Professional football's emergence as a truly national game was dramatized from coast to coast Sunday afternoon when CBS telecast the first four of a total of 63 pro games which it will send to the country's television screens this autumn. It was the first time a major network had devoted itself to professional football on a nationwide scale—the games were carried by 187 stations—and in dozens of towns which had never seen pro ball on television ( Portland, Ore. and Portland, Maine; Big Spring, Texas; Phoenix, Ariz.; Boise, Idaho; Florence, S.C.; Fort Meyers, Fla.), armies of new fans were caught up in one fell swoop.
The National Football League, it seems certain, will eventually gain at the box office (home games are blacked out for a radius of 75 miles) as a result of this vastly increased video audience, but CBS was not throwing its network open to the pros simply to popularize the game. Pro football, by its burgeoning popularity, practically forced its way into U.S. homes. Last year, although pro games were telecast only in regional circuits—by Du Mont in the East, ABC in the Midwest, on little "bastard networks" set up by some of the clubs themselves—it outdrew other Sunday afternoon programs almost everywhere. "Our programs were getting ratings like 3.8 and 4.6," says CBS's Bill MacPhail, "and the Chicago Bears had a 36 in Omaha, Neb. The New York Giants outdraw anything on either NBC or CBS in New York on a Sunday afternoon."
Last January, Columbia set out to sweep professional football up into one big—and exceedingly complex—Sunday program. Every club but Cleveland (which will be seen, however, when it plays out of town) joined forces with them. Meanwhile CBS—in order to show regional games to regional audiences—set out to divide its network into nine regional networks. Since a television signal goes only one way around the twisting maze of coaxial cable and microwave towers which link the stations, chopping the system into parts, each capable of operating as a unit for one afternoon a week, was a task calculated to drive network technicians to near distraction.
By last Sunday, however, CBS was prepared to operate nine networks—around New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Washington, Green Bay, Chicago and on the Pacific Coast—and by temporarily merging pieces of them, week by week, to show its viewers in various parts of the country the pro game of the week in which they are most interested.
The outlands have already begun reacting—as a result of seeing three preseason practice games—to the kind of football the big, fast, talented pro teams offer their audiences. Every club has begun getting letters from new admirers requesting information or tickets.