NFL 100: Kennedy And Cellar Helped Create The Modern NFL

The feds made the NFL.

John F. Kennedy

NFL training camps are opening kicking off the NFL’s celebration of its 100th year. Along the way, the NFL got a lot of political help to make it what it is today. A behemoth money making machine. President John F. Kennedy created a massive revenue stream for sports owners from television by signing The Sports Broadcast Act of 1961. Kennedy though was not responsible for the actual legislation. A Brooklyn, New York Congressman Emanuel Cellar wrote the bill that changed the sports landscape in the United States. The Cellar Bill allowed the National Football League to market its broadcast rights as a league package, evenly spreading the broadcasting revenues among the franchises and guaranteeing each team substantial annual revenues. The act would also apply to the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and other sports. Major League Baseball had an antitrust exemption and did not need the federal law as the American and National Leagues could sell the product, baseball, as one to TV networks. The NFL wanted the same protection and wanted to co-opt the one-year old and politically unnoticed American Football League and its policy of selling all the teams as one to a TV network.

In 1961, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle cut a two-year, $9.1 million deal with CBS.  The NFL submitted the deal before Federal Judge Alan K. Grim in Philadelphia to make sure it was legal. In July, Judge Grim decided the NFL-CBS deal violated antitrust laws. Rozelle went to Cellar, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Anti-Trust and Monopoly, looking for help. Cellar got a bill through the House. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate by Estes Kefauver who pushed it through the Senate. Kennedy signed the Sports Broadcast Act of 1961 into law on September 30. The Kennedy signed legislation created the modern day NFL.