Sports weren’t always looked at as something that were good for society. In the early 19th century sport was viewed as vulgar and disreputable. Sports were often associated with a lower class which made them more of a leisure event than something to be taken seriously. However, there are some exceptions to this, “horse racing was associated with the upper class.” Horse racing is still something that’s looked at as an upper-class activity and during the Kentucky Derby, people put on their best suits to show off their wealth. The other sports have changed their class ranking and are not considered lower class, but middle class as of now. The media began to cover more sports once they gained more popularity throughout all classes and all types of people. Industrialization was one of the reasons that the shift in class association and sports changed. It led to a growing immigrant population which resulted in a higher interest in sports. The ability to print and circulate periodicals and newspapers also led to a rise in sport interest because the population was able to read about sports more and understand the games that were being played. Sport was still not viewed as acceptable during this time, but people were definitely more interested which caused the media to pay more attention to sports. Baseball was one of the sports that benefitted most from the media because of the relationship between the teams and the reporters. Often times team owners would pay the reporters in their town to write fluff pieces about their teams. Soon sport was seen as a form of escape rather than hard news, which most people wanted a release from.
Once television was invented and became popular, people in sports wanted to get their sport on television as soon as possible. This lead to many money-making opportunities such as advertising and rights deals. This is what led to the rise of sports and the popularity that we see today. Pretty much everywhere you look in a stadium there is an advertisement of some sort and even during the games you can see ads placed everywhere. There are events like the Super Bowl that sell commercial space in order for brands to advertise themselves and charge a lot of money for the advertisements. Rights deals can be sold for sports as a whole or certain events. As of now the NFL is the leader in generating money for rights deals. The NBA is a close second and the MLB is in third. The NBA is able to generate a higher price for their rights because of their younger audience and ability to bring that audience to the networks. The MLB struggles with generating as much money as the other two leagues because the audience of the MLB is older and these networks are not necessarily focused on gaining an older demographic that will not be making as many purchase decisions as the younger generation. This plays into advertising because the networks that have the younger audience will likely be able to get advertisers that are looking for a younger audience.
Television is not the only platform fighting for rights deals anymore. The internet has taken a huge leap in its streaming ability in the past few years and has become a serious contender for rights deals. Twitter and Facebook started to get into the streaming game in 2016 and made major deals with the MLB, NHL, NBA, NFL and some soccer leagues. The future of cable may be in jeopardy due to the increased ability of streaming. The MLB also has MLB.TV which allows its customers to watch any live out of market game if they subscribe to the service. ESPN also recently launched ESPN+ which features some games from all of the major sports leagues, but they do not have exclusive rights to the games. It’s going to be hard for streaming services to get exclusive rights to any games because the leagues and networks both want to make money off the games. The networks have a leg up in the competition on the streaming services because they are able to offer more money and more opportunities for advertisements. Streaming may have its day in the future, but for now most people are sticking with watching games the traditional way on television.
The future of sport media is trending towards a less traditional journalistic approach. Barstool Sports is the leader in this less traditional style of journalism and other networks have taken notice. Barstool uses podcasts, Twitter, their website and videos in order to connect with their audience. They do not ask the traditional questions that normal journalists may ask and they do not focus on the content of games played for their work. They are more focused on getting a behind the scenes look into an athletes’ life and making them more relatable to the general public and their audience. Barstool and ESPN worked together for a short time before ESPN employees threatened to quit if they continued to work with Barstool. The controversy came after some sexist remarks by Barstool founder Dave Portnoy. ESPN has had a ton of layoffs in the past year or so and are not expanding as quickly as Barstool is. Barstool will likely not take over from ESPN because they do not have the same style of reporting, but Barstool has the ability to reach a younger audience and make more relevant content for young people. Barstool’s target demographic is males aged 18-35 and it seems like ESPN is moving towards an older demographic based on the MJ vs LeBron debates they hold almost daily. Barstool is blazing the trail for other companies to follow if they want to become popular with a younger demographic.
Sport media started off as something that was taboo and now has moved its way to something that is a staple in American culture. Almost every sports reporter has a Twitter account in order to connect to people and share news on a platform that allows them to get out information quickly. Sports media will continue to evolve as the world continues to create new ways for people to share information. There is an appeal to sports media because there is not a concrete way for anyone to do it. Sports media comes in all different shapes and sizes and will continue to connect people with the teams they love.