1960s: AFL vs. NFL
Professional football was still divided into two leagues with the upstart AFL providing real competition for the established NFL. Instead of providing an opportunity for players to shop their services between leagues, NFL owners initiated things like eliminating their pensions if players went to “another league.” The NFLPA Group Licensing Program began using an outside agency to help the organization generate additional revenues and support its growth.
1960: The American Football League (AFL) comes on the scene. Owners double down, threatening to eliminate the pension of any NFL player who jumped ship. Players fight back with court action, and it pays off with gains of additional pension coverage and improved benefits.
1966: The NFL and AFL merge, unraveling any player leverage created by league competition.
1968: The NFLPA declares itself an independent union, but it only represents 16 of the league’s 26 teams. The AFL Players Association represents the other 10 post-merger clubs.
July 3, 1968: The NFLPA votes to have its first player strike in hopes of better compensation. Owners counter with a week-long lockout.
July 14, 1968: The first collective bargaining agreement is signed in underwhelming fashion for the players. “Highlights” include:
- Minimum salaries of $9,000 for rookies and $10,000 for veterans
- Exhibition pay of $50 per game
- No neutral arbitration; the commissioner is the judge and jury
- Retirement age stays at 65
- Owners contribute $1.5 million to pension fund
How did this happen? Because players on the 10 AFL clubs accepted the owners’ terms without telling the NFLPA leaders. Solidarity matters!