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Pop Culture | Life

The Evolution of the NFL

Photo By Hence The Boom on Unsplash

The NFL may be the single biggest sports league in the world, but it’s been a long and winding route to reach this point. Many of the major changes that have brought us here have taken place in the last thirty years, but none of these could have happened without what had gone before. For example, while there are now 32 teams split between the National Football League and the American Football Conference, this division dates back to merger that occurred in 1970 between the NFL and its rival the American Football League. And, while there have been countless changes to the League over the years, this article is going to focus on just a few key areas.


One of the most seismic changes in recent years has come as a result of a historic decision made by the Supreme Court in May 2018 that betting on all sport could be made legal in any States that wished to support it. For a long time, all of the country’s major leagues, including baseball and basketball, had opposed betting this on the grounds that it might compromise the integrity of their particular sports. But, following a campaign led by New Jersey, the ruling was made. It’s been estimated that this could increase the NFL’s annual revenue by as much as $2.3 billion year. It has also seen a raft of new sponsorship deals being set up between teams and sportsbook franchises, generating even more income.

As for fans, they are now able, where allowed, to place all kinds of bets on their favorite teams, the popularity of betting on football has resulted in football handicappers like these over at being more valued than ever before. It’s also likely that this change to legalized betting will draw in many more fans who were previously not that interested in the sport.


Throughout the history of the NFL, television has been an integral part of both its popularity and the financing of the sport. The very first match was televised back in 1958, a meeting between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants. The rights were negotiated by the then commissioner of the League, Bert Bell, but it was his successor who really saw the potential of TV as a revenue generator.

Between 1962 and 1989 when he retired, Pete Rozelle drove up the money the franchises received from a little over $4 million a year to $500 million. Today, every single one of the 32 franchises in the league earns $17 million a year, regardless of how well they perform on the field.

TV has also been used to fill stadiums when not all ticket have been sold. In 2014 the idea of imposing a TV blackout in the area where the match in question was being played was reintroduced – an idea first used back in the 1950s by Bert Bell.

The Super Bowl

The undoubted TV highlight of the NFL season comes with its culmination in early February. It’s watched by an average audience of 100 million people – the record for viewership came in the 2015 match between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks when over 114 million people tuned in. As a result, the cost to broadcasters for showing the game is very high. In 2011 a 9 year contract was agreed that $3 billion a year would be paid by CBS, Fox and NBC networks to broadcast the game, money that they more than make back through selling advertising time during the 4 hour extravaganza that includes just 60 minutes of actual play.

Players’ rights and franchise owners’ powers

Before 1993 there was a great deal of dissatisfaction amongst players about the freedoms they had about claiming more pay and being able to move between franchises. Feelings ran so high that they went on strike on no less than three separate occasions in 1974, 1982 and 1987.

But in 1993 it was ruled that there should be free movement for players, with certain restrictions, as well as a salary cap. Nevertheless, from an average salary of $490,000 a season in 1992, by 2009 this had risen to $1.8 million. By 2019, this figure had become $2.7 million.

Another change that came in at around the same time was the right of franchise owners to move their team to another city. The first example of this came when Al Davis moved the Oakland Raiders to Los Angeles, later returning to Oakland in 1995.

There has also been the innovation of teams being allowed to play certain matches in other countries such as when the deal was struck in 2013 for the Jacksonville Jaguars to play one of their games each season at the UK’s Wembley Stadium.


No account of recent events in the NFL could overlook the increased use of technology. In 2014 GPS chips were first fitted in players’ shoulder pads in order to track their movements and get more accurate stats. In 2016, a chip was also introduced in the match balls for the same reason. One less popular innovation has been to allow video replays to identify pass interference and other infractions. It is proving to be just as controversial as the VAR introduced in England’s soccer Premier League.

Of course, there have been many more changes in the game and how it’s been played over the last few decades, and there are certain to many more to come in the years ahead – and that’s what will make gridiron football continue to be such a compelling spectacle.