HBO’s Namath Documentary and Sports Business

I recently had the pleasure of watching the HBO Sports Documentary “Namath”, which provided a fascinating look at Joe Namath’s life, from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania to the University of Alabama to the New York Jets and beyond.  From a sports business perspective, there were a number of interesting notes:

  • Namath’s contract negotiations came at a time when the AFL was competing with the NFL.  In stark contrast to today’s rookie salary cap and slotted salaries, Namath and his attorney were free to negotiate a deal without parameters – which included a new Lincoln Continental and jobs for all of Namath’s brothers.
  • The commercial endorsements secured by Namath were remarkable.  Also remarkable was that the Jets grasped the marketing power of Namath and also capitalized on it. 
  • In my Sports Law class at Quinnipiac Law School, we always discuss the powers of the Commissioner in professional sports, especially the Commissioner’s authority to act “in the best interests of the game.”  This concept was apparent when NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle demanded that Namath immediately sell his interests in a sports bar (that was allegedly frequented by unsavory characters).  Namath refused to sell and announced his retirement, before ultimately reaching an agreement with the Commissioner.

From a football perspective, it was fascinating to see how talented Namath was.  Most surprising, Namath was an outstanding runner before a knee injury at Alabama robbed him of his running ability.   The documentary shows Namath running and executing Tebow-esque jump passes.  This footage alone makes the documentary worth watching.

Here’s the trailer from “Namath” via HBO Sports:

Comments

  1. Gary Solomon says:

    Dan –
    I agree, the Namath HBO Documentary was excellent.
    Namath and Seaver are the icons of my youth. I remember pleading with my parents at 8 years old to allow me to go with my Dad to what turned out to be Namath’s last game at Shea in December 1976.

    I had read about the Bachelors III settlement more in depth a few years back.

    Although Namath acquiesced and agreed to Commissioner Rozelle’s mandate to sell, the documentary failed to touch on what astute businessmen Namath and his team of lawyers actually were. The NFL was coming off its most watched game, Superbowl III and Rozelle was renegotiating the leagues television contracts. Rozelle was using Namath and the new stregth of the AFL as his leverage with the networks. Namath’s brief retirement in the Summer of ’69 came as Rozelle was in the midst of these negotiations. Clearly he and his camp were flexing their leverage as well.

    The link below to the Sports Illustrated article from July 1969 is a brief but good review.
    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1082646/1/index.htm

    Always a pleasure reading your posts Mr. Fitzgerald.

  2. Dan Fitzgerald says:

    Excellent comments, Gary. The Rozelle-TV deal story is very interesting.

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