In search of Wellington Mara
Shortly after becoming commissioner of the National Football League in 1960, Pete Rozelle hatched a plan. There was a great disparity between the haves and the have-nots in the league in terms of the revenue each franchise generated. The biggest reason for the chasm was that each team negotiated its own television contract. That meant the New York Giants, whose TV market totaled in the millions, could command much more money than the Green Bay Packers, with a market in the thousands.
Roselle understood that financial stability for the league, as well as competitive balance, depended on evening the playing field. He determined the best way to accomplish that was to negotiate television contracts as a unified entity and distribute the money equally among the franchises. There were two hurdles that needed to be cleared. The first, which turned out to be relatively easy, was to obtain an antitrust exemption from Congress. The second was to convince Wellington Mara that this was a necessary step.
Mara was the owner of the Giants, and he stood to lose a lot of revenue if he went along with the plan. As it turned out, it was easy to convince Mara, who was a visionary. At the time, the NFL still was struggling to gain public acceptance and was running a distant second to baseball in popularity. Mara could see the long-term implications of such a maneuver. Simply put, a more competitive league would mean better and more entertaining games, which would put more fans in the seats.
Contrast that with what’s going on right now in public safety, where officials in major cities across the U.S. are pledging not to use the proposed 700 MHz nationwide wireless broadband network should it ever be built. Some would prefer to use the public-safety spectrum in the band — which is supposed to be paired with commercial spectrum to form the spectral backbone for the nationwide network — to build their own advanced networks.
Such provincial thinking has plagued public-safety communications for years. It’s why achieving regional consensus on interoperability plans is so difficult. Now it is threatening the viability of a high-tech communications network that could level the playing field for first responders from coast to coast. Imagine if responders in Manhattan, Kan., had the same tools at their disposal as those in Manhattan, N.Y.
Public-safety officials need to step outside their silos and realize that the world extends far beyond their jurisdictional boundaries. In other words, they need to start thinking like Wellington Mara.