8 June 1966

The National Football League and American Football League announced a merger effective in 1970.

The merger of the National Football League (NFL) and the American Football League (AFL) was a significant event in the history of American professional football. This merger, which was completed in 1970, had a profound impact on the sport, leading to the formation of the modern NFL as we know it today.

Background and Reasons for the Merger

Competition and Rivalry: The NFL, established in 1920, was the dominant professional football league in the United States. The AFL was founded in 1960 as a rival league, and its establishment led to intense competition for players, fans, and television contracts.

Rising Costs: The competition between the two leagues drove up player salaries and operating costs, making it financially challenging for both leagues to sustain their operations independently.

Television Contracts: Television revenue was becoming increasingly important for professional sports leagues. The NFL had lucrative contracts with major networks, and the AFL was starting to secure its own significant deals. A unified league promised greater bargaining power for television rights.

Key Events Leading to the Merger

Initial Discussions: Secret meetings between NFL and AFL owners began in the mid-1960s to explore the possibility of a merger. Key figures in these discussions included Lamar Hunt, owner of the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, and Tex Schramm, general manager of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.

Announcement: On June 8, 1966, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and AFL Commissioner Al Davis, along with other league officials, announced that the two leagues would merge. This announcement came as a surprise to many in the sports world.

Terms of the Merger

Unified League: The merger agreement stipulated that the two leagues would operate as separate entities for the 1966 through 1969 seasons, culminating in a championship game between the two league champions. Starting in 1970, the two leagues would fully integrate into a single league.

Super Bowl: One of the most significant outcomes of the merger was the creation of the Super Bowl, which would determine the champion of the combined leagues. The first Super Bowl (originally called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game) was played on January 15, 1967.

Divisions and Conferences: The newly merged league adopted a conference format, with the AFL teams becoming the American Football Conference (AFC) and the NFL teams forming the National Football Conference (NFC). Each conference was further divided into divisions.

Draft and Player Movement: A common draft was established to distribute new talent evenly between the teams. This helped to ensure competitive balance and prevent bidding wars over college players.

Impact of the Merger

Increased Popularity: The merger greatly increased the popularity of professional football in the United States. The unified league could present a single, cohesive product to fans and broadcasters.

Economic Growth: The merger led to significant economic growth for the NFL, with increased revenues from television contracts, merchandise sales, and ticket sales.

Cultural Significance: The NFL became a major cultural institution in the United States, with the Super Bowl growing into one of the most-watched sporting events globally.

Competitive Balance: The merger helped maintain competitive balance within the league, ensuring that smaller-market teams had opportunities to compete on an equal footing with larger-market teams.