There are many things in life that seem to be made for each other. They complement each other, and none could exist as effectively separately as against together. The media and sports relationship is one of those unique, long-living camaraderies around. While the former provides for the on-field action, the latter is the window through which the world can connect with.
The relation between the 2 entities can be viewed as a one-sided affair; with sports gaining the upper hand over media. But it is equally true that media thrives on sports as much as sports thrive on media.
Media and Sports Relationship Over the Years
Sports has been around for ages. However, it’s only in the last century that it has been documented as well. And while the meaning of the terms ‘media’ and ‘sports’ has become broader over the years; the purpose that they play for one another has not changed and probably never will.
History of Sports Journalism
The first-ever incidence of sports coverage came way back in 850 B.C.E after the Greek Homer wrote about a wrestling match between Ajax and Odysseus. In what was the first recorded instance of a wrestling draw, it was Achilles who lifted the hands of both the players.
The Greeks also fondly covered other sports like throwing and boxing. However, the ‘newspapers’ at that time, being expensive, were accessible only to the upper-class of society. This was also the reason why only the royal and the opulent class took an interest in playing sports.
It was only until Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press in the fifteenth century that the mass production of the newspaper was possible. Sports writing became prevalent in the mid-nineteenth century when the American writers started writing exclusively as sportswriters.
In fact, the first such lengthy article came in 1823, when the New York Evening Post published a story on boxing. Sports journalism began to grow rapidly after 1850 after the introduction of Baseball and the newfound interest for the team sports that it generated.
Newspapers like the New York Herald and Spirit of the Times were incessantly featuring more and more sports content in their newspapers. This trend rose in the late 1800s after the invention of Basketball and the sports’ subsequent rise in popularity. It is important to note here how media played the role of a proponent for the spread of sports.
As happens with many new trends, sports journalism also arrived late in India. The first sensational event in the country’s sports journalism history came in the late 1930s when a leading English daily of Bombay introduced a sports page in its publication.
And as it often happens with new things, this bold and ‘revolutionary’ step saw firm resentment by a section of the readers who did not have even a speck of interest in sports. Nonetheless, the sports page became so popular over the period of time that other leading media houses soon followed suit.
However, the media coverage was only in English, thus reaching only to a handful of Indian audiences based in the country’s metro cities. It again took significant time for the newspapers in the local language to include sports column in their publications.
History of Sports Broadcasting
With the rise of popularity of various sports, there arose a need to give fans live updates about the game. The humble newspapers were nice for the complete coverage and documentation of the various events, but it didn’t give the thrills of a live game.
Like any Indian cuisine that is best served hot, sports has to be consumed when it is live to enjoy it to the fullest extent. If not, all the suspense and the edge-of-the-seat moments were missed by the fans. The need for a media to cover the sporting event was needed more than ever.
This necessity was addressed in April 1921, in the unlikeliest media formats – Radio. The pioneer was a Pittsburgh -based Westinghouse station KDKA, who broadcasted a live radio commentary of a 10-round boxing match up. The first-of-its-kind occurrence was received very well by the general public.
Then, in August that year, the baseball match between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates was broadcast live from the Forbes Field. These two events helped to make live radio broadcasts more and more popular up until every sports team had live broadcasts of their own.
In India as well, it was the All India that took upon the responsibility of airing sports events live. However, unlike Baseball, it was hockey and cricket that received mass acceptance. And Radio broadcasts made for memorable experiences. No one can better explain this than our parents and grandparents.
Here is a short glimpse of Indian radio commentary:
Swarms of the crowd would assemble around the big, wooden devices, listening to every word that the commentator uttered. The suspense created by the silence of the speakers between crucial moments bought goosebumps to the ensemble, followed by a loud, joyous and raucous celebration after the victory. The media thus made for a thrilling sports following and huge community engagement centres.
Media and Sports Relationship in Today’s Age
Then with the prevalence of television sets, people started to drift away from the humble Radios. As the reach of television skyrocketed, its popularity also rose exponentially.
The broadcasters used this opportunity to televise commercials between intervals, making them rich. As a result, sports broadcasting rights became more expensive, making popular sports like football and cricket richer over the years.
According to the organization, only last year, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) sold the broadcasting rights for India’s domestic cricket series for a humongous ₹6,100 crores.
The English Premier League (EPL) is now multi-billion dollar football competition, courtesy of the massive sports-broadcasting deals it has signed over the years. In 2018, the cost of the televising rights crossed the $8 billion mark, making it the world’s richest league.
Online streaming is now expected to take television’s legacy forward, with the advantage of following live events on the go. Moreover, social media has enabled sports organizations to tell their stories directly to sports fans through various digital channels. Moreover, it is only the first time that the fans can get in touch with their favoured clubs.
All these developments in Media have turned sports into a profitable industry that it is today. With the changing dynamics of media, the relationship shared by the fans, clubs and the sports stars is also shifting.
It will be interesting to see how this multifaceted relationship between the two entities takes a turn in the future.
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