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The NFL: A study in socialism and capitalism

nfllogo040511_optBY EVAN WEINER
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell has finally confirmed what this reporter and the host of an HBO "political comedy" show have known for years. There is some socialism being practiced by some of the United States' richest captain of industries. Goodell told CBS presenter Steve Kroft on the show "60 Minutes" that the NFL "combines socialism with capitalism" in the league's business model.

Goodell is wrong, NFL ownership depends on socialism with a little capitalism thrown in for good measure and that is the way it has operated since Pete Rozelle became the NFL's Commissioner in 1960.

While Rozelle is considered a sports marketing genius (all you have to do is look at Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill and understand just how good Rozelle was at marketing the NFL and making certain owners of his day a lot of money eventually) he "borrowed" a business model playbook from a stillborn baseball league. Rozelle was in the league as a Los Angeles Rams employee in the 1950s when the NFL was a part time mom and pop store type operation and there was no evidence that the league would ever be more than a mom and pop store set up.

The National Football League or the initials NFL of the days prior to 1960 and today have just one thing in common — the name or the initials. The one-time David Letterman frequent guest and Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Arthur J. Donovan (by way of the Grand Concourse in da Bronx) who played for the original Baltimore Colts in 1950, the New York Yankees in 1951, the Dallas Texans in 1952 and the Colts again from 1953-61 (the original Colts, the Yankees and Texans all folded) pointed this out.

National Football League owners had a 12 team league in the 1950s and none of the 12 owners could figure out what to do with their business. Chicago's George Halas and Pittsburgh's Art Rooney along with Bert Bell have been glorified as football deities over the decades, but the truth is that without Lamar Hunt, the game might have strangled itself financially.

There was no forward thinking from Halas, Rooney, the Giants' Tim Mara or NFL Commissioner Bert Bell in those days. They put a shingle up, "Football on Sunday," six times a year for six home games except in Chicago where there were two teams.

Hunt was unable to buy the Chicago Cardinals from the Bidwill family and move the team to Dallas. Bud Adams was unable to buy the Chicago Cardinals from the Bidwill family and move the team to Houston. Neither Hunt nor Adams could get an NFL expansion franchise in Dallas and Houston even though Halas and Rooney chaired an expansion committee starting in 1956. By 1959, Hunt decided he had enough and asked Adams if he wanted to join him in forming the fourth American Football League.

The AFL started play in 1960 and pushed the stodgy old football men into a different business plan, one they never wanted to explore. The AFL went to new cities and had a better TV plan. There were now two leagues and the older National Football League played follow the leader to the new league when it came to television. The AFL was able to sign a contract with the American Broadcasting Company, ABC, with each team sharing revenue equally. The AFL deal technically violated antitrust laws and was not originally a Hunt idea. Hunt borrowed a concept from Branch Rickey who was out of baseball and trying to form a third major league, the Continental Baseball League, and one of Rickey's ideas was for the 12-team Continental League owners to share national TV revenue equally.

Rickey's idea died but there are three living monuments to his league. The New York Mets, the Houston Colt 45s (now Astros) and the National Football League's "leaguethink" business plan.



 

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