The 1961 Sports Broadcast Act changed American sports.
November 22nd is the 60th anniversary of the assassination of the 35th President of the United States John F. Kennedy. About seventeen percent of the population in the United States today was alive when Kennedy was killed. One of Kennedy’s pieces of legislation is still impacting the sports world. He created a massive revenue stream for sports owners from television by signing The Sports Broadcast Act of 1961 into law. Kennedy though was not responsible for the actual legislation. A Brooklyn, New York Congressman Emanuel Cellar wrote the bill and it changed the American sports landscape. The Cellar Bill allowed the National Football League to market its broadcast rights as a league package, evenly spreading the broadcasting revenue among the franchises and guaranteeing each team substantial annual revenue. The act would also apply to the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League. Major League Baseball had an antitrust exemption. 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 upstart American Football League’s idea of selling all the teams as one to networks. The AFL’s deal with ABC flew under the radar.
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 certain 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 30th leaving a lasting impact.
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