The Ultimate Lifestyle Guru

Television Turned Sports into Family Entertainment

When we think of the golden age of television, many things come to mind: “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Honeymooners” for example. But what about sports? Sports were so important in that era that they even had their TV show: “Sportscope.” However, it wasn't until the mid-1950s with the rise of televised sporting events that sports became family entertainment. Before then, professional athletes weren't household names like they are today. Before television, people would read about famous athletes in newspapers. These articles were often limited to a few lines at the end of a column on another topic. Television changed all that by making these men celebrities and household names.

Baseball: The First Big Sport on Television

Baseball was the first sport to gain widespread popularity in the United States. By the early 20th century, it had become America’s national pastime. By the mid-1950s, it was also the first sport to acquire a nationwide audience on television. Television’s first sports broadcast took place on April 17, 1939, when a sporting goods store in Newark, New Jersey, sponsored a boxing match between Jersey Joe Walcott and Sid Bellomo. The fight was broadcast over the experimental station 2 WVUD. The next year, a sports show called “Paramount Sports” was broadcast on New York City’s W2XBS, the nation’s first commercial television station. By the late 1940s, a few sporting events were being televised each week. The first sports event to be televised nationally was the University of Pennsylvania-Swarthmore football game on October 22, 1951. The first baseball game to be televised was the Brooklyn Dodgers versus the Philadelphia Phillies on August 26, 1939. However, it was on October 8, 1951, with the first nationally televised World Series game (New York Yankees versus the New York Giants), that television became a staple for American sports fans.

Football: A Close Second for Ratings

The national television networks were eager to acquire the rights to televise National Football League games. The NFL’s two most popular teams, the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears, both played in the Eastern Time Zone, which was important for the networks because that’s where most of the television stations were located. The first televised NFL game was a Giants-Bears game on September 29, 1951. The game was broadcast on WNBT, the only New York City station that carried the game. (The other New York City network station, WNBC, was off the air during the day due to its affiliation with the Mutual Broadcasting System.) That same year, the NFL played its first regular season game in California (San Francisco 49ers versus the Los Angeles Rams). It would be several decades before another West Coast team, the Oakland Raiders, joined the NFL.

Basketball: A Growing Presence in the 1950s

The first televised college basketball game was a New York City charity game at Madison Square Garden between New York University and Fordham University on February 16, 1940. The first televised NBA game was a game between the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics on February 11, 1953. The first televised national college championship game was an NCAA championship game between the University of Iowa and the University of Indiana. The first televised national NBA championship game was a game between the Minneapolis Lakers and the Syracuse Nationals. The first televised national professional basketball game was a game between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Minneapolis Lakers. The first televised game involving two white teams was a game between the Celtics and the New York Knicks.

Hockey: A Latecomer to TV

One reason hockey is rarely discussed when we think back to the golden age of television is that it was not televised until the 1960s. While most games were televised in Canada, few games were televised in the United States. The rise of televised hockey in the United States was due to its popularity in Canada, the United States’ neighbor to the north. The first televised hockey game in the United States was a game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1959. The first televised hockey game in the United States involving two American teams was a game between the New York Rangers and the Buffalo Sabres in 1961.

Summing up

By the mid-1950s, televised sports had become a major source of entertainment in American culture. On any given night, American families would gather around the television set to watch their favorite sporting event. The rise of televised sports was due to several factors. First, the number of people owning televisions increased dramatically in the post-World War II era. Second, sports benefited from being one of the first programs televised. Finally, sports benefited from the rise in popularity of the television set from being a “family room” piece of furniture to being a centerpiece of the living room.