Sports on TV in The Fifties

Although the history of sports on U.S. television is synonymous with the history of network television, in the early days of television, local sports broadcasts predominated over nation-wide and regional networks. The first network sports broadcast was NBC’s Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, which premiered in 1944 with the Willie Pep vs. Chalky White Featherweight Championship bout. Gillette Cavalcade of Sports stayed on the network air for 20 years. (Stanley J. Baran, “Sports and Television,”

There was a symbiotic relationship between sports and television. Each played an important role in the development and growth of the other. During the early days of commercial broadcasting in the 1940s, the networks relied upon telecasts of sporting events to increase demand for TV sets. “Television got off the ground because of sports,” early network sports director Harry Coyle told Stanley J. Baran in the Museum of Broadcast Communications publication “Sports and Television.” “Today, maybe, sports need television to survive, but it was just the opposite when it first started. When we put on the World Series in 1947, heavyweight fights, the Army-Navy football game, the sales of television sets just spurted.” In fact, sports programming helped the number of households with TV sets increase from 200,000 in 1948 to more than 10 million in 1950.