In the 1970s and 1980s, the NFL solidified its dominance as America’s top spectator sport and its important role in American culture. The Super Bowl became an unofficial national holiday and the top-rated TV program most years. Monday Night Football, which first aired in 1970, brought in high ratings by mixing sports and entertainment. Rule changes in the late 1970s ensured a fast-paced game with lots of passing to attract the casual fan.
The World Football League was the first post-merger challenge to the NFL’s dominance, and in 1974, successfully lured some top NFL talent to its league and prompted a few rules changes in the NFL. However, financial problems led the league to fold halfway through its 1975 season. Two teams, the Birmingham Vulcans and Memphis Southmen, made unsuccessful efforts to move from the WFL to the NFL.
The founding of the United States Football League in the early 1980s was the biggest challenge to the NFL in the post-merger era. The USFL was a well-financed competitor with big-name players and a national television contract. However, the USFL failed to make money and folded after three years. The USFL filed a successful anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL, but the remedies were minimal, and mismanagement (most notably, a planned move of its niche spring football season to a head-to-head competition in the fall) led to the league’s collapse.
2001 saw the establishment of the XFL, an attempt by Vince McMahon and NBC, which had lost the NFL broadcast rights for that year, to compete with the league; the XFL folded after just one season. Unlike the WFL and USFL, the XFL had no impact on the NFL’s rules or franchise locations (its attempts at innovations were often ridiculed), but a few NFL players used the XFL to relaunch their careers. The United Football League, which began play in 2009, had originally planned to take a direct challenge to the NFL with NFL-comparable salaries and teams in New York City and Los Angeles, but the UFL never did play in those cities (an ostensibly New York team played in Long Island and New Jersey), cut back its salaries, and instead opted for a complementary approach with teams in cities such as Las Vegas, Orlando and Hartford. Several other upstart leagues (such as the AAFL, UNGL, and New USFL) are also planned, but they have all been set back by financial and organizational problems, and none have taken the field yet; all of these proposed leagues will play in the spring and have no plans to compete with the NFL, either for talent or for fans.
On August 31, 2007, a story in USA Today unveiled the first changes to the league’s shield logo since 1970, which took effect with the 2008 season. The redesign reduced the number of stars in the logo from 23 (which were found not to have a meaning beyond being decorative) to eight (for each of the league’s divisions), repositioned the football in the manner of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and changed the NFL letters to a straight, serifed font. The redesign was created with television and digital media, along with clothing, in mind. The shield logo itself dates back to the 1940s.