By Evan Weiner |
It is the National Football League opener and to celebrate the NFL’s 100th season the league’s two oldest rivals, Green Bay and Chicago, will play tonight with a nod to the past.
Green Bay Packers founder Curly Lambeau once lent Chicago Bears founder George Halas some money to meet a payroll during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Halas went to Green Bay to Packers fundraisers in the 1950s to help with the effort to get money so the Packers franchise could build a new stadium. Such was life in the NFL before television money poured in. The NFL was little more than a mom and pop business operation. Halas had a sporting goods store in Chicago and the football team was little more than a semi-pro organization that operated from June through December. It could be argued that the NFL was stuck on a muddy playing field until the arrival of Lamar Hunt’s American Football League in 1959. Hunt got a TV deal from the American Broadcasting Company with monies shared equally by the eight teams. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle wanted the same type of deal for his teams in 1961 but federal antitrust law prohibited that. Rozelle would go to Washington and lobby Congress. Rozelle got what he wanted on September 30, 1961 when President John F. Kennedy signed the Sports Broadcast Act of 1961 into law.
Rozelle was able to sell the NFL’s 14 franchises as one to a TV network, Bill Paley’s CBS, and together they began building the foundation of today’s NFL in 1962. Hunt’s AFL got a big TV deal from David Sarnoff’s NBC for a five- year period, 1965-69, and that put the AFL on the map. In 1966, the two leagues merged creating the modern NFL. Television money and promotion would propel the league in the 1970s and beyond. The NFL is still dependent on TV money.
This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, Evan Weiner.