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Sports television

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Sports television

The broadcasting of sports events is the coverage of sports as a television program, on radio and other broadcasting media. It usually involves one or more sports commentators describing the events as they happen.


United States

In 1911, more than 1,000 people gathered in downtown Lawrence, Kansas to watch a mechanical reproduction of the 1911 Kansas vs. Missouri football game while it was being played. A Western Union telegraph wire was set up direct from Columbia, Missouri. A group of people then would announce the results of the previous play and used a large model of a football playing field to show the results. Those in attendance cheered as though they were watching the game live, including the school's legendary Rock Chalk, Jayhawk cheer.[1]

The first voice broadcast of a sporting event took place on 11 April 1921 when Westinghouse station KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania broadcast a 10-round, no decision boxing match between Johnny Dundee and Johnny Ray at Pittsburgh’s Motor Square Garden.[2] Prior to that, an experimental telegraph broadcast of the 1919 Lone Star Showdown was held on Thanksgiving Day of that year on experimental station 5XB, the predecessor of WTAW.[3]

The first radio broadcast of a baseball game occurred on 5 August 1921 over KDKA from Pittsburgh's Forbes Field. Harold W. Arlin announced a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies. Two months later, on 8 October 1921, from the same Forbes Field, Arlin announced the first live radio broadcast of a college football game on KDKA when he gave the play-by-play action of the University of Pittsburgh victory over West Virginia University.

On 17 May 1939, the United States' first televised sporting event, a college baseball game between the Columbia Lions and Princeton Tigers, was broadcast by NBC from Columbia's Baker Field.[4][5] (The world's first live televised sporting event had been the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.[6]) On 30 September 1939, the first American football game, a college contest between Fordham and Waynesburg College was broadcast on television.[7] The first nation-wide broadcast of college football, which was also the first live sporting event seen coast-to-coast, was a game between Duke University and the University of Pittsburgh that was televised by NBC on 29 September 1951.[8] The broadcasting of college football games on television in the United States has been a fixture of the major networks on a continuous basis since that time. The NCAA severely restricted broadcasts of college football from the 1950s until a judge ruled that the action was a violation of antitrust rules in 1982, which allowed for a much greater expansion of college football broadcasting.

NBC broadcast the first televised National Football League (NFL) game when they carried the 22 October 1939 game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Brooklyn Dodgers. The same year, the first nationwide radio broadcast of an NFL championship game was carried on the Mutual Broadcasting System. While the NFL had weak television deals that ranked behind college football and even the Canadian Football League in the 1950s, the broadcast rights of the NFL would go on to become an important property following the 1958 NFL Championship and the later establishment of the American Football League in 1960. Monday Night Football, NFL on Fox, and NBC Sunday Night Football have changed the landscape of American football broadcasts, including the scheduling of the Super Bowl, transforming it into a primetime spectacle from an afternoon broadcast. The price for the NFL's broadcast rights has increased steadily over the past several decades, in part because of bidding wars between the numerous networks and the fear of losing stature due to the loss of NFL programming; as of the most recent contract the league nets annual fees of over $5 billion, or half of the league's overall revenue, from television rights alone. Four of the five major sports television units in the United States, and the four companies that control all of the major broadcast networks, currently own some NFL rights.

NBC also broadcast an NHL game in 1940; the league would briefly air games in the 1950s, but due to a dispute over how much of the rights fee money the players would receive (and difficulties programming around the two Canadian teams in the league at the time), the NHL refused to televise its games in the United States for six years in the 1960s. For this reason, as well as the regional nature of the sport, televised NHL games have struggled to gain a foothold on American television for the past several decades, trailing the other leagues in ratings. After several decades of bouncing around various networks (and a stretch from 1975 to 1994 when the league had no permanent broadcast partner), the NHL established a stable broadcast partner in 2004, when NBC and what was then Outdoor Life Network (since renamed OLN, Versus, and now NBC Sports Network) took over NHL broadcast rights, having since renewed those rights through 2021.

The first ever television broadcast of a basketball game occurred on 28 February 1940 when the University of Pittsburgh defeated Fordham at Madison Square Garden on NBC station W2XBS.[9] Professional basketball has been aired on television since 1953, shortly after the founding of the National Basketball Association, and has been aired on television ever since. College basketball, on the other hand, was much later in gaining a television foothold. Although the NCAA Tournament has aired since 1962, it was not until the mid-1970s that regular-season college basketball games would air on major network television.

Outside of the networks, the only other source for national sports television was through early syndication networks. Sports Network Incorporated (SNI), later renamed the Hughes Television Network, carried Cleveland Browns (NFL) games in the 1950s and NHL games in the late 1970s, after the NHL lost its contract with NBC. TVS Television Network helped popularize the broadcasts of college basketball and also gave an outlet to the short-lived World Football League. Mizlou Television Network earned a reputation for carrying a large number of college football bowl games in an era when televised college football was highly restricted.

The debut of ESPN in 1979 revolutionized the broadcasting of sports events. Within several years of ESPN's founding as a basic cable channel, it had developed a stable of sports broadcasts ranging from major leagues to oddities. ESPN has since grown into a massive multiplexed network, with several channels and a large news bureau that has led to the network bestowing the title of "Worldwide Leader in Sports" upon itself. Cable, and later digital cable and satellite, greatly expanded the number of channels (and, by extension, the room for broadcasting sports events) available on a given set, and also gave channels such as ESPN the ability to broadcast direct and nationwide, as opposed to dealing with local affiliates. Syndication networks gave way to regional sports networks, which carried broadcasts of local sports on a far greater scale than full-service broadcast stations could provide at the time; these combined with out-of-market sports packages (which debuted in the 1990s) allowed the carriage of these networks' sporting events across the country. However, with the increased availability of sports to broadcast came increasing rights fees, which could be recovered by the newly authorized practice of collecting retransmission consent fees from cable subscribers, which has led to numerous disputes and the dropping of channels from cable lineups. Individual leagues began launching their own networks in the 2000s; specialty networks of other sports have had varying levels of success.

The Internet has also allowed greater broadcasting of sports events, both in video and audio forms and through free and subscription channels. With an Internet broadcast, even a locally broadcast high school football game can be heard worldwide on any device with an audio output and an Internet connection. Individual leagues (including major ones) all have subscription services that allow subscribers to watch their sporting events for a fee.

United Kingdom

The first sports event broadcast in the United Kingdom was a Rugby Union international between England and Wales, broadcast from Twickenham in January 1927. Two weeks later the first broadcast of a football match took place, with the BBC covering Arsenal's league fixture against Sheffield United at Highbury. Listeners to the broadcast could use numbered grids published in the Radio Times in order to ascertain in which area of the pitch the action was taking place due to a second commentator reading out grid references during the match.[10]

The United Kingdom saw the first live television broadcast of a football match, with the BBC showing a specially arranged fixture between Arsenal and Arsenal Reserves on 16 September 1937.


Broadcasting of sports started with descriptions of play sent via telegraph in the 1890s. In 1896, a telegraph line was connected to the Victoria Rink in Montreal to update fans in Winnipeg of the Stanley Cup challenge series between Montreal and Winnipeg ice hockey teams. In 1923, the first radio broadcast of an ice hockey game took place on 8 February, with the broadcast of the third period of a game between Midland and North Toronto of the Ontario Hockey Association.[11] Later that month, the first full-game broadcast took place in Winnipeg. That same season, hockey broadcasting pioneer Foster Hewitt made his first broadcast.[12]

In 1933, Hewitt called a Canada-wide radio broadcast of an NHL game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Always starting the broadcast with "Hello, Canada, and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland!"; this phrase stuck around (albeit without the "Newfoundland" portion after the dominion confederated into Canada in 1949) all the way to CBC's first national television broadcast (the first actual broadcast was on closed-circuit in Maple Leaf Gardens in Spring 1952) of Hockey Night in Canada in October 1952. Today it is consistently among the highest-rated programs in Canada.

Broadcasting of the Canadian Football League has been a fixture of Canadian television since the CBC's debut in 1952. From 1962 (one year after the debut of CTV) through 2007, there were two separate CFL contracts: one for CBC, and one for CTV (or a sister channel such as cable outlet TSN). Terrestrial television broadcasts of CFL games ended in 2008, when TSN acquired exclusive TV rights to the league.

American sports broadcasts are widely available in Canada, both from Canadian stations and from border blasters in the United States. In order to protect Canadian broadcasters' advertising, broadcast stations can invoke simultaneous substitution: any cable or satellite feed of an American station broadcasting the same program as a Canadian broadcast station must be blacked out and replaced by the Canadian feed. This rule is part of the reason the NFL, which is broadcast on terrestrial television in the United States but has only a token presence in Canada, is also broadcast on terrestrial TV in Canada, while the CFL no longer is (the CFL is broadcast only on cable in the United States); the simultaneous substitution benefits are not extended to cable stations. For the purposes of regional sports broadcasting, the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Raptors both claim all of Canada as their "territory," allowing Blue Jays and Raptors games to be broadcast nationwide.

Broadcasting rights and contracts

Broadcasting rights and contracts limit who can show footage of the event.

In the United Kingdom BSkyB based its early marketing largely on its acquisition of the broadcast rights of the top division of the English league football, which as part of the deal with The Football Association broke away from The Football League to become the Premier League. This prevented the footage of any major Premier League football game being shown on free-to-air television until much later that evening (as highlights), something the European Commission were very unhappy about. Following warnings of legal action to stop the monopoly, an announcement was made that an alternative structure would be in place when the contract ended in 2007.[13]

In the United States, sports are broadcast by networks usually only in "game of the week" or championship situations, except for the NFL (see NFL on television). Other sports are broadcast by sports channels, and are limited by who can view them based on various rules set by the leagues themselves, resulting in blackouts. These limitations can be legally overlooked by purchasing out-of-market sports packages, such as MLB Extra Innings or NFL Sunday Ticket. Regular season games involving local teams (except the NFL) may also be viewed on those local stations or regional sports channels that have a contract to broadcast that team's games.

TV Rights of the UEFA Champions League, per country. Season 2009-2010, according to FootBiz.[14]

  • United Kingdom: €179 million
  • Italy: €98 million
  • Spain: €91 million
  • Germany: €85 million
  • France: €52 million
  • Croatia: €28 million
  • Greece: €8.5 million
  • Poland: €8.1 million
  • North America: €3.5 million
  • Belgium: €2.9 million
  • Australia: €2.9 million
  • Ireland: €2 million
  • Canada: €0.4 million
  • Cyprus: €0.2 million

Protected events

In the UK, the regulations set out in the Ofcom Code on Sports and Other Listed and Designated Events dictate that some sporting events must have coverage made available to free-to-air channels. "Category A" events, including the Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup and Cricket World Cup should be available live, while "Category B" events such as all test cricket played in England and the Commonwealth Games should be available as highlights or with a short delay.

A similar concept applies in Italy (law 8/99) and Australia (anti-siphoning law) to some important sport events.

Major sports broadcasts

Events that have been described as "the most watched" per various definitions include the FIFA World Cup, Summer Olympic Games, Cricket World Cup, UEFA Champions League, Tour de France, Rugby World Cup (rugby union), Indian Premier League, Super Bowl, and the FIA Formula One World Championship.

Broadcasters by country

United Kingdom

The British media is dominated by national outlets, with local media playing a much smaller role. Traditionally the BBC played a dominant role in televising sport, providing extensive high-quality advertisement free coverage and free publicity in exchange for being granted broadcast rights for low fees. ITV broadcast a smaller portfolio of events, and Channel 4 broadcast a few events from the 1980s, mainly horse races and so-called minority sports. In the early 1990s this arrangement was shaken up by the arrival of pay-TV in the form of BSkyB. Their dedicated sports channels have since become the only place for some major sports to be seen. Starting in 2006 the Irish company Setanta Sports emerged as a challenger to Sky Sports' dominance of the British pay-TV sports market; however, Setanta's UK channel went into bankruptcy administration and off the air in 2009. There is also a dedicated UK-version of Eurosport, called British Eurosport, as well as a dedicated UK version of ESPN.

Radio sports coverage is also important. BBC Radio 5 Live broadcasts almost all major sports events. It now has a commercial rival called Talksport, but this has not acquired anywhere near as many exclusive contracts as Sky Sports and dedicates much of its airtime to sports discussions and phone-ins. BBC Local Radio also provides extensive coverage of sport, giving more exposure to second-tier clubs which get limited national coverage.

Sports on television ranges through many broadcasters including the BBC, ITV, Sky Sports and BT Sport. Football and rugby are most popular.

United States

In the United States, national and local media both serve major roles in sports broadcasting. Depending on the league and event, telecasts are often shown on network television (traditionally on weekends and during major events — either national through a Television network, or in some cases, regionally syndicated by an operation such as Raycom Sports or a team), and nationally available cable channels (such as ESPN or Fox Sports 1). In some leagues (such as the NHL and the NBA), events are also primarily shown by regional sports networks groups (such as Fox Sports Networks), networks which air telecasts for teams of local interest, which are usually only carried within the relevant market. Additionally, cable channels also exist that are dedicated to specific types of sports, certain college sports conferences, or a specific league. Pay-per-view broadcasts are typically restricted to combat sports such as boxing, mixed martial arts or professional wrestling.

Radio broadcasts are extensive. The national leagues each have national network coverage of league high games in addition to local radio coverage originating with each team, with ESPN Radio and Dial Global controlling national rights to the major team sports and the motorsports circuits operating their own networks. Local radio broadcasts cover a wide variety of sports, ranging from the majors to local school and recreational leagues.

Internet broadcasts are also common, though college and major professional sports either use a pay wall or subscriber-based systems such as TV Everywhere to extract payment. Telephone broadcasts are rare, although a few companies provide the service.

Dedicated sports channels

There are sports channels that show sporting events, sports news, and various sport-related programming.[15]

In the United Kingdom

In the United States

National General Sports Networks:


Specialty Sports Networks:

College Sports Networks:

Regional Sports Networks:

High School Sports online Broadcasting

  • Audio Sports Online
  • Game Time Radio
  • High School Cube
  • Ihigh
  • NetCast Sports Network (NCSN)

"'Online Broadcasting'"

  • the backfield

Some of the world's largest sports clubs have their own channels, or own shares in other sports networks. Examples include Yankees Entertainment and Sports and Manchester United TV. An example of the latter, the Boston Red Sox own a majority stake of the regional New England Sports Network which retains the New England area television broadcast rights for the majority of Red Sox games (except for the few which are carried nationally on Fox or ESPN and playoff games). The New York Mets own SportsNet New York jointly with Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and Madison Square Garden has its own network as well, where they broadcast original shows, New York Rangers, New York Knicks, and high school basketball games. In addition, the Big Ten Network is dedicated to airing teams from different collegiate sports in the Big Ten Conference, which holds joint ownership in the channel with Fox. The Longhorn Network, in which ESPN owns a stake, is even more specialized, designed as an outlet for the athletic program of the University of Texas at Austin (although it has also aired football games of the UT system's San Antonio campus).

See also


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