The National Football League is the oldest, richest and most prestigious professional league in American football. Generally known as the NFL, the National Football League also happens to be the wealthiest pro sports league in North America, surpassing Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) in television revenues.
Because television revenues greatly outstrip gate revenues in the modern sports age, and because the NFL sells vast amounts of merchandise, the National Football League is considered the most successful league in North America.
The National Football League started in 1920. Only two teams which helped found the league remain to this day, though in altered forms. One of the founding teams, the Dayton Staleys, would soon change their name to the Chicago Bears. The other surviving founders was the Chicago Cardinals, which had been around since 1898. The Cardinals would move twice, becoming first the St. Louis Cardinals, and later the Arizona Cardinals.
Green Bay Packers – Early NFL Teams
The Green Bay Packers joined the NFL in 1921, and are therefore the third oldest franchise in the league. Within the next decade or so, mainstays like the New York Giants, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins would join the league.
The 1920′s to the 1960′s saw the National Football League go from second-rate status in American football (behind the much more popular college football game) to ascendence as a major television sport. The 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Baltimore Colts (led by Johnny Unitas) and the New York Football Giants, which went into sudden death overtime, is often given credit for showing how popular the NFL could be on national television. It could be said that the NFL had arrived in the fifties, after fighting off a couple of challenges from rival league.
The NFL’s arch-rival was the American Football League, which started in 1960. This league went head-to-head with the NFL, playing games on fall Sundays. The AFL also competed for star college players, offering lucrative contracts and driving up player costs. Where they did not compete was in NFL markets, instead choosing to play in major American cities with no pro football franchise.
The NFL expanded in the early sixties, trying to keep the AFL out of cities like Dallas and Minneapolis/St. Paul. This didn’t work, because the AFL brought a solid business model and an entertaining style of football. By 1964, the AFL had a contract with NBC and appeared here to stay. This led to the 1966-67 NFL-AFL merger and the creation of the Superbowl, which matched the champions of the two leagues in a yearly showdown.
After the merger, the NFL and AFL became the National Football Conference (NFC) and American Football Conference (AFC), which remain the two halves of today’s NFL. The Super Bowl has become the most popular sporting event in the United States, amounting to something of a holiday.
The National Football League is watched on most of the major networks, including (at present) CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN and the NFL Network. This generates tremendous revenue for the league. If you want to read more about the National Football League, click to read our article on NFL History.