Sports Should Celebrate Emanuel Cellar Day

The politics of sports business.  

You must have heard about the recently signed Major League Baseball TV deal with AT & T’s Turner Sports that gives MLB nearly four billion dollars over seven years. MLB can thank Emanuel Cellar for its good fortune. Cellar, who was a long time Brooklyn Congressman, authored a House bill that would eventually change the relationship between sports and TV. On September 30, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed Cellar’s bill into law. The Sports Broadcast Act of 1961 which changed the NFL, the NBA, the NHL and the NCAA. For the first time a league other than in baseball could package its teams as one and sell it to a TV network.  NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle lobbied Cellar because Rozelle wanted the NFL to be just like Major League Baseball which because of a 1922 Supreme Court ruling did not have to abide by antitrust laws and could sell its 18 teams as one to a TV network and the American Football League which didn’t bother with antitrust laws in 1960 when that league’s eight teams were sold as one to Paramount’s ABC TV.

The key to Rozelle’s plan was to get all of his 14 owners to accept something called “leaguethink”. Rozelle had to sell three big market owners, the New York Giants Jack Mara, the Los Angeles Rams Daniel Reeves and the Chicago Bears George Halas on the notion that they could make more TV money by joining forces with the smaller markets than they could with individual networks. Green Bay would get the same money as New York, Pittsburgh and Baltimore would have better TV deals. NFL owners put the interest of the league before their own concerns and the league took off beyond anything that Mara, Halas, Reeves, George Preston Marshall and Art Rooney could ever imagine. “Leaguethink” worked for everyone and enriched NFL owners. Emanuel Cellar changed American sports.