On the strength of his great inherited oil wealth, Hunt applied for a National Football League expansion franchise but was turned down. In 1959, professional football was a distant second to Major League Baseball in popularity, and the thinking among NFL executives was that the league must be careful not to "oversaturate" the market by expanding too quickly.
In response, in 1960 Hunt took the lead with fellow Texan and oil man K.S. Bud Adams of Houston, who likewise had tried and failed to be granted an NFL franchise, in forming the American Football League. Hunt and Adams encouraged, wheedled, and cajoled six other like-minded wealthy men, three of them fellow Texan to form this new league. The group of the eight founders of the AFL teams was referred to as the "Foolish Club." Hunt's goal was to bring professional football to Texas and to acquire an NFL team for the Hunt family. Hunt became owner of the Dallas Texans and hired future hall-of-famer Hank Stram as the team's first head coach.
In the Chiefs' early days, attendance did not match the expansive claims Mayor Bartle had made. But in 1966 average home attendance at Chiefs games picked up and reached 37,000. By 1969 -- aided by some very successful and entertaining teams -- Chiefs' home attendance had reached 51,000. In 1966 the Chiefs won their first AFL Championship and reached the first ever Super Bowl (a name coined by Hunt, who took it in part from the then popular toy, the Super Ball)-- then called the “AFL-NFL Championship Game” -- where they lost to the Green Bay Packers. The Chiefs remained successful through the 1960s, and in 1970 the Chiefs reached the pinnacle of success, winning the AFL Championship and later went on to win Super Bowl IV (the last Super Bowl played when the AFL was a separate league prior to it being absorbed into the NFL as the American Football Conference) over the heavily-favored Minnesota Vikings.
The rosters of the AFL were always stocked with a certain number of players who would have excelled in any league -- and that number grew as the 1960s progressed. The best AFL coaches and owners, many of them new to the pro game, brought color, excitement and important new strategic and marketing ideas to pro football, which had often been dominated by play-calling which overrated the value of eliminating mistakes and underrated the element of surprise. While the NFL was always almost certainly the better league as a whole, the best teams of the AFL were increasingly the equals of any team in the NFL.
The AFL also substantially raised football players' salaries by frequently bidding against the NFL for the top college stars. It was the NFL's concern for containing salaries, more than anything else, that led a reluctant NFL to accept a merger between the two leagues in 1970. The older league could no longer claim to be far superior because by then the AFL champion New York Jets had defeated the vaunted Baltimore Colts of the NFL to win the Super Bowl. The Chiefs' triumph over the Vikings the following season further showcased the AFL's ability.
Today's "descendants" from the AFL, the Patriots, Bills, Jets, Titans, Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, Chargers, Dolphins and Bengals would not have existed if it hadn’t been for Lamar Hunt. What’s more, the NFL’s Cowboys, created specifically to drive the AFL out of Dallas, would not have existed. Neither would the Vikings, an NFL franchise that was given to Max Winter to pull out of the original eight-team American Football League; nor would the Falcons, which the NFL gave to Rankin Smith to deter him from the AFL’s Miami franchise. Neither would the Saints, whose franchise was granted by the NFL after certain Louisiana congressmen pushed the AFL-NFL merger to completion. Or the Houston Texans, created to replace the Houston Oilers after they moved to Tennessee and became the Tennessee Titans. Thus, fifteen professional football teams would not have existed in fifteen cities today, if Lamar Hunt had not had the vision and the courage to “fight the establishment”.
In 1972, Hunt became the first American Football League personage inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The trophy presented to each year's AFC Champions is named the Lamar Hunt Trophy. In 1984, Hunt was also inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
His team in the North American Soccer League was the Dallas Tornado, and they debuted in 1967 as a part of the USA:United Soccer Association. In a more fledgling version of what was occurring with the AFL and NFL, in 1968 a pro soccer merger took place to form the North American Soccer League. Eventually, the NASL reached 24 teams, and at times, the most popular teams such as the New York Cosmos occasionally outdrawing their NFL and MLB counterparts in the same cities on the same dates, although the soccer teams did not sustain such attendance levels. With Lamar Hunt as an active advocate for the sport and the league, his team the Dallas Tornado won the NASL championship in 1971 and were runners-up '73.
The NFL was not happy with Hunt's ownership in and promotion of pro soccer, a sport that was taking away attention and spectators from the American football game. The NFL attempted to force legal requirements that would disallow team ownership in more than one sport for owners of NFL franchises. This strategy backfired onto the NFL, and in fact, the NASL won an anti-trust case against the NFL. A primary benefactor of this outcome was Lamar Hunt, and his legacy of leadership and ownership of pro soccer in those times remains to this day.
NHL: Hunt and John H. McConnell formed Columbus Hockey Limited, L.L.C. (CHL) in an effort to obtain a National Hockey League franchise for Columbus, Ohio. Following disagreements over the financing for an arena, McConnell accepted an offer to lease a new arena from Nationwide Insurance Enterprise. McConnell froze-out CHL and Hunt and was awarded the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets franchise. See McConnell v. Hunt Sports Enterprises, 132 Ohio App.3d 657, 725 N.E.2d 1193 (1999), a lawsuit that Lamar Hunt lost and thus granted McConnel sole ownership of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Amusement Parks and Caves: Hunt was also the founder of two theme parks in Kansas City: Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun, which opened in 1973 and 1982 respectively. The two parks were an outgrowth and adjoined a vast industrial park he developed in the bluffs above the Missouri River in Clay County, Missouri. Immediately south of the parks is the Hunt-developed SubTropolis, a 55,000,000 square foot (5,060,000 m³), 1,100-acre manmade limestone cave which is claimed to be the World's Largest Underground Business Complex (TM). Hunt's extensive business dealings in Clay County were to contribute to the Chiefs having their NFL Training Camp at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri until 1991.
Said Dan Rooney, chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers: "Lamar Hunt was one of the most influential owners in professional football over the past 40-plus years, He was instrumental in the formation of the American Football League and in the AFL-NFL merger, which helped the National Football League grow into America's passion."
Upon his death his son Clark Hunt was named chairman of the Kansas City Chiefs. He was elected by his other three siblings, Lamar Jr., Sharron Munson, and Daniel.
In 2007, the Columbus Crew honored their founder and owner by displaying a commemorative Lamar Hunt emblem on the left chest of both the home and away jerseys. The emblem consisted of the initials "LH" within a circle. Prior to the 2008 season, the Crew announced that the "LH" emblem will be a permanent patch on the left sleeve of the club's jerseys.