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A look into the true impact of sports television broadcasting

By Aaron Dalton

Feb. 16, 2022

Through television screens, almost half of the world’s population watches the Federation Internationale Football Association (FIFA) World Cup each year it is held. The FIFA World Cup is not the only sporting event that draws in millions of viewers—the National Football League’s (NFL) Super Bowl attracted 96 million viewers in 2022, and in total, football, basketball and hockey in the U.S. have combined revenue of $4.6 billion. However, niche sports such as cricket or figure skating, and women’s sports specifically, do not receive the same level of attention due to a lack of popularity.

Sports broadcasting serves as a source of revenue and extended outreach for many athletic teams and leagues. To obtain media rights to a sports organization, broadcasters and sports teams join in a contract. According to the World Intellectual Property Association, financial gain from broadcasting and media rights is the largest component of revenue for most sports organizations, while royalties generated from selling their footage to media outlets allow broadcasters to expand their reach, making these contracts mutually profitable. In the U.S., the top three sports are all contracted with the cable sports channel ESPN—which hosts the popular “SportsCenter” program—among other partnerships.

Tianshu Yang Art

Known as prime time, the period between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. is expected to garner the greatest number of viewers. Thus, many sports with established domestic popularity are chosen for prime time television coverage; the NFL occupies prime-time slots with Monday Night Football, Thursday Night Football and Sunday Night Football on national television networks such as ESPN and NBC. Moreover, NBC holds the right to broadcast the Olympics in the U.S. until 2032 and has utilized the prime time to not only show live events but also broadcast reruns of popular events that may have occurred during inconvenient times of the day due to international time differences.

Global management firm Kearney explains that the sports media market obeys the concepts of supply and demand—since resources for broadcasting are limited, they are allocated based on what sports events are most popular among the target audience. According to a Gallup poll updated in 2017, most Americans prefer to watch football, basketball and baseball, while only 1% would choose figure skating as their favorite sport to view; cricket does not make the list. The rationale behind the lack of attention on cricket is simple: gaining popularity in 19th century Britain, the sport failed to reach the freshly independent U.S. Meanwhile, former figure skater Dick Button attributes the decline of figure skating popularity to its complicated scoring system, CNN Money reports.

“Quality broadcasting can make a sports game more fun to attend or watch; however, it is not an accurate measurement of a team’s success because there are always plenty of good sports teams that do not get lots of attention from the media,” Dylan Schweighardt ‘22 said.

Even across popular sports, gender disparities are exacerbated in broadcasting due to stagnant efforts of media companies to cover women’s sports coupled with a traditional dominance of men in the most popular games. A 30-year study conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California and Purdue University found that only 5% of sports broadcasting in 1989 included women’s sports, and the change has been minuscule since then. Evaluating televised news and highlight shows such as the “SportsCenter” program, the study also revealed that women’s sports took up only 5.4% of the sampled airtime in 2019. Although March Madness, the playoff season for U.S. college basketball, consists of both women’s and men’s teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the men’s tournament took up over an hour of selected local television shows, compared to just three minutes for the women’s tournament in 2019. The underrepresentation of women’s sports is a cyclical issue: according to Bleacher Report, publishers and advertisers blame each other for a lack of content and advertising.

Traditional sports broadcasting that televises live events has utilized the practice of blackouts, or specific sporting events that are selectively televised—or not at all—to encourage viewership on a particular network or platform or in-person attendance. For example, in order for games to be broadcasted, Major League Baseball requires a minimum number of tickets to be sold due to blackout restrictions, which may hurt teams with venues that seat fewer people.

“Professional sports are entertainment for the general public, so reaching as many people as possible should be the primary goal of sports leagues and broadcasting companies,” Ian Marshall ‘25 said.

Since the first televised sporting event in the U.S.—a collegiate baseball game between Columbia University and Princeton University in 1939—sports broadcasting has served as a significant source of sports-related media consumption for many. With the rapid development of technology and the limitations of COVID-19, online streaming has allowed sports organizations to diversify their reach to more and often younger audiences. While traditional television broadcasting’s influence is lessening as a result of streaming, it still remains a considerable force in determining a sport’s prosperity.


About the Contributors

Aaron Dalton

Staff Writer

Aaron is a freshman at Leland high school. He is a staff writer for the Charger Account. In his free time, He likes to play basketball with his friends, eat Chick-Fil-A, and travel.

Tianshu Yang


Kenneth Yang is a junior at Leland High School and an artist for The Charger Account. During his free time, he enjoys tae kwon do, dancing, and sleeping.

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