Uni Watch: Menace of league logos.

The stadium scene.
Nov. 14 2003 5:43 PM

Uni Watch

The menace of the league logos.

Editor's Note: Sports Nutproudly welcomes Uni Watch, Paul Lukas' hyperdetailed examination of sports uniforms and accessories, to its pages. The column, which previously ran in the Village Voice, will appear once a month, or whenever uni-related news breaks.

Photograph of LeBron James
How logo can LeBron go?

LeBron James plays in the National Basketball Association. You probably knew that already, but the NBA isn't taking any chances. Like all NBA players, James wears the league's logo just below the left shoulder of his jersey, on one leg of his shorts, and at the tops of both sides of both his socks. The league's logo also peeks out at the base of both legs of his compression shorts, plus James is among the increasing number of NBA players who wear a headband, which features the logo yet again.

That makes nine iterations of the NBA logo on one player (and it would be 10 if James' shirttail came untucked), a figure that's all the more remarkable when you consider how little of the body a basketball uniform actually covers. This branding bonanza is the foremost example of how league imprimaturs have proliferated on uniforms in recent years, a trend Uni Watch has been following with keen, if somewhat jaundiced, interest.

Here's how the other major pro sports leagues stack up against the NBA in the logo sweepstakes:

1_123125_123037_2076357_2090870_nbal_logo
1_123125_123037_2076357_2090870_nfl_logo
1_123125_123037_2076357_2090870_mlb_logo
1_123125_123037_2076357_2090870_nhl_logo
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LeagueLogoStandard league logo locations on uniformOptional game equipment with league logoNon-league logos also visible on players
National Basketball Association
Upper-left jersey chest; front of shorts (exact location varies by team); tops of both sides of socks Compression shorts; headband Only on sneakers National Football League
Back of helmet; base of jersey collar; upper-left pant leg Gloves; arm pads; wrist- and armbands; waistband towel; hand-warmer pouch Reebok logo on jersey sleeves and upper-right pant leg; manufacturer's marks above helmet facemask and on footwear; American flag (added after 9/11) on back of helmet Major League Baseball Back of cap; back of batting helmet; rear jersey collar Turtleneck collar; pitcher's base-running jacket Manufacturer's mark (usually Russell Athletic's "R" or Majestic's "M") on jersey sleeve and back pants pocket; "ABC" logo on back of batting helmet; assorted sportswear logos on batting gloves, wristbands, under-sleeves, catcher's gear, footwear National Hockey League
Helmet; right rear shirttail (hockey jerseys are always untucked); back of right shorts leg None Manufacturer's mark (either "Koho" or "CCM") on rear jersey collar; assorted sportswear logos on helmets, gloves, goalie's gear, skates Things haven't always been this way. Aside from special commemorative occasions (such as in 1969, when all Major League Baseball teams wore an MLB logo sleeve patch in honor of the sport's centennial season), the first large-scale use of a league emblem on uniforms came in 1991, when the NFL mandated that its logo appear on jerseys. From there the trend has spread like a virus, although to varying extremes: The NBA, for example, is the only league that brands its hosiery; football gloves must be league-imprinted, but not hockey gloves or baseball batting gloves; and it's worth noting that the NBA is the only league that's kept sportswear manufacturer's logos off its uniforms—the better, apparently, to make room for more NBA logos.

Much of this, of course, is about merchandising, but that's only part of it—you can't buy NFL pants or NHL shorts. The real story is the leagues' near-unquenchable desire to heighten their brand profiles, which Uni Watch finds both unseemly and unnecessary. After all, for practical purposes each of these leagues enjoys a monopoly (and in the case of Major League Baseball, an antitrust exemption). It's not as though anyone is going to mistake a Lakers-Knicks game for the Harlem Globetrotters, or a Dodgers-Cubs game for—well, actually, there's nothing to mistake it for.

And that's the point, because most fans don't really care about the NBA per se, or about any of the other sports leagues. They care about the Celtics, the Mets, the Canadiens, the 49ers, or whichever other teams they root for. The fan-team dynamic is what drives pro sports, which is why team logos are the only insignia that belong on a uniform. Somehow the league bigwigs have gotten the notion that the league validates the team. Uni Watch hates to break it to them, but it's the other way around.

Questions or suggestions for Uni Watch? Send mail here.

Paul Lukas writes about food, travel, and consumer culture for a variety of publications.

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