How the NFL Field Tests a New Logo

Getting rid of the Roman numerals required painting and spraying and pigskin-applying.
NFL

This afternoon, the National Football League revealed its logo for the Super Bowl that will take place, in Santa Clara's Levi's Stadium, in 2016. The design, which features most of the standard components of a championship game logo—the NFL shield, the Lombardi Trophy, "Super Bowl" written out so as to avoid any confusion on the part of people who have overindulged in nachos and Michelob Light—is remarkable for one reason alone: It eschews Roman numerals in favor of plain old numerals. Super Bowl L, according to its visual branding, will be known as Super Bowl 50. 

It's a tiny change, and also a big one: The NFL has been using Roman numerals in its Super Bowl branding since game V (5) in 1971. It will continue using Roman numerals after the 50th game is over. But the year-long Roman holiday—which will be taken, according to Jaime Weston, the league's vice president of brand and creative, "simply because the 'L' isn't as pleasing to the eye"—wasn't an easy decision. Because a logo, in the age of Brand Extension and Brand Reach and Big Merch, is much more than a simple image: It's a physical thing, and one that must be highly adaptable. It's an object that has to look good in many different contexts and settings and environments. (Which is to say, pretty much, on many different T-shirts and hats.)

Which means that the NFL has to test its logos extensively, and granularly. And in the case of the new Super Bowl L—er, Super Bowl 50—logo, this has meant examining, via trial and error, how the gold of the logo would appear on different surfaces. It has involved stamping versions of the logo onto Wilson game footballs—the brown-n-bumpy version of the traditional pigskin—and seeing how each one looked and wore. It has even involved painting the new logo onto the playing surface of the Super Bowl's 2016 venue.

Basically, the NFL did what any big organization would do when testing out a new logo: It focus-grouped. It's just that its focus group, in this case, was the physical world. Or double-L yards of it, anyway.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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