Brand NFL: Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport

Brand NFL: Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport

Brand NFL: Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport

Brand NFL: Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport


Professional football today is a $6 billion sports entertainment industry. In this astute field-level view of the National Football League since 1960, Michael Oriard looks closely at the development of the sport and at the image of the NFL and its unique


Pro football is a continuation of war by other means.
—Thomas B. Morgan, Esquire, October 1965 (after Von

It ain't even war, it's just show business.
But show business is a kind of war.
—Peter Gent, Esquire, September 1980

Before it became a “brand,” the National Football League had an image. in fact, for most of its first half-century, the nfl had a serious image problem. Football in the United States developed over the final third of the nineteenth century as an intercollegiate game, and colleges created the standard against which other forms of football would be measured into the 1950s. the professional version developed haphazardly in midwestern mill towns for two decades before it was organized in 1920 into what became the National Football League, with franchises in places like Akron and Dayton, Ohio; Hammond, Indiana; and Rock Island, Illinois, as well as Chicago and later New York City. After several years of small successes and many failures, with the number of teams fluctuating between 8 and 22, the nfl was reorganized in 1933 into its modern form, a league with a fixed number of franchises (initially ten), all located in major metropolitan areas (with the sole exception of Green Bay, Wisconsin).

From the beginning, professional football struggled against the perception that it lacked the college game's pageantry and spectacle, and that professional football players were at once bloodthirsty and bloodless, brutal on the field but lacking in “die-for-dear-old-Rutgers” spirit. Improvement in play, more attention from the national media, increasing appeal for working-class men with no relationship to any college, and the circumstance that major college teams tended to be located in smaller towns—leaving major cities for the professionals—led to slow but steady growth in the nfl's popularity over the 1930s and 1940s. But for most sports fans, pro football still seemed a ragtag affair closer to the grunt-and-groan pro wrestling circuit than to bigtime college football, an employment opportunity for ex-collegians with no better prospects in the legitimate job market.

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