Sports, Media, and the Fans: The Business of Selling Sports
The relationship between sports and the media has evolved drastically thanks in part to the proliferation of electricity and its resulting technology. This relationship has now become the “defining commercial and cultural connection for both industries at the beginning of the 21st century. The media has transformed sports from an amateur pursuit into a hyper-commercialized industry, while sports have delivered massive audiences and advertising revenues to the media.”1 This symbiotic relationship has taken many shapes throughout the years, and each evolution in sports ...view middle of the document...
4 If not at the game, the only way for a fan to get results before the completion of games and subsequent coverage in the papers was to attend live “recreations” of games that were updated by a telegraph feed; these could involve megaphones and scoreboards or miniature fields with replaceable or adjustable pieces to keep the audience informed. Although Major League Baseball had a mutual relationship with the newspapers dating back to 1860 and had been providing in progress updates via telegraph to saloons as early as the 1890s5, there was a desire by the common fan to get results faster. This held true for other sports, and although seen as a threat to attendance at first, the perfect solution was the radio.
Sports on the Radio
While newspaper coverage of events during the 19th and 20th centuries was very colorful and well done, radio brought sports consumers a step closer to the action by allowing them to experience the live game second handedly rather than reading an after-the-fact report. However, the “earliest radio broadcasts had very little to do with sports, and hardly resembled radio as we know it today. Soon after pioneers like Guglielmo Marconi and Lee De Forest made “wireless speech” a reality, the search began to figure out how to use the new medium.”6 Although radio technology was spotty in the beginning due to a lack of development in machinery, this opened a massive untapped audience and it’s associated potential market. There was a need for new and interesting programming from a creative side, and although it was initially met with resistance from team owners due to fear of losing ticket sales, nothing would fill this new medium better than live sports due to its natural blend of information and entertainment. The first radio broadcasts of major sporting events were the Jack Dempsey-Georges Carpentier heavyweight fight in July 1920, then baseball’s World Series between the New York Yankees and New York Giants the following year (this was the first “Subway Series” between two New York teams, and was the Yankees first World Series appearance). 7
Two stations broadcast the 1921 World Series: KDKA in Pittsburgh and WJZ in Newark, New Jersey (somewhat of sister stations as they were both owned by Westinghouse). This was challenging for them because all the games in the series were played at the Polo Grounds in New York, far from their broadcasting locations. Due to this, KDKA and WJZ had accounts of the game relayed to them by phone from correspondents at the game. They would then “recreate” the game for the listeners over the airwaves as if it were live. No one paid any rights fees to broadcast the games, as radio had not yet discovered its true money machine potential. This was to change soon though, as Ford Motor Company would pay $100,000 to broadcast the games of the 1934 World Series.8 Today, just one 30-second World Series spot goes for more than $400,000.9
Radio stations across the country, especially KDKA in...