- August 21, 2018
Canada’s only professional baseball team (RIP Expos) has utilised the blue jay bird insignia in some form since the ball club’s inception in 1977. The logo has gone through five iterations, with the current logo being in use since 2012.
The Blue Jays story began prior to the 1976 season, when an attempt was made by an investment group including the Labatt Brewing Company to purchase a 45% share of the San Francisco Giants and relocate the franchise to Toronto. This attempt was nearly successful, up the point of the Giants then ownership board agreeing to the deal. The deal was quashed when the mayor of San Francisco acquired a US court ruling to halt the deal. A local buyer was found and the Giants stayed in San Francisco. It would have been interesting to see if the Giants logo would have been kept relatively the same, or if a Canadian spin would have been placed on it. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear that any logo concept was revealed at the time, so we may never know.
Luck was quick to change for Toronto baseball, as a 1976 American League expansion granted a franchise to the ownership group previously seeking to buy the Giants. This deal in it’s current form also threatened to not happen, as pressure was being put on the American league to establish a team in Washington D.C. This move, while still putting a team in Toronto, would have meant the Toronto team being placed in the National League instead of the American League. This never came to fruition, and Toronto was awarded an American League team. The team would play in Exhibition Stadium, which had been recently renovated in preparation for the unsuccessful Giants deal.
A “name the team contest” was held during the summer of 1976 with the Blue Jays being selected out of over 4000 entries. It’s possible that the Blue Jays name was chosen due to it’s similarity to the Labatt’s Blue brand, especially considering the influence of the Labatt ownership. Regardless, blue most likely would have been the chosen primary color for the team, as several other sports teams in Toronto used blue as their primary color, including the Toronto Argonauts CFL Football team. The Blue Jays name decision was poorly received by fans in Toronto, with some claiming the team would be referred to as the “Blues” with fans rejecting the Jays portion of the name.
Original Logo – 1976 – 1996:
The task of branding Toronto’s new baseball team fell on Richard Walker, who was in charge of branding for The Labatt Brewing company. In the late 1960’s, Walker had worked for Stewart Morrison, the firm behind the Montreal Expo’s logo. Walker decided on a circular logo, taking inspiration from the circular shape of a baseball. Red white and blue colors were chosen for their global appeal, with blue having the aforementioned connection to Labatt’s beer. He also insisted that the maple leaf be a focal point in reference to the Blue Jays being “Canada’s team”, The Expo’s had also considered using a maple leaf in their logo design, but was rejected. A Toronto area graphic design firm, Savage Sloan, was chosen to handle the design. Walker worked closely with Paco Belsue to bring his logo ideas to life. They also included Don Savage of Savage Sloan on the design, along with Don McDougall, the President of the Labatt Brewing Company at the time.
Several versions of the original logo were presented to Blue Jays management, including versions in one and two colors, and some without the maple leaf. Ultimately the 3 color logo with the maple leaf was selected. Each detail of the logo was then painstakingly refined. In the era before computers, this all had to be done by hand. The best logos tend to look basic, but have actually had every detail considered, with the the original Blue Jays logo being no exception.
My take: In my opinion as a graphics designer and logo enthusiast, this one is a 10 out of 10, a true classic.
MLB Modernization Logo – 1997 – 2002:
The original Blue Jays logo would endure for 20 years until 1997. The idea to re-brand and create a new logo came in the wake of the 1994 – 95 Major League baseball strike. The strike lasted for 232 days from August 12, 1994 to April 2, 1995, making it the longest strike in MLB history. More importantly, the strike wiped out the 1994 post season and for the first since 1904, the World Series. Following the strike, many fans were upset with both players and owners, causing both attendance and television ratings to plummet. The Blue Jays average game attendance in 1993 was 50,098, for a total of 4,057,947 for the year, a number which had been steadily climbing each subsequent year, helped in large part by the Blue Jays back to back World Series wins in 1992 and 1993. This attendance level has never been reached again even to this day. After the strike, Blue Jays game attendance fell to an average of 39,257 (2,826,483 for the year) in 1995 and 31,600 (2,559,537 for the year) in 1996.
With game and tv viewership in the dumps, Major League Baseball decided to take it upon themselves to do something to improve the situation. Attempting to leverage the “Canada’s Team” mentality, Major League Properties, who was tasked with designing the new logo, went “all-in” with the maple leaf concept. Considering some didn’t even want a maple leaf at all in 1976, this was a striking reversal 20 years later. The large leaf now became the focal point of the logo, and the color red would now dominate the blue. The blue jay bird layered over top of a baseball remained, at least keeping some resemblance to the original logo, unlike some future logos. Both the bird and ball were also modernized with sharper lines and shadow elements.
If you’re wondering if the new logo/re-branding helped right the attendance ship, the answer is no, no it did not. Blue Jays attendance continued to fall in to the early 2000s, hitting a low point in 2002 with only an average of 20,221 showing up to a game. The team perennially finishing mid to bottom of their division whilst consistently missing the post season also didn’t help.
My take: I don’t hate this logo. They didn’t throw the entire original logo in the garbage, which I appreciate. Looking at this logo years later, the maple leaf makes more sense now than it did then, as the Montreal Expo’s moved to Washington in 2004, leaving the Blue Jays as Canada’s only team, thus, Canada’s team. The attempt to modernise the classic retro split font is also a total miss though. This one gets a 6 out of 10.
Alternate/2003 Season Logo – 2000 – 2003:
This logo began life as an alternate logo in 2000, used exclusively for spring training and batting practice hats. It would be used as the team’s primary logo for the 2003 season. This logo departs completely from the previous logo in almost every way. It includes a blue jay, only this time a cartoonish looking stylization of one. The baseball is included, although in a much less predominate role, as is the maple leaf, which went from the focal point of the previous logo, to looking like an after thought in this one. I guess it’s a tattoo because the bird is tough and tough people have tattoos (or something.) The focal point in this logo is a large red T, with a blue stripe in the middle, which is an homage to the split font of the original logo. This is also a departure from previous logos in that no longer was emphasis placed on the “Blue Jays” part of the name. Instead the T would emphasise Toronto. Some people have pointed out the irony of the “muscle bird” given the reputation the time period has for steroid use in major league baseball.
My Take: From a design standpoint a lot of this logo bugs me. The T is an awkward shape, with the center being so much thicker than the top. The grey outline is too thin and I feel the bat shouldn’t be behind the red of the T. Some people actually like this logo, but I can’t see why. A great design should have at least one element that would be instantly recognisable on it’s own for most people, like the original bird graphic for example. I can’t see anything in this logo that would accomplish that. 2 out of 10.
Second Re-brand Logo: 2004 – 2011:
Thankfully the Blue Jays organisation recognised the 2003 logo would not be the one used going forward, so Brandid, a Toronto area design firm was selected from competing firms to design a new primary logo. This logo is more simple and clean than the previous one, focusing on the Jays portion of the team name. The traditional looking font was made to look embossed and metallic. This was a much more modern looking font than the previous split font used in some form on all previous logos. Black was also introduced as a major component of a logo for the first time. A less cartoon like interpretation of the Blue Jay bird head was used, pointing to the left, which gives the logo a sense of leftward velocity. The capital J along with the blue jay bird is detached from the rest of the script, allowing it to be used as a standalone mark, which was used on hats and other items and is at least somewhat recognisable on it’s own.
My take: Certainly wasn’t hard to top the one previous to this, but overall Brandid did a decent job. There was a tendancy in logo design around this time period to make sports logos look tougher or meaner, so I understand what they were trying to achieve. I’m glad they use their current logo now, but this was passable. I give it a 5 out of 10.
Current Logo 2012 – Present:
The Blue Jays organisation worked along side the Design Services division of Major League Baseball to produce the latest design. The Blue Jays current logo is a proper refined re-imagining of the original logo and probably one of the best logo redesigns in modern sports. When you’ve got a logo in your arsenal as highly regarded as the original, you’d be dumb not to use it. The iconic blue jay bird has been tastefully updated. It’s sleeker than the original, but undoubtedly similar. The maple leaf returns to it’s original home, only slightly larger. This is Canada’s team and they are reminding you of that, but it’s not thrown in your face like the 1997 logo. Adding the split circle around the logo is also a nice choice and a nod to the classic roundness of a baseball that Walker incorporated in the original logo. It also mimics the split text, which is a nice touch.
My take: Nothing tops the original, however, this is close. I wish they would have stuck with the original blue jay bird design. I also don’t understand the choice of different fonts for Toronto and Blue Jays, but these are minor details. Overall, it’s a 9 out of 10 and one of the best in sports.
If you love the Blue Jays as much as we do, check out our artwork: