Beginning its sixth year of operation, the junior league has come of age. Its long-term TV contract with NBC has purchased its survival. AFL attendance and season-ticket statistics have also grown impressively. Season-ticket sales (nearly 200,000) are running 25% ahead of 1965. Then the league set an attendance record of 1,782,384, but with the addition of a new club—the Miami Dolphins—and a new 53,000-seat stadium in Oakland, total attendance could easily reach 2.5 million in 1966. The biggest surge in season-ticket sales comes from Kansas City, where Lamar Hunt's Chiefs sold more than 21,000. Last year only 9,550 were sold. (The New York Jets lead the league with 43,000.)
The final merger, with interlocking schedules and the leagues integrated into two two-division conferences, cannot take place until 1970, but this prospect has already sent franchise values up. Stock in the Boston Patriots soared to twice its previous value when peace was declared. The San Diego Chargers, a club Barron Hilton had on the market for a couple of years with no takers, was snapped up for a record $10 million last month by a syndicate headed by Eugene Klein, president of a chain of theaters. Klein will keep the Chargers in San Diego, despite rumors that he intended to install the club in Anaheim as co-tenant with the California Angels.
If the Chargers are worth that, then the value of such old, established franchises as the New York Giants and the Cleveland Browns is staggering to contemplate. This raises a question. Will increasing television exposure, the voracious demand for talent as the leagues expand and pro football's aggressive hunt for still more revenue endanger the future of the game? This is the game launched by men like George Halas, who went into it not for money but for fun. Most early NFL owners were happy to write off their clubs as deductible hobbies.
Now that wild prosperity has come, owners should pause and reflect. There is as yet no indication that the public has had a surfeit of pro football, although it is heavily televised from late summer until mid-January. But the TV industry is pressing for still more—more games per season and more commercials per game. Other sports—notably baseball and boxing—were wounded by unlimited television. Pro football still seems to be some distance from the saturation point, but the warning signals are there.
After all, Miss America has survived for a long time on only one appearance a year.