THE BUSINESS OF SPORT: Part II
A The Thrill of Victory; the Agony of Defeat@ B ABC= s famous Wide World of Sports introduction
A People can= t learn to watch baseball that way, they= re just learning to watch television@ B Roy Eisenhardt, owner of the Oakland Athletics, lamenting that baseball scores cause television viewers to change channels when they don= t like the score. (1983).
Jay Hanna A Dizzy@ Dean of Chickalah, Oklahoma, Baseball Hall of Famer and voice of CBS= s 1950s and 1960s Game of the Week, upon hearing that St Louis school teachers were upset with his use of improper syntax during his broadcasts: A Sin tax? Are the jokers in Washington puttin= a tax on that, too?@
"High Commissioner: Pete Rozelle"
"Abbott and Costello, 'Who's on First?'" (Six Minutes)
Names/Terms to Know
Roone Arledge; blackout rule; television superstation
Sample Test Questions
How did television impact professional football?
What was the importance of Monday Night Football to the average American family?
How has the proliferation of cable and satellite television impacted American sports?
What sports are hurt by television, and which ones have benefitted?
Why on earth is the Long Island-raised Roone Arledge so important a sports figure?
I. Before there was television
Before modern television, Americans read the newspaper to get out to the ballpark. Newspaper writers could bring a game played the day before to life for their loyal readers. Consider the prose of the great Grantland Rice. Most of us remember these famous words from Rice: A When the > great scorer= comes to write against your name he marks, not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.@
Rice wrote of the 1924 Notre Dame upset of Army in football:
Outlined against a blue grey October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction, and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden.
Writers such as Rring Lardner and Heywood Hale Broun could bring games to life by turning a hit into a A smash@ or turn the field into A turf.@ In the newspaper, Red Grange became the A Galloping Ghost,@ Frankie Frisch was the A Fordham Flash,@ Babe Ruth was the A Sultan of Swat.@
If you wanted to A watch@ a baseball game, you listened to your radio. There were many great radio announcers who became the A voice@ of a particular team. They made the team= s fans use the terms A we@ and A they@ when referring to the home team and their opponents. Ordinary fly balls, through inspired imaginations, became long drives to the warning track. Routine ground balls became wicked smashes that a shortstop snagged and fired to first, where the first baseman stretched and dug out a low throw to nip the batter. The great radio announcers of their day:
Red Sox - Curt Gowdy
Pirates - Bob Prince
Cardinals - Harry Caray A Holy cow!@ A Might be, could be, it is!@
Yankees - Mel Allen A How > bout that?@
Giants - Russ Hodges A The Giants win the pennant! the Giants win the pennant!@
Dodgers - Red Barber A Sittin= on the catbird seat.@
Tigers - Ernie Harwell
Brewers - Bob Uecker A Juuuust a bit outside@
LA Dodgers - Vin Scully (learned under Red Barber)
If a team was not carried on local radio, Western Union transmitted games over their wire, and you were welcome to hear a recreated game. Among recreated games, you could listen to WHO radio in Des Moines Iowa and hear radio jockey Ronald A Dutch@ Reagan A announce@ the Cubs.
There was money to be made for MLB from radio coverage of games. In 1934 Commissioner Landis accepted $100,000 from Ford to sponsor the World Series. In 1939 Gillette Safety Razor began a 32 year run sponsoring the World Series. Radio announcers were forbidden to mention the Hollywood celebrities who attended games so not to detract from the game itself. Announcers were not allowed to question umpire calls.
Owner William Wrigley of the Cubs (and chewing gum fame) believed that radio stimulated interest in baseball and increased attendance. At one time, seven different Chicago radio stations carried the Cubs (In 1949 all three Chicago TV stations carried the Cubs). Others disagreed. The Yankees, Giants and Dodgers collaborated from 1934 to 1939 to ban all radio accounts of their games, believing that coverage cut attendance. But by 1945, every team sold rights to radio broadcasts of their games. In the late 1940s, the St Louis Cardinal radio network totaled 120 radio stations.
In 1938, perhaps 2/3 of all Americans listened to Joe Louis knock out Max Schmeling of Germany in their heavyweight title match. As Malcolm X proclaimed, A Every negro boy old enough to walk wanted to be the next Brown Bomber.= @
II. The advent of modern television
In 1939, television and sports finally broke through. NBC televised a baseball game from Columbia University on May 17, 1939 when Columbia hosted Princeton. Station W2XBS carried the game. In August a baseball game from Ebbets Field between the Dodgers and Reds was televised by W2XBS to some 4000 TV sets in NYC. W2XBS carried the first college basketball game, first college football game, first professional football game, the first hockey game, first tennis match, and the first track meet, all between 1939 and 1940.
As television came of age in the 1950s, there was a bit of a sports slump in America. In baseball, America= s A national pastime@ lost millions in attendance at the ball park. It could have been the point shaving debacle in college basketball, or the dominance of the NY teams, the Yanks, Dodgers, and Giants, who seemed to own the World Series, it could have been the cheating scandal at West Point when virtually the entire football team was dismissed from the academy. Minor league baseball attendance fell from 42 million in 1949 to 15 million in 1957. There were 51 different minor leagues in 1949. 15 leagues folded by 1954. In 1970 there were only 20 separate minor leagues left. Major League Baseball TV coverage killed off minor league ball in Jersey City and Newark, New Jersey. The average attendance at a baseball game from 1948 through 1952 was not achieved again by MLB until 1978. That baseball failed to have resurgence when pro football became the hot commodity in the 1960s could have been a result of the seeming irrelevance of all sports or the relative slowness of baseball during the turbulent 1960 Vietnam era.
A good sample of the slump were the Boston Braves. When the team played for the World Series in 1948, they drew 1.5 million in attendance. In 1952 the team only drew 281,000, and the team earned only $40,000 in TV revenue for four years. When the team moved to Milwaukee in 1953, they did not allow television broadcasts of road games until 1962. The team drew a huge gate, setting new records, but it was feared TV coverage would not help revenue (because of the closeness of Chicago). When the team moved to Atlanta in 1966, the Brave TV revenue tripled immediately.
If Americans wanted to see sports on television in the 1950s, they watched roller derby, wrestling or boxing. Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer sponsored Wednesday night boxing, and Gillette brought you the A Cavalcade of Sports@ the Friday Night Fights, the most popular show of its day. By the 1960s these sports had begun to fade off television.
Baseball seemed to be made for the radio. But there was a place for television in sports, and it was in football.
III. Pete Rozelle discovers national television coverage
Football appears to have been the perfect game for television. The game and television grew up together in the 1960s, and the season culminated with a one game championship, now called the Super Bowl. The game has a fixed time limit, and normally runs around three hours long in its televised format. The action is fast paced, and the football big enough to be seen by the eye on the screen. With four downs and out, there is plenty of room for the commercial breaks to show up regularly without any missed action by the viewer.
Football and television had their marriage verified in December 1958 in the overtime NFL championship game when the Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants. With color telecasts to show colorful uniforms, instant replay, slow-mo, and plenty of time between plays for the fan to become as expert in what play ought to be called, the marriage was natural. Under young Commissioner Pete Rozelle, the NFL stood to make millions off of CBS by selling their product as one, not by selling rights individually. The NFL paid each team the same from the TV contract, thus insuring parity from the profits. By having home games blacked out, the league could insure large game attendances.
When the AFL was formed in 1960, the league hustled a contract with ABC to financially support the new league and allow it to compete with the NFL. The league later sold its games to NBC. Both CBS and NBC pushed their league affiliations hard. They even competed for viewers on Thanksgiving Day. Sunday afternoon was time for the male member of the American family to watch pro football. Both leagues refused to play on Saturdays so not to compete for viewers against college football with their loyal alumni, and they did not play on Friday night so not to compete with high school football.
In 1967, the war between the two leagues ended with a merger, and with a championship game which became known as the Super Bowl. All of it made for great TV. Super Bowl Sunday became the most watched TV sporting event every year.
ABC stayed in the football sweepstakes by controlling televised college games during the 1960s. It kept the network competitive in the sports business with the two more established networks. And ABC made the jump to pro football with its innovative Monday Night Football starting in 1970. The network enjoyed the privilege of televising the best match ups each week The show is currently the longest running prime time television series, but after 35 years, the MNF game will move to ESPN in 2006 because of ABC= s declining revenues. It remains to be seen whether ABC will discover what CBS and NBC found when they lost out on Sunday afternoon football contracts to other networks?
IV. The network= s valuable sports holdings.
The television networks may make their money on shows such as Lost, ER, Law and Order (all four of them) and CSI. But there= s a great deal of money to be made on televising certain sporting events, instead of letting the cable networks have all prime sporting shows.
ABC: Golf (including US and British Opens), NBA, Monday Night Football (network television= s longest running prime time program, but soon heading to ESPN in 2006), College Football (Big Ten, Big Twelve, Pac-10, ACC), Bowl Championship Series, NCAA basketball, Indianapolis 500
FOX: NFC football, NASCAR (Daytona 500 every other year), MLB Baseball
CBS: NCAA basketball and tournament, Golf (including the Masters), AFC football, College Football (Big East, SEC)
NBC: Arena Football; Golf, NASCAR (Daytona 500 every other year)(other races shared with TNT), Golf, Notre Dame football, 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympic Games, 2008 Summer Olympic Games
V. Notre Dame Football
The A Fightin= Irish@ of Notre Dame have probably the most storied college football program in the nation (sorry UT and UGA fans). For a minority in a predominantly Protestant America, Notre Dame football was a rallying point for Roman Catholics. The Irish have won thirteen national championships, the last in 1988. Placing academics above athletics, the Irish attended the Rose Bowl in 1924 and then did not play another bowl game until the 1969 Cotton Bowl. Thus their student athletes could take finals with the rest of the student body. The Irish have never belonged to a football conference, choosing instead to remain an independent since 1887. The university claims to play the toughest schedule in the nation (well, maybe, the toughest, since ND plays Navy every year and have not lost to the Midshipmen since 1963, when the Middies had a Heisman-winning quarterback named Roger Staubach). The Irish schedule normally includes games against several Big Ten teams such as Michigan, PAC-10 teams such as USC, SEC teams such as Tennessee, ACC teams such as Florida State, and Big East teams such as Boston College. Please don= t forget the Navy game.
These days you can see all Irish home football games courtesy of NBC Sports. While all other conferences have separate deals with the television networks to show all the teams in the conference, the Irish have their own network. Many Irish road games can be found on the networks or on cable. Why does Notre Dame rate its own network?
What has happened to the quality of Notre Dame football? Since 1998, their record is 39-32, from a school that has won better than 74% of all football games. They have lost seven straight bowl games, last winning in the 1993 Cotton Bowl.
VI. Roone Arledge
Sports Illustrated ranked Roone Arledge as the third most important figure in sports over the last 50 years. Time magazine ranked him in the 100 most influential Americans in the 20th century. He has been the head of ABC Sports, and before that he produced ABC= s Wide World of Sports. Arledge created Monday Night Football. He produced ten Olympic Games for ABC. Arledge eventually became president of ABC News, and he died in 2002.
Rader, Benjamin G. In Its Own Image: How Television Has Transformed Sports. New York: Free Press, 1984.