All content factories owned by Disney have enjoyed some large degree of success, and ESPN is no different. It’s definitely a sports-centric brand that was acquired by Disney, however, it initially stood for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network. If you have any questions whatsoever about the ESPN Logo design, history, and evolution, you’ll find the answers to those questions here as we give you “en fuego” coverage of the ESPN logo!
About the ESPN Brand
Many sports enthusiasts are often surprised to learn that ESPN wasn’t always ESPN!
Before the ESPN brand was the ESPN brand, it was simply ESP. However, one of its founders, Bill Rasmussen, thought it prudent to differentiate ESPN from the “Big Three-letter Networks,” meaning ABC, CBS, and NBC, which also carry sports programming. Thus, the “N” was added to “ESP” to form “ESPN-TV.” Just before the channel launched, the “TV” part was dropped to avoid too much redundancy.
After all, it was obvious that it was a network, but the N was merely a differentiator from the “three-letter networks.” Thus, the ESPN cable network was formed, the ESPN standing for “Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.” The not-so-humble beginning? Well, the programming kicked off with an announcement from Lee Leonard that “What you’ll see … may convince you you’ve gone to sports heaven.”
Whether ESPN is sports heaven or sports hell is a little beyond the scope of this article, however, we can tell you that the Walt Disney Company and ABC Television Network would eventually become a part of the ESPN network. From the very beginning, the ESPN network would become one of the most expensive and high-rated channels in the cable industry.
ESPN would become highly politicized in the mid-2010s, in such a way that it hemorrhaged ratings. The brand would also grow to include a radio network, heavy product placement on Walt Disney Resort properties, and an Internet presence that would struggle to compete in the wild west of the World Wide Web. It’s headquartered in Bristol, Connecticut.
ESPN Logo Design
It may look like a simple logo, but it throws plenty of symbolic curve balls. Take the primary red color that the words are printed in. Supposedly, the red symbolizes power and passion – as in blood. Yeah! Think about that the next time the soccer moms complain that televised football is too violent. The white supposedly symbolizes excellence, even purity. In the digital version, it’s surrounded by black, balancing out the white and, we suppose, keeps it honest.
The logo, you’ll notice, has a line slicing the top third of all the letters, and separating them from the bottom half. It’s a design that definitely has its roots in the 80s, and the famous clothing designs which used to denote “E” without the vertical line part of the E.
The trend of such abstract lettering has since gone by the wayside, but ESPN likes its logo. Hey, if it works, don’t fix it. And besides, plenty of other logos have done the same thing – retained original stylings that have otherwise gone out of style.
ESPN Logo Print Variation
The print variation of the ESPN logo allows for ESPN to be printed in black lettering, while maintaining all the shape features of the logo.
ESPN Logo History
Forget George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and the history of Western Civilization. Instead, let’s focus on the logo of an entertainment sports television network, because that’s so much more important than – you know, actual history. Although we’re sure Disney loves us for writing this article.
1979 ESPN Logo: ESPN in a Circle
The 1979 Logo appeared in one particular promo as an orange circle that started smaller and then quickly expanded to show the letters ESPN. In this, we saw a precursor to the line that would eventually cut through the lettering ESPN, however, it was more of a reflection effect than the defined line that would reappear later.
1981 ESPN Logo: Very 70s
The 1981 ESPN Logo was relatively logical and simple, maintaining the font of the 1979 logo. It was a simple capitalized, red ESPN surrounded by a thick orange rectangle with rounded corners, both atop a white background. Orange has long been known as a color that agitates its audience, which is why in Fast Food restaurants like McDonalds, you usually find orange.
The Fast Food psychologists found that the color orange prods guests to eat more quickly, and perhaps consume more food, and to ultimately clear out the tables for more guests, so that would be the psychology of the orange – it primes the audience to be engaged and waiting eagerly for what’s coming next. And – perhaps the orange primed viewers to order more McDonalds while they watched the athletes push their bodies to their limits.
Allegedly, the red lettering, like the red lettering in your Bible, forces you to pay attention to the logo. Red, of course, is the color of blood, priming the audience to feel passion and love of the televised version of the sports America loves. The white color represents the saintly, the pure, the reliable, and integrity.
1985 ESPN Logo: Just Do It?
1985 saw a new logo for ESPN, most of which would survive until this day, but one part of it would mysteriously vanish. It’s a mystery shrouded in as much controversy as the death of hula hoops. But before we get to that, let’s go over the basics of the all-important 1985 ESPN Logo, because you’re going to get quizzed on this in gym class.
The main features of the logo include black lettering over a white background, with a line slicing the top third of the letters from the bottom to make one continuous white line through the letters. This almost indicates a commonality among the letters, ESPN.
Because our eyes are drawn to lines, particularly in the top third (which is where in camera terminology we get the phrases “top third,” “bottom third,” and the like, the line gives the audience the impression that there is forward motion from one letter to the last, moreso than in normal reading text. Thus, the ESPN logo gives a sense of excitement and anticipation among viewers.
According to sources which are disputed, the other feature of the original ESPN logo form 1985 was a red swoosh from the bottom left corner and arching over the stylized letters, “ESPN” toward the upper right corner. The swoosh is fattest and shortest to the leftmost side of the letter “E,” and progresses to get thinner above the logo, progressing over and back down toward just past the letter N.
Swooshes, as most of us can imagine, have come to be associated with NIKE, and the famed NIKE “swoosh,” although this particular swoosh in the ESPN logo was not oriented in the same way, as it was flipped and turned on its side – modified just as much as one can modify a swoosh.
To be fair, the swoosh was not always employed. In some on-screen promos, the ESPN would appear in various colors. However, it was clear that the slash going through all four letters was here to stay.
2003 ESPN Logo: Definitely No Swoosh
We don’t believe that there was ever any legal action on the part of Nike suing ESPN regarding any kind of modification of the swoosh used in a sports promotion context, however, Trademark law may or may not have been violated. That said, eventually, the swoosh part of the logo would be disposed of, leaving the ESPN logo that we know today, as it began in 1985, just without the swoosh.
As we discussed earlier, the colors also received a bit of an update, with, as you can see in the graphic, red lettering outlined by white against a black background.
ESPN Logo Design Evolution
So as we’ve seen in the previous section, the ESPN logo evolved from the simple 70s orange rounded rectangle logo in plain capital letters to the 1985 black-lettered logo with the progressive slash through the letters, plus the red swoosh. And then we saw how 2003 saw the swoosh vanish.
Many, many variations of the logo have been used over the years, and we can’t list all of them here, however, they all contributed a kind of personality to the programming as unique as the athletes pushing themselves to the limit every day on the air.
Now you know the history of a brand which was at times fighting to establish itself, and which would grow to be one of the top cable channels. ESPN costs more for cable networks to carry than most other cable networks. That’s because America has got tons of sports nuts, and nobody brings them the “sports heaven” they love like ESPN, now controlled by Disney.
Nothing better expresses and encapsulates the continuing legacy of ESPN than the ESPN logo. It’s gotten a little more palatable over the years, but the basic concept is the same, and we can even trace the slash through the letters back to an earlier historical appearance of the ESPN logo, indicating a long and trustworthy track record in the entertainment industry.
Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons