The History of Sports Broadcasting


In 2010, it seems like sports broadcasts have been around forever. But the reality is we're still inside the first 100 years of what has become a staple of the modern world. Today, high-profile sports broadcasters are as famous as the athletes themselves, and the best broadcasts help define the dramatic moments in sports that have become iconic moments in history.

The first broadcasts

  • Obviously, the earliest sports broadcasts were on the radio. In the early 1920s, radio broadcasts of sporting events brought people from far away inside the gates for the first time. In September 1920, the first boxing radio broadcast allowed fans to hear Jack Dempsey knock out Billy Miske, followed in November by the first radio college football game between Texas University and the Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M). 1921 saw the first radio broadcasts of Major League Baseball and the World Series, as well as the first broadcast of Davis Cup tennis.

The Advent of TV

  • It was not even two full decades before television began to make its mark on sports broadcasting. In May 1939, the first televised sporting event was a college baseball game between Columbia and Princeton on NBC, followed soon after by the first Major League Baseball and National Football League games in August and October, respectively.

ESPN & Cable TV

  • When ESPN took to the air in the 1970s, sports broadcasting was changed forever. It paved the way for 24-hour coverage of sports from around the world, allowing niche sports to gain ground against the traditionally popular American sports. Today, endless highlight shows, draft coverage, documentaries, increased popularity for sports like soccer and lacrosse, the X-Games, and even poker on TV can all be traced to ESPN and cable TV.

Beyond Sports

  • Sometimes, sporting events end up transcending sports. Legendary sportscaster Jim McKay had to utter the words "They're all gone" when anchoring ABC's coverage of the 1972 Munich Olympics and the murder of Israeli athletes. The "Do you believe in miracles?" call from Al Michaels at the end of the U.S. upset of the Soviet ice hockey team at the 1980 Olympics is as synonymous with Cold War lore as it is with hockey. And images like President George W. Bush throwing a perfect strike at the 2001 World Series in New York and American athletes carrying a torn flag rescued from Ground Zero at the 2002 Olympics helped America grieve and heal from a dark day.

Modern advances

  • Because of modern advances such as pay-per-view (PPV) TV, the Internet, and high-definition television, sports broadcasting has taken even bigger leaps forward. PPV broadcasts of mixed martial arts helped that sport grow into a global power, the Internet has spawned even greater access to highlights and events in all sports at all levels around the world, and high-definition television allows audiences to see and hear the sights and sounds from sporting events almost as clearly as if they were actually there.

Legends in the field

  • Many pioneers in sports braodcasting have been honored by individual sports and by entities such as the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame. For instance, the 2009 class of the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame included Dick Enberg and Keith Jackson, and individuals like Johnny Most and Harry Caray have received awards like the Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Trustees of the Basketball Hall of Fame and the The Ford C. Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame, respectively.

Most watched events

  • Soccer, the Super Bowl, the Olympics and auto racing are among the most watched sporting events every year. For example, the FIFA World Cup final was the most watched sporting event in 2006, with an average audience of 260 million and more than 600 million watching at least part of the game, while the New Orleans Saints February 2010 Super Bowl victory became the most-watched show in U.S. history with an average audience of 106.5 million.

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