Winnipeg Jets crash and burn

Sports team logo design is a notoriously hit and miss affair. Hockey emblems in particular seem to suffer from design by boardroom committee decision-making – a cacophony of colours, typographic amateurism, juvenile illustrations – with cringeworthy results.

So when the dreams of long-suffering hockey fans in Winnipeg recently came true with the resurrection of their Jets NHL franchise, there was anticipation mixed with trepidation about the unveiling of the inevitable new graphic identity.

The redesigned identity of the Winnipeg Jets hockey club doesn’t exactly crash on takeoff, but it certainly doesn’t soar either.


The principle logo features the top view of a grey fighter jet placed over a red maple leaf on white, inside a navy blue circle with a notch pointing north.

While the new ownership group, True North Sports, in typical literal mindedness couldn’t resist a visual self-reference with a top-north compass point, it is at least much more subtle than what Orca Bay Sports did when it acquired the Vancouver Canucks back in the 1990s and slapped a whale on their crest.

Conceptually speaking, placing a red maple leaf on a Canadian sports club logo is tired, lazy and beyond boring, while obscuring it behind a fighter jet creates a difficult formal relationship, with little points of red leaf sticking out oddly. At first glance one could readily mistake the emblem for a fighter plane exploding as it crash lands, as seen from above.



The new Jets logo has an undeniable flag-waving, militaristic attitude – and is stated to be based on the roundel of the Canadian Forces Air Command (Formerly the Royal Canadian Air Force).

During the unveiling presentation, the design was credited to a committee list of “Brand Identity Architects” (presumably on leave from drawing up blue prints) including Reebok in Massachusetts, the owners in Manitoba, and the National Hockey League. Having something attempting to be so blatantly patriotic done south of the border is certainly ballsy – it’s a curious brand of nationalism that doesn’t include respecting your country’s creative industries.

And the oddity doesn’t stop there. On the same presentation slide as the credits and in even larger type, a “special thanks” is given to the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defense.


As a co-owner explains:

We felt it was important to authenticate the name Jets and we believe the new logo does that through its connection to (Canada’s) remarkable Air Force heritage, including the rich history and relationship that our city and province have enjoyed with the Canadian Forces.


As the franchise previously existed from 1972 to 1996, it’s certainly an unusual tribute to ticket buying fans for the new owner to insinuate that their 40 years of loyalty is unauthentic.

The best known previous incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets logo existed from 1973–1990 (designed by Peter Sawatzky and Bob Riddle) and features a typographic solution with a J as a stylized hockey stick. The look is notably dated with a groovy, smiling ‘Winnipeg’ (a la the contemporary Edmonton Oilers) and 747 silhouette, but there is an undeniable retro charm – less so in the jarring angularity of its unsophisticated and unsuccessful 1990s update.


The colour selection of the new identity does draw from the club’s heritage, with the traditional white, red and blue palette being retained and expanded to a total of seven different shades: white, two reds, two greys, and two blues (the second blue only appearing in the alternative wordmark).

Such extensive palettes of colours have been popular since the 1990s (the franchise’s previous incarnation – the Atlanta Thrashers – had six), but there is also the more recent trend of simplification: examples include the Tampa Bay Lightning’s shift from four to two colours (blue and white eliminating black and silver), and the Nashville Predators move to three (blue, gold, and white eliminating the grey, silver, and orange).


Typographic solutions are by their very nature quickly dated, and type has been wisely restricted to the two secondary marks. One features military-style wings over the familiar image of two crossed hockey sticks and a maple leaf, with the team name around it.

There is also a logotype that has the team name in large stylized letters with a red maple leaf. The type choices seem to be the ubiquitous Gotham in a heavy weight, and – breaking from the military theme at last – a jarring contemporary script, awkwardly joined to create a decidedly turbulent underside. Is it trying to be aerodynamic? Depict arial maneuvers? The result is remarkably unsuccessful. Even the all-caps Winnipeg is poorly spaced. For all its weaknesses, the main emblem looks competent in comparison.


Such an overt military reference in a Canadian sports logo might seem a bit surprising to those still caught up with the image of polite peace-keepers and unfamiliar with the current cultural and political landscape in Canada. The last decade has been undeniably hyper-politicized, with personal attack TV ads running year-round, voter turn-out at historic lows and the currently dominant Conservative Party at pains to promote the illusion of its superior support for the Canadian Forces. Design has hardly been spared from the battle – since gaining power, the Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have notoriously spent time adding their Tory party blue to every communication product they can, including government stimulus spending in the form of giant novelty cheques and government websites whose interface and layout designs haven’t been updated since the 20th century.

In the context of contemporary Canada, the new Winnipeg Jets logo, with its aggressiveness and superficial patriotism, sadly isn’t out-of-place at all. Hopefully, the dictates of political fortunes and jersey sales will provide an upgrade in the not too distant future.




5 Responses to this post
  1. 26 July, 2011 | admin

    Some solid suggestions for a redesign collected over at

    Personal favourite:

  2. 26 July, 2011 | admin

    A subtle tweak equals a massive improvement – from Darren Bodnaruk

  3. 26 July, 2011 | Miguel

    You lost me with the slam of our current government.

  4. 27 July, 2011 | Coz Holden

    BORING!!! Looks like something out of the Pentagon. There’s no movement in the logo. “Look everyone! A clip art jet on top of a clip art maple leaf.” BORING!!!

  5. 29 July, 2011 | kitty

    Interesting article! Thank you.