The Historic Relationship between Sport and Media

By Thomas Painter

Traditional and digital media have an ever-growing relationship with sport, but has this always been the case? Rowe (2004) describes sport and media as two complete opposite worlds, nevertheless part of the same invented traditions of the 1800s. Rowe suggests that whereas sport traditionally is physical and bodily performed; media in contrast is less physically dependent, and that the symbiotic relationship between the physical (sport) and symbolic (media) became dispensable in the last century.

It is important to understand the relationship between sport and media at the start, as they were once separated. Media coverage of sports was sparce until the middle of the 19th Century. Sowell (2008) argues that the introduction of national sports coverage began in 1849 when The Telegraph was used for the first time to provide coverage of a championship boxing match.

Although the radio was invented in 1894, it wasn’t used to broadcast sport until 1912, when Professor F.W. Springer started to create an experimental radio station where people could dial in to listen to a game of American football from the University of Minnesota. Following in 1921, the KDKA was responsible for broadcasting the first baseball game in Pittsburgh on 5th August, which followed the first official boxing match which was broadcasted on April 11th.

Live sports on television began on May 17th, 1939, when a Columbian baseball game at Baker Field was carried out by the National Broadcasting Company to over 400 sets that were capable of receiving the broadcasting signal.

When Sky Sports hit television screens in 1991, sport coverage was vastly different to the comprehensive, interactive viewing experience that is offered today. There were 26 live football matches on ITV, and only 9 and a half live matches shown on the BBC, as only the second half of England’s clash with Greece was shown. In the 2016/17 season Sky Sports showed 126 Premier League games and 127 EFL games.

In the modern day, digital media has grown a strong relationship with sport that has been built over the last century from traditional media. Gantz & Lewis (2014) have implied that due to advances in technology, lucrative transmission rights contracts and a responsive fanbase, sports are available 24/7 throughout the year on an ever-expanding selection of platforms, and that the use of these digital media platforms can be complementary and competitive, which is so important for growth and explains why both are so successful.

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