Media and Sports: A Brief History

By Tom Donelson
Updated: January 29, 2009

IOWA CITY — 30 years ago, the networks dominated sports broadcasts and whatever sports that were shown; were shown on ABC, NBC and CBS. Today, sport broadcasting is diversified among various forms of PPV, special sports networks and various cable outlets.

Most sports see their product televised on cable, not network. NBA and baseball have more of their games broadcast over cable networks; not the major networks.

Only football still broadcast the majority of their games through the major networks, but this is starting to shift as the NFL is broadcasting games through their own networks.

Individual sports like boxing, Tennis, Golf and Mixed Martial Arts are dealing with the brave new world of television broadcasting. Boxing and Tennis have seen slippage of popularity and no longer command ratings whereas Golf popularity rests on the shoulder of Tiger Woods.

The new world of broadcasting have allowed the introduction of new sports like the X games and Mixed Martial Arts reach new audiences; these sports have challenged the popularity of other sports.

Tennis still has contracts with cable networks like ESPN plus they established their own network. The Master series and the four majors are featured on cable as well as the Tennis Channel for the more hard core fans.

The separate network allows the hardcore fans to keep up with their favorite sports whereas ESPN coverage covers the major stars for the more casual fans.

Golf, like Tennis, has their own network plus Golf have the advantage of having one of the most charismatic stars in Tiger Woods. The Networks still televise many of the bigger golf tournaments whereas cable networks and Golf Channel often covers the early rounds.

When Woods is still in contention on the final days, Golf broadcasting often sees peak ratings. (Conversely, when Woods is not in the hunt, the ratings slip.)

Boxing have seen much of its popularity slip toward secondary status and now faces new challenges; including competing with Mixed Martial Arts. Bad promotional strategy and the rise of competing sanctioning bodies have diluted the various championship belts and served to prevent match ups of top elite fighters due to various rules and regulations.

Mixed Martial Arts are going through their own growing pains as various organizations have failed just like XC elites and International Fight League but overall popularity have increased as the sport have reached key demographics like males 18-35.

UFC is the king of the Mixed Martial Arts and have used various strategies to improve its position. PPV combined with broadcast on channels like Versus have grown their market share.

Elite XC attempted to team up with Showtime and CBS to push their version of MMA but the Elite XC business model could not compete with UFC.

Each of these sports have adapted to the new world of sports to keep its hard core fans while trying to expand market shares. Boxing’s problems are less than what happens in the ring but happens outside as sanctioning bodies have stood as major obstacles for marketing the sports.

Tennis and Golf have organized bodies that set rules for the sports while designing marketing strategy that has kept the sports in the spot lights.

The brave new world of broadcasting has done one thing, made television viewing more democratic.

Every Saturday, football fans have multiple choices in watching college football and college basketball; and if they don’t like the choices; there are various extra packages.

The NFL still controls their products with local broadcasting but Direct TV packages allow fans to watch any game or games. The NFL network gives the hardcore fans a chance to see football 24/7 all year long.

There was a time that the networks controlled what fans watched when it came to sports but in today’s sport world, cable networking have given more choices to sport fans. With the advent of advance computers, fans can keep up with their favorite sports or teams.

Sport broadcasting has increased options for a public.