The power of the NFL as a business and cultural power is at an all-time high.
Consider this, for the regular season that just concluded, 29 of the 30 most-watched shows on television were NFL games. (The exception was the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.) Nothing rated higher than football for the last four months.
If you're up on your pro football history, such as Michael MacCambridge's America's Game, you know it wasn't always like this. As opposed to today, when owning an NFL team is essentially a licence to print money, teams routinely lost money in the 1940's. Teams relocated and folded regularly. Baseball was truly the national pastime, and if a sport dominated television in the early days of that medium, it was boxing. Player salaries were not enough to even keep players from having to hold "regular jobs." Some during the season, and almost all of them during the offseason.
So just how did the NFL come to the point where it is now? Where it dominates televisions ratings and has made millionaires of thousands?
"Star Spangled Sundays," a four-part special that will document the rise of the NFL to become the most-popular sport in America. debuts Tuesday, January 8 at 10 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.
The following are the scheduled original airdates for the four-part series:
Episode I: Rise of a Colossus - Tuesday, January 8 at 10 p.m. ET. Deft handling of the new medium of television vaults the National Football League from America's fourth most popular sport into a cultural and financial titan.
Episode II: Labor Pains - Tuesday, January 15 (Time: TBD). NFL players and owners work to create labor peace.
Episode III: Brand NFL - Tuesday, January 22 (Time: TBD). Riding a cultural and demographic tidal wave, the NFL turns professional football into a year-round, revenue-generating business and has become the most powerful brand in American sports.
Episode IV: Super Sunday - Tuesday, January 29 (Time: TBD). The NFL transforms the Super Bowl into the biggest entertainment event on the American calendar.
This series is produced by Ross Greenburg Productions and NFL Films. With this production, NFL Films will now have produced 24 shows for 11 networks since the beginning of the 2011 NFL season.
MacCambridge is among those interviewed in the series. Others of note include Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who can speak of how things were at the very beginning of the AFL from a fan's perspective, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Hall of Fame running back Bobby Mitchell, Upton Bell -- whose father Bert Bell was commissioner of the NFL for part of those early days and Don Ohlmeyer, the pioneering TV executive who was the first producer of Monday Night Football.
The NBC Sports Network is looking for a boost from this series, as the fledgling sports network has struggled with the lack of NHL hockey due to the league lockout. It, too, hopes to use the NFL to boost its own profile and ratings by means of this series.
Bruce Allen is a Media Columnist for SB Nation Boston. Twitter: @BruceAllen.