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NHL - face-off
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NHL - face-off

by Evelyn Hafferty
October 24, 2005

With the announcement of successful contract negotiations meaning an actual hockey season will occur, the NHL is trying to clean up its reputation. The league has launched a new visual identity, while at the same time announcing new rules for the game. It’s high time, too; the old identity has been in use since 1918. And the rules? Well, it’s always fun to change the rules and keep the fans guessing.


The identity now looks like an actual shield or badge that one could pin on a jersey, as opposed to the old identity, which was a flat representation of a shield. Three-dimensional logos are a recent trend (UPS, Apple), and the hockey shield enjoys visual pop by incorporating this effect. It also loses the drab, retro, muddy orange, which long served as its main color, in favor of silver to connote the Stanley Cup, North American hockey’s ultimate badge of honor. Silver is a better color in general because it allows the shield to have a sheen, a kind of winking sparkle of glory. It reminds one of those toothpaste commercials where the model smiles dazzlingly and winks as a gleaming white tooth catches the light.

The NHL letters are now upward slanting, whereas with the old logo the NHL letters slanted down. This evokes a spirit of moving up, moving forward, and speeding ahead. The block style lettering has discreet left-side serifs on the top side of each letter, which add to the feeling of speed, action, and movement. The slight serif could even be interpreted as a symbolic nod to the shape of a hockey stick, or the blur of movement as a player and puck speed by.

The new design was created by former NHL design director Paul Conway, who is now employed as a creative director with a brand consultancy.

Overall, it’s certainly more modern and classier than its predecessor. And while it won’t win any awards for being the year’s most original design, it does serve to bring the NHL into the category of sports one associates with gold, silver, and bronze. But can hockey be shined up to play with the big boys of professional sports?

While the old NHL logo seemed more at par with NASCAR’s underdeveloped logo, the new one might put the league on the same level as the NFL, NBA, and MLB (that’s National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, in case you don’t live in the US or give a hoot about professional sports). The NFL, NBA and MLB all use red, white, and blue color schemes to remind fans that they are the original all-American sports. The NFL, like the former-NHL, is also represented by a flat shield, but with stars, presenting another tie-in to American nationalism. The NBA and MLB both use silhouetted figures as part of their logos.

By contrast, NASCAR’s color scheme is yellow, red, purple, blue, and green, which seems a bit odd. After all, NASCAR is perhaps the ultimate “red state” sport, and well, all those colors make us think of the rainbow flag of gay pride. But maybe that says more about us than the psychographic of the average NASCAR fan.

At the risk of generalizing then, American sports, which transcend class and have a broad audience, have always nurtured their image as “all-American.” What better way to do this than to incorporate the colors of Old Glory? The new NHL logo strikes a delicate balance, not using red, white, or blue, but also not using colors that connote other meanings or have possibly subversive (from a marketing point of view) outside associations. Rather, the gold, silver, and bronze connotation puts the sports brand onto the world forum, reminding us that hockey is an Olympic sport, an international sport.

An important consideration about the color scheme is the fact that, because hockey is the national sport of Canada and many NHL teams are Canadian, using only red, white, and blue would not have been appropriate. Yes, the Blue Jays are also Canadian and part of MLB, but our neighbors to the north have never claimed baseball to be their national sport. If the NHL tried to imply that hockey was only American, fights similar to those that occur on the ice might overflow to the general population.

All in all, the new NHL logo is a subtle, irrelevant change to most fans, but an improvement from a branding and marketing perspective. While not a radically new look, it is just the sort of minor update that the league needs at this time to send fans the signal that it is ready to bury its recent demons and skate forward into the future.


Evelyn Hafferty is a usability designer. She has worked at firms such as Chermayeff & Geismer, Landor Associates, and Electronic Ink.

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