Sports Broadcasting Is All About “Just Like Being There” Audience Expectations

Blog Post created by charliekraus on Feb 26, 2016

With all the attention paid lately to audience expectations for a “broadcast quality” experience for video consumption, one might think the concept of delivering an exceptional quality of experience is a relatively new concern. But high audience expectations are nothing new - in fact they date to the earliest days of radio broadcasting. In this blog we will take a journey from the earliest radio broadcasts to today, to understand the impact of quality of experience, and how we have come full circle back to advantages radio enjoyed long before our current mobile devices came into being, including the existence of a Content Delivery Network (CDN) back in the 1920s.


According to an excellent article about radio history, the era of commercial radio began in the fall of 1920, and sports events were one of the most prominent programming formats from the beginning. Radio has been the media that has had the greatest impact on sports and the audience. From the very beginning of sportscasting back in the 1920s with radio broadcasts of baseball, boxing, horse racing, etc., the most popular and successful announcers painted a picture for their listening audience with not only descriptions of the sports action, but lyrical comments about the whole atmosphere of the event. Long time announcer Bob Uecker noted “You paint a picture in the mind of the listener. It’s a kick to make baseball come alive to a guy hundreds of miles away who’s never seen your home park.” Families would sit around a three foot tall radio listening, conjuring mental images of what was transpiring.

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The original radio technology did not allow for live broadcasting to occur from the site of the sports event. Radio station operators had to rely on action reports and scores of games to be either telephoned or telegraphed to them. Early radio station networks were established by AT&T, using their telephone lines to transmit content such as stock quotes and current news items long distances between radio stations. These communication lines were in effect, acting as a CDN, carrying information to radio stations for over the air broadcasts. One of the earliest experimental radio stations to broadcast live from a sports event was station WWJ in Detroit, MI, and is considered by historians to be the ground breaker in bringing sports to the American public. You can listen to the oldest (virtually) complete radio broadcast of a regular season baseball game known to exist. For baseball fans reading this, you will really enjoy this 1948 Mel Allen broadcast of the All Star game, with some very famous ball players in the game.


The relationship between sports and radio broadcasts has not always been smooth. It’s hard to imagine now that back in the early days Major League Baseball, owners and officials from various college athletic associations expressed concern about radio’s impact on live game attendance, with radio sportscasting encountering hostility from baseball team owners. Some teams even banned broadcasting of home games in their cities. It took the increase in the number of people who were listening to games and the World Series each year for them to see the advantages of game broadcasts. In 1932 owners voted to allow each individual baseball team to adopt their own policy. Imagine that the largest media market in the US, New York City, did not have local daily game broadcasts until 1938. What changed the minds of the owners of the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers? Two things we are quite familiar with today in the world of sports – Money and advertising! It was General Mills cereal sponsorship of games that changed their minds. With money flowing to broadcasters and team owners, the sports world as we know it today was set in motion.


Radio still has abilities today that other media cannot match. Besides being able to listen to the radio at home, people can listen at work, as they exercise, or as they drive. If you think about watching sports on mobile devices, what has happened is we have come (almost) full circle and caught up with radio sports broadcasts. Radio listeners have always enjoyed the freedom of listening where ever they are. I still enjoy catching a ball game while on the beach in summer, and now I have the option of watching it. Today’s mobile screen freedom closely matches the advantages radio has enjoyed for so long for audience consumption where ever they are (Drivers still have to listen to sports on radio). And just as it was important in the 1920s, a “just like being there” experience is demanded by viewers. A “CDN” played a key role in the early days of radio, and today’s CDNs play a critical role in delivering a broadcast quality experience to an increasingly diverse number of devices with various screen sizes and video formats.