Brand NFL: Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport

By Anderson, Roger | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), June 2008 | Go to article overview

Brand NFL: Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport


Anderson, Roger, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Brand NFL: Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport Michael Oriard. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Although there have been many books written about the National Football League, this study is unique in that the author not only played for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1970 through 1973 but currently is Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture at Oregon State University. Thus, he can view professional football as an insider and student of American culture.

The study is composed of six chapters, an introduction, and conclusion. In chapter one Oriard devotes most of the chapter to 1960s NFL Commissioner Alvin "Pete" Rozelle and his successful efforts to popularize the game and expand its audience. Under Rozelle's leadership the first national television contract was signed, NFL Properties were acquired, and a merger agreement with the rival American Football League was negotiated. Two leagues were created, the American and National Leagues, and the championship game between the two leagues evolved into a national cultural phenomenon, "the Super Bowl." Rozelle, as a former director of public relations and then general manager for the Los Angeles Rams, saw professional football as entertainment. Players and coaches became media stars, particularly icons such as old-school, successful coach Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers and the 1960s' free spirit Joe Namath, successful quarterback of the New York Jets. Oriard also details Rozelle's great public relations coup to team up with Roone Arledge of ABC to create the popular television show for over a decade, "Monday Night Football."

Oriard's personal insights really are helpful in chapters two and three where he provides a balanced account of the strife between the NFL Players Association and management including strikes or work stoppages in 1974,1982, and 1987. Although the strikes were unsuccessful, and alienated most of the media and the public, they started the process of contract negotiations which led to a series of union and player victories against the League in the courts. Labor strife was Rozelle's weakness Oriard maintains and led to his resignation in 1989. His replacement, Paul Tagliabue benefited from the labor conflicts, as he had been the NFL's chief outside attorney.

In Chapter Four the author details the 1993 labor contract modeled on the player-management NBA contract which provided players with the possibility of free agency after three or four years among a number of benefits. In the same chapter he discusses Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' successful efforts to obtain more revenues for his club by selling stadium seat licenses and luxury boxes, by expanding the stadium and by signing separate licensing agreements with such corporations as Pepsi, Nike and American Express. The NFL sued the Cowboys charging breach of contract with NFL Properties, but they soon realized they could not win in court and dropped the suit after the Cowboys countersued.

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