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Campaign to Enshrine NFL Founder Gains Yardage

After more than three years of hard-pressed effort by WRL Advertising, the Ralph Hay campaign is getting full speed national attention just in time for Ralph Hay Day (September 17) and the 95th anniversary of the NFL. Today, is recognizing Ralph E. Hay as the founder of the NFL with a front page article on his contribution and images of Hay’s days with the Canton Bulldogs.

Hay, best known for being the driving force behind the creation of the National Football League, was a monumental part of America’s most beloved sport. Dr. James King, grandson of Hay, has struggled for years to gain adequate recognition by the National Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee to get Hay inducted into the Hall. In 2012, King contracted with WRL and began major campaign efforts, as well as accruing dedicated fans. Since then, the WRL team, beginning with thorough historical and marketing research, crafted the Ralph Hay story and determined the best avenues to tell it to the appropriate audiences. As an individually-funded campaign, it was paramount that we deliver the right message at the right time in the right way.

Campaign elements included: Social media, web design, specialty print pieces, and ongoing public relations, including Ralph Hay Day, a city holiday event planned and coordinated by WRL. The campaign took a national turn in its second year with the establishment of the Ralph Hay Honors for Triumph over Adversity, an honor created in conjunction with the Pro Football Hall of Fame Gold Jacket 5K Series and bestowed upon a race participant who has overcome a significant illness or injury in order to participate. This venture brings our campaign to five new states and seven new cities, with the intention of extending to 16 cities in 2016 and 32 cities in 2017.

Now Hay is finally garnering major national attention — attention that King hopes will attract the Hall’s Selection Committee.

To date, more than 3,000 nominations have poured in from all over the country supporting Hay for enshrinement into the National Pro Football Hall of Fame. But so far, Hay hasn’t been a finalist, even with the Hall’s new Contributor category, which recognizes and honors legends of the game, which didn’t play on the field.

Ira Miller, Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee Member and National Columnist for The Sports Xchange, perhaps said it best when it came time to choose who is worthy of enshrinement, “Can you write the history of the game without this guy?… That’s my criteria.”

On September 17, 1920, Hay made history when he organized representatives from 11 professional football teams to lay the foundation for America’s favorite sport. Notably absent from this meeting was Joe Carr, then owner of the Columbus Panhandles and the man who would become the NFL president from 1921-1939. Carr, a figurehead in football at the time, is quoted, “he didn’t think the ‘hustler’ from Canton would pull off this meeting” (The Man Who Built the National Football League: Joe F. Carr, by Chris Willis).

As owner of the World Champion Canton Bulldogs, Hay was frustrated with the sport’s high player salaries, disorganized scheduling and players jumping from team to team.

In 1920, Ralph met with the managers of the Akron Pros, the Cleveland Tigers and the Dayton Triangles. Together, they devised a plan to form the American Professional Football Conference. Ralph was elected chairman of the league and spent the rest of his summer tirelessly writing to every pro team in the Midwest, inviting them to meet and discuss the future of professional football – on September 17, 1920.

Because Hay’s office was too small, the meeting took place in his automobile showroom, with owners sitting on running boards and fenders due to lack of seating. It was proposed that Ralph Hay be the league’s first president, but he selflessly declined, knowing that with Jim Thorpe as president, the league would gain the recognition it needed to thrive. It was then that Hay put the success of the league above his own gains.

When Ralph Hay first became involved with professional football, he couldn’t have imagined the legacy he would leave behind. He was a man who was passionate about the sport of professional football, but had the vision to see that in its current state, the sport would wither and die, and might not be known to future generations. Ralph committed himself to ensuring the future of football, working tirelessly to convince the other team owners to come together to form what would become the NFL.

To learn more about Ralph Hay or to support the reason the Pro Football Hall of Fame is located in Canton, Ohio, visit Want to see the story of Ralph Hay in photography? Visit the Joseph Saxton Gallery in downtown Canton, where the historical photo exhibition Ralph Hay: Football’s Founding Father will be on display now through December.