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Sports Industry: A Research Guide


Carol M. Highsmith. Action a Denver Broncos National Football League game against the visiting San Francisco 49ers at the Sports Authority Field at Mile High stadium, Denver, Colorado. 2015. Carol M. Highsmith Archive. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

While several professional football leagues have come and gone, the focus of this section will cover the National Football League (NFL), the premier league for professional football (American-styled football) worldwide. The National Football League was established in 1922 with eight teams when the American Professional Football Association changed its name to the National Football League soon after. During the late 1960's, it merged with another professional football league, the American Football League (AFL) expanding the number of teams to 13. While the NFL has been a not-for-profit since the 1940’s, in 1966, the league itself (not the individual teams) became a 501(c)(6) non-profit organization when it merged with the American Football League, but in 2015 the League announced it was planning to drop its tax-exempt status.

Presently, the NFL is made up of 32 teams with a newly realigned conference structure implemented in 2002. The League is governed by a Commissioner and the Executive Committee, which includes one representative—an owner or top officer—from each team. Few professional sports have experienced the growth, stability, and success as the National Football League. Its longevity and expansion is a testament to that success. Its effort to branch out into international markets has been less successful. It created the World League of American Football in 1991 (it changed its name to NFL Europe in 1995) but attendance fluctuated, and it ceased in 2007. The NFL also began playing games in London in 2007. It began with at least one game a season, and later added more. In October of 2018 it was announced that in 2019, there would be a total of four games played in the UK - two at Wembley and two at Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium. Also, in the 2017 and 2018 seasons, one game was played in Mexico City.


The NFL utilizes a number of different types of revenue sharing methods. Retained revenues and shared revenues are the two main types of revenue sources for NFL franchises. Retained revenues, consisting of revenue generated and kept by individual teams, include 60% of stadium (gate) receipts for home games, naming rights, sponsorship, luxury suite revenue, concessions and local broadcast rights. A few points on revenue:

  • Building new stadiums and selling stadium naming rights have contributed enormously to the revenues of NFL franchises. This trend has continued to grow within the league - since 1990 16 new stadiums have been built.
  • The primary source for shared revenue in the NFL is through national broadcast rights fees, away game ticket sales, and licensing. In December 2011 the NFL announced a new media deal running though the 2022 season.
  • The NFL's marketing enterprise has also generated substantial revenue for the league via NFL Ventures. Organizationally, NFL Ventures includes several subsidiary elements: NFL Enterprises primarily concerned with the advertising, publicizing, promoting, broadcasts of NFL games; NFL Properties which oversees the licensing and sponsorship; NFL Productions which produces NFL-related programming; and NFL International which promotes the NFL internationally.

Salary Caps

Despite the NFL's longevity, the league finds itself challenged by the current player free agency and team salary cap system. The salary cap is the result of league revenue sharing between teams and players, which is based on an agreement of defined gross revenues (DGR). The league then defines the share of DGR that will go to each franchise's player roster. The salary cap actually serves as a ceiling placed on spending which is equally applied to all teams. In comparison to the other professional sports implementing the salary cap system, the NFL has proven to be effective at managing player salaries and the expanding cost involved in operating the league.

Other Leagues

Other leagues have been established. This includes the XFL which is a professional American football league in predominantly mid-sized to major markets founded in 2018 using the same name as a league founded in 2001. In 2023 there are eight teams and the season is ten games and runs from February to May.

There is also the United States Football League (USFL) which is also a professional American football league that first played in 2022. The league operates eight teams in four cities as of 2023.

Books & Periodicals

These are just a few of the more business-themed resources related to football. Note that there may also be relevant information in the General Resources section of this guide.

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.

Internet Resources

We have included some resources that are not business specific in an effort to provide sources that can help researchers understand the sport itself and its structure.


Official Sites


Search the Library's Catalog

If you are looking to search the catalog for more general titles see the Search the Library's Catalog page. Additional works on the business of football and histories of individual franchises in the Library of Congress may be identified by searching the Online Catalog under appropriate Library of Congress subject headings. Choose the topics you wish to search from the following list of subject headings to link directly to the Catalog and automatically execute a search that will allow you to browse related subject headings. Please be aware that during periods of heavy use you may encounter delays in accessing the catalog. For assistance in locating the many other subject headings which relate to football as a business, please consult a reference librarian.