Sports entertainment in America has a long and storied history. Beginning with the earliest professional leagues like Major League Baseball, the ways in which people enjoy watching sports have changed a great deal over the past century.
The sports market has expanded beyond all initial expectations, providing viewers with live content in hundreds of different activities. Lindsay Guion, a sports entertainment professional, describes the history of sports entertainment and how it has changed over the past decades.
Professional Sports in History
Sports have a lengthy history in Western culture. The earliest professional sports were the gladiator contests in the ancient Roman empire. Conceived as a way to keep the populace entertained and to keep their attention away from the affairs of government, gladiators were celebrities in their own right. They were well-trained and lived comfortable lives outside of the arena, even though the risk of serious injury or death followed each contest.
Soccer became popular as a professional sport in the 1800s. The oldest surviving professional sports team is the Melbourne Football Club, an Australian team. Sports took advantage of the greater leisure time associated with the Industrial Revolution. More people had time off and the disposable income to spend attending matches for their favorite teams. With the advent of the telegraph, newspapers were able to communicate the results of the most recent sports contests. This enabled people to follow their favorite teams from different places around the country.
Professional Sports in America
Professional sports in America began with baseball. The first professional league was begun in 1871. As leagues rose and fell throughout the later decades of the 1800s and into the 1900s, two remained: the National League and the American League. These leagues went on to be known as Major League Baseball.
Major League Baseball adopted the playoff structure that is still in use today, with the teams with the best records competing in the playoffs and the winners from each league winning the “pennant” and going on to play in the World Series, a best-of-seven contest. While there have been extra layers added to the playoff system, fans and players alike respect the history of the sport.
Professional basketball also began in the 1920s. Basketball was first played in 1891. Professional leagues began to form in the 1920s. The National Basketball Association was founded in 1949.
Football took longer to catch on as a professional sport. In the 1920s, professional football took a back seat to college leagues. The game did not gain traction on the national scene until the 1930s.
The consolidation of the existing professional leagues into the National Football League brought the sport to greater prominence. The NFL was the first professional league to expand from coast to coast with the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers in the 1940s and 50s.
Sports and the Media
Throughout American sports history, the newspaper was an important source of play-by-plays, scores, and standings. Games were first broadcast on the radio in the 1920s. The popularity of the radio analysts and color commentators helped to bring more attention to the sport. Professional sports leagues have grown along with their broadcast methods, and came to dominate the airwaves.
When people could listen to faraway games on the radio, they were able to keep up with their favorite teams in a much more engaging fashion than by simply reading statistics in the newspaper. Through radio broadcasts, listeners could picture the action on the field.
Television became an important part of the sports entertainment world in the 1930s. The first televised sporting event in the world was the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. The first televised NFL football game was played in October of 1939. Due to the slower adoption of television as opposed to radio, televised sports did not make a large impact until the 1950s and 1960s when most American households had television sets.
Television coverage came to shape sporting contests, particularly where the playoffs were concerned. Due to television’s growing stature, games like the Super Bowl were moved from daytime games to primetime spectacles.
Modern Changes to the Media Landscape
Until the 1980s, most sports were played on network television. Since there were only a few networks, many games were never televised. The advent of cable and pay-TV allowed many more games to be played in the public eye.
Local and regional sports networks enabled regional teams to reach a wider audience. Premium cable networks like the New England Sports Network or NESN and the Yankees Entertainment System or YES are owned by the baseball teams, and they provide sports viewers with unprecedented access to their favorite teams.
The Rise of Streaming
With streaming media, sports fans are able to watch a wide variety of contests from the convenience of their smartphones or laptops. The professional sports leagues and networks sell packages which provide dozens of games per day. Having games available on mobile platforms means that sports fans are able to take the excitement of the game with them wherever they go.
Streaming media also lets sports fans keep up with scores, statistics, and highlights from the day’s games. The rise of mobile sports entertainment has also played into the success of fantasy leagues, where viewers select the players they want to have on their virtual “team”.
Connecting Viewers with Sports
The modern media landscape has made it possible for sports fans from around the country to follow their favorite teams, even if they are located far away. True sports fans are able to take advantage of a wide variety of media options to see the games they care about.
The history of professional sports in America has been enhanced by the media and by sports entertainment. Lindsay Guion reminds viewers to take advantage of the many ways that sports entertainment can give them a better picture of their favorite teams and athletes.