 to 2001-02 because all bad things must come to an end.
When the Spurs moved from the Alamodome to the AT&T Center, they did so with a new logo.
The fiesta colors were gone. The whole shebang was now silver and black, with a schmear of gray and white.
Now curved, presumably reflecting the curve of a basketball, there was now an emblem with two borders nested inside a third. The outer layer was silver, then came black and then gray. “San Antonio” was in white against black. The word “Spurs” was in block black letters outlined with white against a gray emblem field. The branding iron, however was silver and shaded to make it look 3-D. The three nested emblems came together around it, giving it the look of an explosion.
That logo lasted until last season.
The new logo, which people on social media tended to hate when it was first shown, consists of two curved rows of black letters against a white background. The branding iron is still 3-D and has black shading.
Other teams have tweaked logos, but in those cases, the teams are long gone or are still relatively new.
The Double-A San Antonio Missions, who have been in operation in some form or another since 1888, have also gone through various incarnations with their logo.
The most recent, introduced in 2014, is a dark blue emblem in the shape of an old Spanish mission, with the team name written across it in white letters outlined in an adobe color. There’s a mission bell in the “M,” which is also shaped like a Spanish mission bell tower. San Antonio is written above the team name in red. A baseball whizzes underneath the team ball, with “Since 1888” written in the ball’s contrail.
Most of those elements were in the previous logo, which showed a ball flying high over a mission facade colored to look like adobe. Block letters spelling “Missions” appeared below that, and “San Antonio” below that. A brown star separated the two words in the city’s name.
Sports logos help brand a team, but they also work on a primal level, said Bret Miller, a Denver-area sports fan who runs Sports Logo History (sportslogohistory.com), which sprang from his hobby of tracing the original cities of sports franchises.
Like a national flag, or a military crest or even a gang tattoo, a team’s logo gives fans or followers something to rally behind. Most people, Miller said, want to be affiliated with something bigger than they are.
“Logos are, in the truest sense, where the fan can physically connect with the team they are passionately following,” Miller said. “Whether it’s on caps, jackets or shirts, the logo is how the fan can be a part of the team (for which they would die.)”
The logo gives cachet to the fan of the winning team. The logo displays loyalty for fans of the losing team.
The worst-kept secret in sports marketing is how logos are tweaked or altered to sell more merchandise.
While that’s true, Miller said there might be more to it than that.
A new logo is a way of luring new fans. Newer designs appeal to younger fans. Older fans are already invested emotionally, so they will upgrade their inventory of team gear.
Special occasion gear, such as logos tweaked for “Hispanic Heritage Month” or “Breast Cancer Awareness,” are also a money grab. But they reinforce the team’s image as a member of the community.
While some fans may hate the new Spurs logo, odds are it will still sell if the team continues to be successful.
They did, after all, buy gear with the previous logo that bore resemblance to the color scheme for a fast-food taco chain.