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A blog about branding, marketing, and design, mostly through the lens of practical psychology, intended to be a resource to small businesses and entrepreneurs. Unless otherwise noted, all articles are written by Nyla Smith, owner of n-Vision Designs. {Subscribe to the RSS feed here: RSS}

Sporty colors

Nyla Smith | Monday, May 30, 2011

As I write this, I am watching the Super Regionals of college softball, which are leading up to the Women's College World Series. (I am, and forever will be, a lover of fastpitch softball and this is the only time of year I watch ESPN of my own free will.) In watching this particular game between Alabama and Stanford, I'm struck by a phenomenon: the apparent lack of color variety in the sports world. The two teams playing now are both maroon and white! Where's the creativity here?

I realize that for college sports, the team colors are simply the school colors. Yet, even taking that into account, there seems to be a limited set of common color combinations in the sports world, both college and professional. Let's play a little game. How many teams (across any sport) can you name that have the following colors?

  1. red and black
  2. black and blue
  3. blue and red
  4. blue and gold
  5. orange and blue
  6. purple and gold
  7. pink and yellow
  8. mint green and peach

Yeah, the last two were to make a point. Because what do all the others have in common? Well, they're bold, mostly associated with being masculine or dominant, and in-your-face colors. Lots of basic primary hues and highly saturated. You don't see many pastels in sports. (I can think of one possible exception, and that's Carolina blue. And like I said, school colors aren't necessarily intended to be used exclusively for their sports teams.)

Whoever it is that decides on a team's colors obviously knows that color is a communicator in itself. There's a psychology behind color. It can evoke an emotion, communicate a concept, or stimulate a mood. So obviously, it makes sense that sports teams have bold, energetic, or aggressive colors to represent themselves. Let's take a look at red. Pure red is the most intense hue in the color spectrum and therefore conveys intense themes: passion, anger, dominance. Well if you're a sports team, intensity and dominance are pretty desirable qualities to express to your opponent. According to a 2005 National Geographic article, wearing red in a sporting competition can give you a psychological advantage over an equally matched opponent. Yep...according to the study, all else being equal, you should bet on the one wearing red.* I guess that's why you won't see many teams in soft colors. What would mint green and peach say..."Grr, I'm intimidating. Be afraid!"? Nah, probably more like, "Tee hee! I'm the Easter Bunny! Hug me!" Come on, nobody's afraid of the Easter Bunny.

So, let's take a look at some examples of "sporty colors":

  1. red and black:

    Chicago Bulls logo
    Kansas City Chiefs logo
    NJ Devils logo
    NC State logo
  2. black and blue:

    Orlando Magic logo
    Detroit Lions logo
    Carolina Panthers logo
    Dallas Cowboys logo
  3. blue and red:

    LA Clippers logo
    Atlanta Hawks logo
    Chicago Cubs logo
    76ers logo
  4. blue and gold:

    Pacers logo
    Denver Nuggets logo
    Michigan logo
    St. Louis Blues logo
  5. orange and blue:

    Auburn logo
    Charlotte Bobcats logo
    Denver Broncos logo
    Mets logo
  6. purple and gold:

    LA Lakers logo
    Baltimore Ravens logo
    LSU Tigers logo
    Western Illinois logo
  7. pink and yellow

    If you can show me a sports logo of (only) pink and yellow, you win a prize.

  8. mint green and peach: 

    LA Sparks logo

    (Okay, so it's not exactly mint green and peach, but I was surprised to find one that was even remotely close! Is it significant that this is a team in the WNBA? Do women teams need to have more "feminine" colors?)

Now of course, this is just a small sampling of sports logos out there...and there are many that are a little more edgy or unconventional with their color choices. However, the basis still stands that high-impact, high-energy, intense, and bold colors have the majority in this area. In terms of wearing red to win, I don't know how scientifically the aforementioned study was carried out, but it is an interesting hypothesis nonetheless. I wouldn't use that as the basis for predicting the next Superbowl winner, but I tell you what, I'm gonna keep it in mind as I watch the rest of this World Series. We'll see...!

*Disclaimer: I do not condone betting or gambling, but even if I did, this is not to be construed as advice, by any means.

Nyla Smith is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Front-End Web Developer and Consultant with over 13 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support and brand consulting to small- and medium-sized businesses needing creative solutions. Contact Nyla if you'd like to discuss your next creative project. She can usually be bribed to a meeting with a cup of green tea and an oatmeal cookie.
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