Broadcasting the World Series

In 1921 Pittsburgh station KDKA was the first station to broadcast a baseball game, though baseball and radio had both been around for years. After all, baseball owners thought, who would pay to come to a game that they could hear for free?

Of course broadcasted baseball was a success. Baseball didn’t collapse, and people still filled the stands. (Today how often do you see fans in their seats with headphones on? Many ballparks broadcast the play-by-play in restrooms and on concourses so that fans don’t miss any of the action.) But before 1934, Major League Baseball charged no fee for the rights to broadcast games, let alone the World Series.

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That changed on September 13, 1934 when Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis sold the rights to broadcasting the 1934 World Series to the Ford Motor Company for $100,000.

The first televised baseball game was a game between Princeton and Columbia on May 17, 1939 (Princeton won 2-1 at Columbia’s Baker Field.) One camera covered the third-base line for the game – a big change from cameras in front of home plate, on catchers’ helmets, and numerous replay cameras all over big-league stadiums today, right? But the technology of television was limited to Americans at the time. In 1948 there were only 190,000 television sets in households.

It was the broadcast of sports that brought the growth of televisions in America. NBC Sports broadcasting pioneer Harry Coyle said that "Television got off the ground because of sports…When we (meaning NBC) put on the World Series in 1947 (among other sporting events) television sales just spurted." And that they did, from 190,000 sets in 1948 to 10.5 million television sets in use in 1950.

Baseball and media since then have always been linked, from the Game of the Week to televised baseball on NBC, CBS, ABC, ESPN, and Fox. In September 2000, Fox Broadcasting purchased the rights to show Saturday baseball games, All-Star Games, selected Division Series, both Championship Series, and the World Series (and recently signed an extension through the 2013 season) worth $2.5 billion. An increase of 25,000% from Commissioner Landis’ post-season rights in 1934.

This is just one of the aspects of the Business of Baseball, the Baseball Hall of Fame Education Department’s standards-based thematic unit on economics, suitable for grades 3-8 (but can be expanded for grades 9-12). If you would like to schedule a videoconference or an on-site visit for your class to participate in this module and 12 others, give us a call at 607.547.0347 or e-mail us today!

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