The History of Sports Broadcasting
Updated: May 2022
Whenever you turn on the television to watch your favorite sporting event, there’s always a slew of reporters and professionals discussing what’s going on, whether they are the play-by-play announcers, the color analysis, the sideline reporters, or the talent in the main studio chiming in to throw in their two cents. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in sports broadcasting, there has never been a better time than now. Today more and more sports channels are coming to fruition, so instead of just a handful of options, there are now sports broadcasters for almost every professional and college team, not to mention radio broadcasts as well. Understanding how Sports Broadcasting began, and where this field stands now could be key to your future role and how you prepare to land your job in this ever-changing field.
The Beginning of Sports Broadcasting
Sports broadcasting started in 1911 in Lawrence, Kansas. One evening, around 1,000 people gathered together in order to watch a reproduction of the Kansas vs. Missouri football game, all while the game was being played live in Missouri. To do this, Western Union set up a telegraph wire in Columbia, Missouri, the location of the game where the game was actually being played. After each play, several people in Missouri would announce what just happened and mapped it out using a model of a football field. This information was telegraphed back to those waiting in Lawrence, Kansas. This proved to be the first step into the larger world of sports broadcasting as we know it today.
An experimental radio broadcast through telegraph took place in 1919 in Dallas, Texas, however, it wasn’t completely live. Instead, it was more of a radio announcer located in Dallas who received telegraphs, which would then call out the events as if he were right there.
The First Voice Sports Broadcast
In 1921, the first voice broadcast took place on April 11th. The Westinghouse station KDKA, located in Pittsburgh, broadcast a live radio announcement of a 10-round boxing match up. Later, in August of the same year and also in Pittsburgh, a baseball game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies was broadcast from Forbes Field. The first college football live radio broadcast took place in October, with the calling of the University of Pittsburgh against West Virginia University. From that year on, live radio broadcasts became more and more popular until every single sports team had its own live broadcasts. calling games over the radio.
Live Sports Broadcast
Live sports didn’t hit the television screens until May 17, 1939, in the United States. This was a college baseball game between the Princeton Tigers and the Columbia Lions. This baseball game was broadcast by NBC. Now, it is important to realize though that one previous live sporting event did take place, although not in the United States. Although The 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin was broadcast inside of Germany, at the time, in the late 1930s, very few individuals actually had televisions.
By September of 1939, the first college football game was broadcast over live television, pitting Waynesburg College against Fordham. These different live television sporting events were only broadcast live in the individual markets, as the necessary technology was not yet available for live, coast-to-coast broadcasts. This didn’t happen until September 29, 1951, when a game between the University of Pittsburgh and Duke was broadcast across the entire country. The NCAA did not want special treatment to be given to teams due to broadcast rights though, so it restricted broadcasting college football heavily until a judge struck down this rule in 1982. Once this decision came about was handed down, sports broadcasting for college football took off like wildfire.
Professional Sports Broadcasts
Professional sports expanded faster than college sports. though. The first NFL game hit the airways in 1939 between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Brooklyn Dodgers. The NFL championship game was broadcast over radio waves for the first time that year as well. The NFL continued to build in popularity through the 1960s and it has become one of the most valuable brands in the world, bringing in over $5 billion in television broadcast revenue annually. now.
The NHL hasn’t had as much success so far, but this had more to do with disputes between the players over how much they should receive from television deals, so hockey games were not televised for a full six-year span until the 1960s. This is also a major reason why the NHL is not as popular of a sport today, mainly because by the time the NHL decided to agree to terms, the NFL and Major League Baseball had already landed television deals, and with only three or four television stations, it did not leave much room for hockey to break back into the broadcast sporting scene.
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