Media Made Sport: A History of Sports Coverage in the U.S. Robert McChesney Symbiotic relationship • Mass media & sports have a symbiotic relationship, relying on one another. Capitalism drives it all, says McChesney. • Sports – benefit from ‘enormous’ attention. • Media – benefit from sales (circulation and advertising) by covering sports. “The nature of the sport-mass media relationship has been distinctly shaped by the merging contours of American capitalism since the 1830s. On one hand, much of sport and virtually all of the mass media have been organized as commercial enterprises throughout this history. Many of the specific developments in the sport-mass media relationship can be fathomed only through the continual recognition that each of these institutions has been constituted of individual units first and foremost striving for economic profit in some level of competition with each other. On the other hand, sport emerges as an institution especially well suited culturally and ideologically, first, to the emerging capitalism of the century, and, second, – indeed, far more so– to the mature corporate capitalistic society of the twentieth century.” (pp. 49-50) Symbiotic • “Virtually every surge in the popularity of sports has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in the coverage provided by the media.” (p. 49) • And each surge was the result of increased penetration of media • Capitalism drives success (and relationship) between sports & the media. Both sides are striving for economic profits. Sports well-suited to U.S. capitalism • Sports were well-suited culturally and ideologically to the emerging capitalistic structure of 19th century America. • Sport also work well with ‘mature corporate capitalist’ society of 20th century. Media history (pre-1830s) • Most newspapers and magazines were published for small, wealthy audiences • Literacy rates gradually increased between 1770s-1830 • 1800-1830 – sharp increase in magazine publishing (several hundred new mags started) • Mags (and newspapers) not usually profitable at the time • Most mags linked to other professions & interests (often, political interests) • Publishers are also usually editors, managers and primary authors Early American sports magazines • 1st American sports magazine in the late 1820s. By 1835, seven more emerged. Only 2 would survive to 1835. • Dominant sports pubs – American Farmer & American Turf Register • At this time, sports considered vulgar and disreputable among more literate people. So more respectable sports, like horse racing. Boxing received less coverage b/c it appealed to lower classes. • Writers used pseudonyms to protect their real identities, their reputations. 1830s-40s • Dramatic social change • 1st wave of industrialization in Northeast • Cities swelled (from countryside & immigrants) • Reading public expanded • Interest in sports expanded • Spirit of the Times expanded circulation to 100,000 by 1850s. Mag covered boxing and worked to establish cricket as national game. When that failed, he sought to establish baseball as national game in 1850s. He helped establish rules and terminology for baseball. 1830s-40s • Birth of modern newspapers. Journalism not yet a real profession at this time. Modern in that advertising played big part in profits. • Decreased printing costs, expanding market. • Penny press emerged, as a result. Aimed at working class and middle-class. • Papers started to cover sports (boxing, horse racing and trotting races). Publishers, though, are not sure if sports are respectable enough to cover on its pages. Coverage is sporadic, seasonal and regional. Mostly horse racing and boxing. • Sensationalism use to sell papers. Coverage minor, though. 1840s-70s • Civil War helped introduce baseball, which emerged as pre-eminent sport. By 1869, first pro baseball league established. • Media coverage increased. Boxscores and other baseball stats created by journalists. Papers asserted health benefits of athletics. • Media’s tone changed – started to promote athletics as way to train for life. Extoled virtues of sport for American society. • Press worked to legitimize sports as a cultural institution. This undermined the Puritan legacy (of hostility) toward sports. 1880s-90s • Surge of interest. Surge of media coverage. • Social changes – industrialization, immigration, urbanization. U.S. transformed into industrial power. • Pro baseball entrenched as national spectator sport. • Boxing moved from bar brawls to organized bouts. • Golf and bicycling rose in popularity. 1880s-90s • Newspapers replaced magazines as primary medium. • Mags grew to 48 by 1890s. Police Gazette circulated 150,000 by 1880s. Spiked to 400,000 for some issues. • But newspaper circulation grew even quicker. Reasons: technology reduced cost of printing, city populations grew, expanding businesses needed way to reach customers. Ads accounted for 1/2 of newspaper revenue. • Sports could attract readers – and, thus, potential customers – for advertisers. • In 1883, Pulitzer created 1st sports department for NY World. • In 1895, Hearst started 1st sports section at NY Journal. • Sports journalism emerged as distinct genre. • Media advancements: Telegraph allowed for more timely sports info from all over the country. 1880s-90s cont’d • Sports departments and regular sports sections enhanced interest in sport. readers did not have to attend sports – or participate – to enjoy sports. Sports-media symbiotic relationship crystallizes. • The newly formed baseball writers association recognized this in 1887, writing: “All sides now recognize that their interests are identical. The reporters have found in the game a thing of beauty and a source of actual employment. The game has found in the reporters its best ally and most powerful supporter. 1900-18 • Sports consolidated position • By 1910, virtually every paper gave prominent play to major sporting events. • World Series started in 1903 (the last time the Cubs won the Series? :) • Sports popularized among WWI soldiers 1920s • Golden Age of Sports • Sports emerged as primary source of entertainment – thanks, perhaps, to increased coverage and to what may have also been the Golden Age of Sportwriting • Corporate capitalism established as political power • Newspapers declined but circulation grew by 25% • Corporate capitalism elevated advertising to primary mode of competition • Ads increased to 75% of newspaper revenues. Fuled the newspaper boom of ’20s. 1920s –newspaper trends 3 dominant editorial trends emerged • No. 1 – papers decreased hard news coverage and, instead, emphasized escapist and sensational stories to attract more readers. Sports fit into this idea perfectly. • 25% of all newspapers sold b/c of sports sections. 1920s – newspaper trends 3 dominant editorial trends emerged • No. 2 – Papers standardized presentation to reduce costs. • Wire services started. Syndicated material cheaper to run than staff copy. 1920s AP started sports dept. • Press agents wrote copy for free, but this was really PR. As much as 50-60% of all stories may have been generated by these press agents. • Sports promoters paid expenses to gain coverage – or even made payoffs for coverage. 1920s – newspaper trends 3 dominant editorial trends emerged • No. 3 – deemphasized strident political partisanship. Did not want to offend people based upon their political views. Sports was ‘safe’ ideologically. Did not antagonize. Sports led to civic boosterism as well. Increased coverage in ’20s • In 1880 – .04% of all editorial content addressed sports. • In 1900 – 4% • 1920s – 12 to 20% • Coverage was typically colorful and excitement. Created romance between sports and the public. • Writers – Grantland Rice, Paul Gallico, Damon Runyon. Cliché-ridden. • Writers tended to glorify sport heroes, presenting them as larger than life. • Newspapers promoted sports Radio • Radio contributed to popularity of college football. • But MLB owners thought it would kill attendance. Teams hired own broadcasters, soon called ‘homers.’ radio increased attendance. TV (1940s-50s) • Boxing perfect for TV but killed local clubs. • 300 clubs in 1952 but only 50 by 1960. • Pro boxers declined by 50% as a result. • Sluggers more popular on TV so promoters developed that style more. Affected the sport. • NCAA and MLB at 1st declined but then saw financial benefits; plus, TVs became a mass medium across U.S. TV (late ‘50s to 60s) • TV penetration increased • Technology allowed for colorinstant-replay • Sports Broadcasting Act (1961) enabled leagues to negotiate as one • Networks purchased broadcast rights directly from teams, then sold time to advertisers who liked access to blue-collar market. (Same reason golf is attractive for other advertisers today despite lower ratings.) • NFL leaped into TV and even created ‘TV timeouts.’ • Wide World of Sports created in 1961 TV (‘70s-80s) • Monday Night Football created • Sports increased on networks in 1970s fro 787 hours to 1,356. • By 1984, annual hours at 1,700. • Advertisers loved because could reach 18-49 males, a tough to reach demographic. (6 times as many watched NFL than the top show, Dallas, in 1981.) • By mid-80s, networks selling $1 billion in advertising • TV affected print journalism. Less words spent describing action in games. Instead, analysis, background and stats emphasized. More quotes used. • The symbiotic relationship between spors and the various media continues to change.
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