In 2016, it seems almost comical to think of the major sports without multi-billion dollar TV and advertising deals, but it wasn’t always this way, but has been for probably longer than you think. Sparked by the recent and massive $24 Billion dollar NBA TV deal signed with ESPN and TNT (and one that had massive implications on the free agency of this off season), I was curious as to the history of major TV deals for sports. Here in this article I will go over the history of TV deals in sports, how they have changed over the years and the difference between deals in different sports. While, of course, broadcasting of sports and the TV deals that make them possible occur all over the world, I will be looking mainly at American and Canadian numbers.
Before looking at the deals, let’s look at a history of sports broadcasting. The first ever recorded sports broadcast took place in 1896 when a telegraph line was connected in Canada to update fans of the Stanley Cup games between Montreal and Winnipeg teams. However, the first time that a televised sporting event took place in the USA was in 1939 when a college basketball game was broadcasted. However, the first ever sporting event period to ever be broadcasted was the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympic Games.
Since those monumental days in sports, broadcasting of sports has spread to hundreds of different countries and billions of people watch sports each and every year from all over the globe. Now that we know about the history of broadcasting, let’s take a look at some of the biggest TV deals in sports.
While sports of TV began slowly as there were only 190,000 TV sets in use in 1948, they soon hit a boom as that number hit over 10 Million by 1950. And this trend continued until almost every home had at least one TV set. In an interesting fact, TV deals in sports also followed a similar trend. In 1960, networks paid $50 Million for the NFL, $2 Million for the NBA and $18 Million for the MLB. But, only ten short years later, these numbers exploded up to $450 Million, $45 Million and $160 Million, respectively.
This large jump has been attributed mainly to more interest by the public in sports, and when there is more demand, the price always rises as it did here. And while those numbers may seem incredibly high, especially for the 1970’s, but they pale in comparison to the TV deals that are in place now.
Now, each of the four major sports has multi-year and multi-billion dollar deals in place. The NHL’s deal is $7.2 Billion, the MLB’s is $12.4 Billion, the new NBA deal is a massive $24 Billion and, even all these years later, the king is still the NFL with their $27 Billion deal. And again, expect these to go even higher. Who knows, in 2050 we may be looking at these current deals in a similar vein to how I looked at the deals in the 60’s and 70’s earlier. As long as there is competition, demand and public interest in watching sports on TV, networks will continue to dole out billions and billions of dollars to air them.