The National Football League's television contract for the next four years, beginning in 1978, will send the value of franchises skyrocketing.
The $576 million deal will solidify some clubs that have had financial problems, such as the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots, which recently were refinanced.
The annual payment of slightly more than $5 million to each team will be an immense help to the Houston Oilers, with a mere 50,000 capacity in the Astrodome, which has not been taxed often over the years because of disappointing records. The Oilers are believed to have lost money for several years.
Until Mile High Stadium was enlarged over the last several seasons and sold out its 75,087 capacity this year, the Denver Broncos also were believed to be a borderline franchise financially.
A quick beneficiary of the big contract is the San Francisco club, purchased by Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. March 28.
The payment for this last year under the old TV contract is $2.125 million per club.
Under the new deal, the 28 clubs will receive slightly more than twice as much as that in the first year and the amount will escalate. When the total payments for the four years are averaged out they will amount to more than $5 million a club.
Judging by the new contract, the bloom is not yet off pro football, despite its highly publicized problems of the last few years.
The NFL Players Association signed a four-year contract for about $107 million in December, before it knew how much the NFL would negotiate from the networks.
Still, there figure to be a record number of veterans playing out their options and trying to make better deals after they read of the television contract terms.
There will be some solace for the fans. A management source conceded, "There is no way that a club would dare to raise ticket prices," which would range from a $20 top for 1,500 mezzanine seats in Washington to $30 for the Super Bowl.
For the first time, a majority of most clubs' incomes in expected to come from television revenue. Formerly, such revenue amounted to about one third of total income.
The clubs also will generate more income at the gate because of several scheduling changes that will begin in 1978. There will be 16 regular-season games and four exhibition instead of the current 14 and six, respectively.
There will be a second wild-card team for the playoffs from each conference, requiring an extra day of postseason play.
Besides getting those extra games, the ABC network will be awarded four additional prime-time evening games to go with its usual Monday night telecasts. A fifth and sixth game may be added in the fourth year of the contract, if proven feasible.
The networks also will benefit from more good attractions because of a new competitive schedule that will go into effect, although a club official noted that the resulting schedules will be "murderous."
The new scheduling pattern means that the Redskins, for instance, and all other teams in the NFC East will play at least 12 common opponents.
If the Redskins finish in 1977 with the same record as they did in 1976 - 10-4 - and earn a wild-card playoff spot, in 1978 they would play two games each, as usual, with their four NFC East rivals.
Each NFC East team also would play the top four teams, once each, in the AFC East - Baltimore, New England, Miami and the New York Jets, if they finish as they did in 1976.
For the other four games, the Redskins would oppose two teams that finished second in 1976 in other NFC divisions, San Francisco and Chicago and two NFC teams that finished third, New Orleans and Detroit.
The new wild-card setup provides, for instance, that if the Redskins and Chicago Bears finished as wild-card teams in the National Conference they would play each other on the first Sunday after the regular season.
On the same day, the two wild-card tems from the American Conference would play each other. The victory those games would join the six division winners for the rest of the playoffs.
The new scheduling patterns we almost voted a year ago, but commissioner Peter Rozelle prevailed on the club owners to save them as weapon for this year in negotiating with the networks.
Rozelle has said he was able to playoff the negotiating coup because the sport has been able to "deliver the numbers," or television ratings.
It is believed that the NFL also was able to cite a new dollar breakthrough in the $100-million-plus television contract NBC signed to cover the 19 Olympic Games in Moscow.
Still, the word had been out that [WORD ILLEGIBLE] million per football club was going to be the final figure until the commissioner somehow raised it another [WORD ILLEGIBLE] million.
An observer quipped, "If Rozelle had been sent to negotiate the peace in Vietnam, the war would have ended six months earlier."