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									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
•  Sports – benefit from ‘enormous’
•  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)
•  “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
    Media history (pre-1830s)
•  Most newspapers and magazines were published for
   small, wealthy audiences
•  Literacy rates gradually increased between
•  1800-1830 – sharp increase in magazine publishing
   (several hundred new mags started)
•  Mags (and newspapers) not usually profitable at the
•  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
•  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.
•    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
•  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
•  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.
•  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.
•  Surge of interest. Surge of media coverage.
•  Social changes – industrialization,
   immigration, urbanization.
    U.S. transformed into industrial power.
•  Pro baseball entrenched as national spectator
•  Boxing moved from bar brawls to organized
•  Golf and bicycling rose in popularity.
•  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
•  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
•  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
      1920s – newspaper trends
     3 dominant editorial trends emerged
•    No. 2 – Papers standardized presentation to reduce
•    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.
•  Writers tended to glorify sport heroes, presenting them as
   larger than life.
•  Newspapers promoted sports
•  Radio contributed to popularity of college
•  But MLB owners thought it would kill
   attendance. Teams hired own broadcasters,
   soon called ‘homers.’ radio increased
             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
           TV (late ‘50s to 60s)
•  TV penetration increased
•  Technology allowed for colorinstant-replay
•  Sports Broadcasting Act (1961) enabled leagues to negotiate as
•  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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