Football Replaces Baseball as America’s Pastime
From the turn of the last century through the late 1950s, most U.S. citizens were rabid baseball fans; the game was called “America’s Pastime.” Compared to baseball, professional football was a minor event — a sport to watch when the World Series ended and until the new baseball season started the following April.
But that’s not true today. Football, not baseball, is the sport that gets Americans most excited. This is due to the fantastic growth of the National Football League, the organization that delivers pro football to the public. In Tailgating, Sacks, and Salary Caps: How the NFL Became the Most Successful Sports League in History, Mark Yost describes the NFL’s transition from its humble roots and turbulent early years to its current position of dominance. He shows readers how the NFL dueled with other upstart professional football leagues — a period when more teams failed than survived — and how it fought hard to replace baseball as America’s favorite sport.
A business and sports writer for almost 20 years, with stints at Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal, Yost is well qualified to write about the business aspects of sports. In this book, he gives readers an inside look at how NFL operations are guided more by the rules of business than sport. As he notes in his introduction, “When you read the words of NFL and team executives in this book, you might be struck by the fact that they sound like they could be CEOs of Best Buy, The Home Depot, or any other highly successful, market savvy, sophisticated, customer-oriented Fortune 500 company.”
Success and Challenge at Once
Readers will also be struck by NFL successes. Yost relates that at the beginning of the 2005 season, NFL revenues totaled about $5.2 billion, up from $3.6 billion in 2000; that the NFL had turned its declining merchandise business into a $3.4 billion annual cash cow; and that the league inked four new national TV contracts worth a record $3.75 billion annually.
During the same year, the NFL also successfully faced two of the biggest financial challenges in its history. “It had to forge a new collective bargaining agreement with the players,” writes Yost, “and, at the same time, come up with a new revenue-sharing formula that would satisfy all the teams’ owners.”
TV Puts Football on Top
Possibly the book’s most enlightening chapter shows how the NFL has succeeded largely because it is the perfect game for television. “The advent of television was the beginning of the transformation of the NFL from an obscure, little-regarded sports league into the economic powerhouse that it is today,” writes Yost.
Noting that from 1948 through 1955 that the number of television sets in the United States grew from 172,000 to 25 million, Yost writes that in the following year, 1956, football got its first national contract with CBS, which was a major turning point for the league.
In Yost’s (and others’) view, the nationally televised 1958 NFL “title game” between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts at Yankee Stadium became the catalyst for the NFL’s ascendancy to the role of national pastime. And by the late 1960s, writes Yost, “Professional football had replaced baseball as the most frequently watched sport in America.”
Readers will enjoy reading about the NFL’s unique successes over the years, such as a plan for “team equity” that resulted in well-matched teams meeting on “any given Sunday”; the success of Monday Night Football in attracting audiences outside football’s fan base; and the rise of the annual Super Bowl, the biggest sporting event of all.
Throughout the book, Yost exposes readers to the complex relationships, business decisions, and the great effects of media and political interests that have made the NFL what it is today.
Why We Like This Book
Through interviews with some of professional football’s top “players,” including team owners, the players’ union and the NFL head marketer, Yost offers a behind-the-scenes look into what took the game of football and the National Football League from sideshow to the dominant sport and sports league in the United States. Yost’s business- and sports-writing experience supports his insight into the challenges facing pro football today, including the huge costs of publicly financed stadiums and growing battles over pay for superstar players.