JFK’s Sports Legacy: Boosting the NFL

JFK’s big contribution to $ports

Fifty four years today, President John F. Kennedy was killed by an assassin on a Dallas street. Historians are still debating Kennedy’s relatively short term. But there is one fact that cannot be dismissed, on September 30, 1961, Kennedy signed into law the Sports Broadcast Act of 1961 which not only changed the NFL but the NBA, NHL and NCAA. For the first time a league other than in baseball could package its teams as one and sell it to a TV network. The NFL Commissioner wanted 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. Rozelle managed to get all 14 owners to agree after studying the AFL-ABC deal and Major League Baseball’s-NBC partnership. 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. By 1965, partially because of Rozelle’s TV deals with CBS and the rise of the AFL, football surpassed baseball as America’s favorite sport. “Leaguethink” worked for everyone until recently. JFK’s signature helped.


The NFL was a big winner