By: Tom Malone
Sports journalism: the practice and profession of writing about sporting events and athletes for periodicals. Third-grade boys, college students, and old men live and die by the information and opinions produced by on-air experts. Sports and politics have exploded onto the scene in recent years as a primary source for stories from all over the world.
According to the late sports journalist/professor Leonard Koppett, the rawest form of modern sports journalism came about between the Civil War and World War I. Newspapers printed athletic stories, though hard news remained the newspaper juggernaut.
The explosion of broadcast news gave sports journalists a new facet for expressing their message. On-air talent, such as Howard Cosell, became household names after landmark programs like Monday Night Football took the stage in the 1970s. Every major broadcasting company has its own form of sports news and nearly each local news affiliate incorporates some form of sports talk into their regular newscast.
In fall 1979, ESPN debuted by airing the first episode of SportsCenter, now a commodity. The Getty Oil Company provided funding for the soon-to-be corporation’s inception. In 1984, ABC, Inc. acquired control of ESPN and quickly sold 20 percent of its ownership to The Hearst Corporation.
Eleven years later, The Walt Disney Company bought ABC, Inc. for $19 billion in the second-largest corporate buyout in history at the time, thus giving Disney control of ESPN and the popular ABC Sports programming.
ABC Sports and ESPN essentially combined forces to claim the broadcast sports journalism throne, cementing their self-proclaimed title as the “Worldwide Leader in Sports.” The sports broadcasting company continues to expand, having recently acquired the Big 12 Network.
Comcast entered the sports journalism scene with Comcast Sports Network, which geared its content towards a regional audience. Its quality did not match ESPN, but its media power grew stronger in recent years.
Comcast recently bought NBC from General Electric (though GE still owns 49 percent). NBC Sports claimed the rights to broadcast the 2012 Olympic Games with a $2 billion bid and ownership of the new Pac-12 Network.
As the primary provider of cable television, Comcast now provides the cable pathway for media to reach television screens and a significant amount television content. A Comcast representative said, “Mr. [Ralph] Roberts founded Comcast in 1963 with the purchase of a 1,700 subscriber cable service in Tupelo, Mississippi. From those humble beginnings, Comcast has grown into a media giant, with 21.5 million subscribers in 35 states, and has changed America’s T.V. viewing habits.” The corporation has instituted an effective media vertical integration program while rapidly extending its reach as a media stronghold.
Fox Sports has expanded its journalistic coverage in recent years. The company created Fox Soccer, Speed, and found a niche in the local sports broadcasting market with FSN that caters to local markets (like CSN). This year, its primary movie channel, FX, added NCAA football to its television schedule.
Media mogul and diversification enthusiast Rupert Murdoch owns News Corp., which controls Fox and its affiliates. He bought Twentieth Century Fox in 1985 and established Fox News shortly afterward. Murdoch appeared in news headlines multiple times this summer after an ethical debacle involving illegal phone hacking with his News of the World staff.
Viacom owned CBS and CBS Sports until the companies split in 2006. Sumner Redstone possesses a controlling share in both Viacom and CBS Corporation (the current ruling party of CBS). After signing a deal with Microsoft, CBS began using the computer giant’s video software for broadcasting.
Sports journalism has and will continue to evolve as journalists and corporations delve into the intricacies of the subject.
While discussing the individual sports writer’s relationship with sports journalism, renowned sports writer Dave Zirin said, “By speaking out for the political soul of the sports we love, we do more than just build a fighting left that stands for social justice. We also begin to impose our own ideas on the world of sports…”