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sports broadcastingSports broadcasting, often abbreviated as “sportscasting,” is a multi-million dollar industry, both in the United States and all over the world. Sports broadcasting is the distribution of sporting events and information via mass media, most prominently through the medium of television, but also through radio and internet avenues. Basically, you’re experiencing sports broadcasting anytime you hear, read, or see something regarding sports through any type of media. If you’d like to learn more about sports broadcasting, this examination of sports in the media will expand your knowledge on the subject.

The History of Sports Broadcasting

Before sports broadcasting existed, people had to be present at a sporting event to experience it in any way. If you missed a game or match, you missed it, and there was no way to experience it after the fact unless somebody related the highlights to you verbally. In our modern world, where almost anything can become permanent through the use of technology, this kind of scenario is hard to imagine. But sports broadcasting was developed from verbal retellings of sporting events, which led to retelling on the radio, and eventually on television, culminating in the explosion of sports media we experience today.

The first recorded instance in America of what we know today as sportscasting occurred in 1911 in Kansas. A football game’s plays were recreated by a group of people who were learning about the previous play via telegraph. In a sense, this was the first time anyone experienced a sporting event ‘live’ without actually being present. The first radio broadcast of a sporting event took place ten years later in 1921 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the event was a boxing match. The first televised sporting event in history was the Summer Olympics held in 1936, and the first sporting event televised in the United States took place in 1939. It was a college baseball game between Columbia and Princeton universities. The first National Football League (NFL) television broadcast happened in 1939 as well, when the Brooklyn Dodgers played the Philadelphia Eagles. As the population of sporting events grew, so did the demand to see the games on television and hear them on the radio. Likewise, the increase in sports broadcasting led to a rise in the number of American citizens becoming interested in sports, and following specific teams and games. The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, better known today all over the world as ESPN, was established in 1979 as a basic cable channel focused exclusively on sports games, matches, and commentary. As most people are well aware, sports programming and information is widely available today, whether you’re looking to get your sports fix via the mediums of radio, television, the Internet, and even still, newspapers and magazines. Professional athletes reach a celebrity-like level of fame these days, winning endorsements from all kinds of companies and advertisers. A particular niche that sports broadcasting has infiltrated is the multi-million dollar video game market. Games that allow users to take on the role of professional sports players have skyrocketed in popularity in the last ten to twenty years.

Sports Broadcasting Technology

Broadcasting is a huge part of our lives these days, but few people know exactly how the process works. Broadcasting, which is defined as distribution of content (audio and video) to an audience through the means of a mass communication medium, can occur in many different forms, and is somewhat technically complicated. Most broadcasting mechanisms use electromagnetic radiation to distribute audio and video information through a communication medium.

Some people may be familiar with the term ‘analog broadcasting.’ In the early days of broadcasting, the distribution of content was accomplished using analog transmission. Analog transmission involves carrying audio and video information through one of many kinds of cables, for example a fiber-optic cable. In the modern era, most sports broadcasting falls under the category of digital broadcasting, using the methods of digital transmission. Digital transmission carries audio and video information through a number of different avenues, including copper wires, wireless channels, and computer buses. Data is received in the form of electromagnetic signals. A lot of sports broadcasting is also accomplished via wireless broadcasting, which is a method of data communication that does not involve an electrical conductor of any kind. As you can see, the methods by which we broadcast sports have changed a great deal since the introduction of sports broadcasting into the lives of the American public.

In addition to the different realms of broadcasting (analog, digital, and wireless), there are several different methods of broadcasting that can be used to convey sports information, or live sporting events, from one location to another. These methods include telephone broadcasting, radio broadcasting, television broadcasting, satellite broadcasting, and webcasting. Telephone broadcasting involved listening in on live events, usually of a musical or concert variety, using a telephone. Radio broadcasting involved, and still does involve, sending audio signals through the air, from one antenna to another, from a transmitter to a receiver. Television broadcasting originally maintained the same methods as radio broadcasting, expanding the methods to include sending video waves along with audio waves. Satellite broadcasting sends information from a transmitter to a receiver by way of bouncing that information off of satellites above the atmosphere. Webcasting uses wireless capabilities to broadcast audio and video content. Content can be downloaded to a computer or streamed from one computer to another in real time. Today, the most popular sports broadcasting methods are those of television, satellite, and webcasting. Radio is still a prominent method of sports broadcasting, but its usage pales in comparison to the amount of people who rely on televisions and computers for information about their favorite sports, teams, and events.

Sports Broadcasting Networks

Only a few decades ago, there were a select few sports broadcasting television networks and channels. The first sports network was called SportsChannel, and it began broadcasting in 1977, two years before ESPN was introduced. Today, there are hundreds of sports broadcasting networks. Some focus on a specific sport, some focus on college athletics, some focus on national sports leagues, and some focus on the local sports scene. Apart from broadcasting live sporting events, these networks often broadcast talk shows, sports commentary, and sometimes, films on the subject of different sports. Live sporting events are broadcast by these networks on television, radio, and the Internet, accompanied by the commentary and narration of sports broadcasters, including those whose voices convey the progress of the game, and those who act as sports reporters, interviewing both coaches and athletes before, during, and after the game. In the United States, there are numerous sports broadcasting networks, including ESPN, the Golf Channel, the Ski Channel, the Tennis Channel, the NFL Network, the NHL Network, the MLB Network, NBA TV, and even the World Fishing Network. Huge television networks that broadcast all kinds of content usually have a separate sports component of their broadcasting. These networks include NBC, CBS, and Fox.

Sports broadcasting networks are showing sports content twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week, most of it new and including up to the minute information on particular games, scores, teams, players, draft picks, and playoff and championship games. ESPN, for example, has a varied list of sports programs that address sports news and analysis. These include: Baseball Tonight, College GameDay, Midnight Madness, Sunday NFL Countdown, NFL Primetime, NBA Coast to Coast, SportsNation, Winners Bracket, and, perhaps most famously, SportsCenter.

In addition to these sports broadcasting networks, available as part of most cable television packages, sports fans can pay for additional packages, such as NFL Sunday Ticket, which allows viewers to watch every National Football League game for each week of the season.

Notable Sports Broadcasters

With the popularity of sports broadcasting comes the popularity of specific sports broadcasters, whose personalities often make them famous in their own right. After retirement, many professional athletes go on to participate in the world of sports broadcasting, often lending their expertise to discussions of particular teams and specific players in their league. The most famous example of such a story is the career of John Madden. After playing in the National Football League, Madden became a head coach to the Oakland Raiders, leading the team to a Super Bowl victory. He then went on to work as a football commentator and analyst for the sports channels of CBS, Fox, ABC, and NBC. He held these positions from 1979 until 2008. He also endorsed the hugely popular football video games, which share his last name. He was involved in the creation of the game, and the sports broadcaster in the game is voiced by Madden himself. There are several different editions of the game, as the first one was released in 1989. Madden is considered one of the most successful sports video games ever created.

Other famous sports broadcasters include: Terry Bradshaw for CBS and Fox, Joe Buck for Fox, Troy Aikman for Fox, Tim Brant for ABC, and Joe Theismann for the NFL Network.

Sports broadcasting is a huge component of the current media world, with almost every major cable network dedicating a specific channel, or group of channels, to popular sporting events. A recent example of such is NBC’s near-constant coverage of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Becoming familiar with the world of sports broadcasting will allow you to learn more about a specific sport or team, and enable you to enjoy your favorite sporting events through the avenue of mass communication media, such as television, radio, and the Internet.

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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