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The Evolution of Sports Telecasts

A look at how sports telecasts have grown and adapted over the last few decades

By Clyde E. DawkinsPublished 29 days ago Updated 29 days ago 6 min read

I am amazed and fascinated over how sports telecasts have changed and grown over the years, and it continues to evolve even at this advanced age. NBA, NHL, and MLB telecasts have all grown a lot, but this evolution is especially true when it comes to the NFL.

I am barely old enough to remember when it was only the three main networks--CBS, ABC, NBC--airing live sports, though I was born during the era of ESPN (which was launched in 1979, I was born in 1985), and during my childhood, ESPN was airing games. Even so, that period isn't even close to being as evolved as it is now, but it's a boost from a few decades prior when it was just those three networks carrying the sports games. Now, we have extra cable channels for sports, there are networks solely for college sports (in fact, each of the Power 6 conferences have their own network), and we have streaming sites. But here's how each league's telecasts have changed over the years.

Decades ago, CBS was once the main NBA network; but in my childhood, it was the NBA on NBC--how I remember those times very well, especially with Marv Albert as NBC's lead PXP announcer. By my teenage years, the NBA hit Turner Sports, and it was in 2002 that the NBC era ended and ESPN and ABC became part of the NBA telecast group. There's also NBA TV airing games as well, both regular season and playoffs. The NBA also has regional sports networks (RSNs) involved, airing regular season games and first round playoff games, they don't air the play-in games. The preceding rounds air on Turner and the ESPN networks, with both sides swapping Conference Finals every year. ABC has been the NBA Finals network ever since 2003.

In addition, nowadays, any NBA games airing on the ESPN group are also telecast on ESPN+, which is their streaming site. Also, Max (formerly known as HBO Max) telecasts games that air on TNT.

The NHL is interesting. Even during the heyday of the 1980s, the NHL didn't really air a lot of games on any of the main networks, it was cable all the way here in the States. I definitely remember the NHL on Fox during that brief period in the mid-90s, though ESPN was a main network during that period. ESPN was pretty much the primary NHL home for a long time after Fox's main network backed out, though the RSNs were all over it. It was during the 1999-2000 season that ABC started airing NHL games again, this time under the ABC Sports banner, but after the lockout ended, it was NBC's family of networks that took the league, and it was a small sample at first, with the cable channel, Outdoor Life Network (later Versus and later the now-defunct NBC Sports Network) only airing NHL games on Mondays and Tuesdays.

NBC's coverage evolved, but once the 2020-21 season ended, so too did NBC's NHL coverage. The NHL returned to ESPN and also debuted on Turner Sports as well, doing so in the 2021-22 season. There's also the NHL Network, which aired games for years and also began using their own graphics and announcers on Saturday matinee games. Prior to this, NHL's website had an online package to watch any and all NHL games, but that was transferred to ESPN+ beginning with that year. And similar to Turner's NBA coverage, NHL games on the Turner networks are simulcast on Max. Of course, both sides have playoff coverage (with RSNs airing Round 1), and the current deal actually has ESPN and Turner actually taking turns airing the Stanley Cup Final, serving as the only one of the three "playoff series" leagues to have different networks take turns airing the championship.

Major League Baseball has spent decades all over the big three networks, and it was in 1996 that baseball first hit Fox. ESPN was also quite the big baseball network as well, and still is. In recent years, the MLB Network has aired games on a daily basis, with their centerpiece being their Thursday Night Baseball coverage, which includes their own announcers and graphics package. In 2007, TBS broke away from only airing Atlanta Braves games and started airing all of the teams, with the change actually beginning with the famous Padres/Rockies tiebreaker game on October 1, 2007.

Also since 2007, TBS and Fox have aired the postseason together, swapping Division Series and League Championship Series coverage every year. When the Wild Card Game was added, TBS aired those games at first, then ESPN got involved. Currently, MLB has the Wild Card Series, and those series air on ESPN in their entirety, with TBS, Fox, and Fox Sports 1 airing the later two rounds. Since 2000, Fox has aired the World Series. Elsewhere, ESPN+ airs one game per day, Amazon Prime actually airs games, but only in the teams' markets, and there's also MLB TV, an online sports package, which also has one free game a day. Very recently, MLB also has a channel known as Strike Zone, which is similar to a more famous channel from another league, though Strike Zone only operates bi-weekly (Tuesdays and Fridays).

Speaking of that other league:

This is the reason for my piece. Remember when the games you got on Sunday afternoons (or in my case, Sunday mornings and early Sunday afternoons) were all you could watch? I do. I may be younger than a lot of people from that generation where games only aired on three networks, but I am barely old enough to remember NFL coverage before Fox joined the fray in 1994 (I was only nine when Fox Sports became a thing). Even so, during that period, it was NBC and Fox for regional coverage, the night games actually aired on cable; TNT for a brief while, but ESPN for the most part, and of course, Monday Night Football on ABC. CBS returned to the NFL fray and took NBC's AFC package in 1998, but NBC returned in 2006 and took the Sunday Night Football package from ESPN, which now airs Monday Night Football.

Boy, have things changed for NFL fans. And for the better, too.

For starters, the NFL Network started airing games in 2006, and they air select games even to this day. Of course, the biggest boom to NFL coverage is NFL Red Zone. We all know this channel. Red Zone features live look-ins at all of the games played during Sunday's regional coverage, which starts starts at 1PM Eastern and ends at 8PM Eastern. Just as host Scott Hansen says, it's seven hours of commercial free football! I myself finally realized who that channel's really for. Yes, it's for hardcore football, but I also believe that channel is for the Fantasy Football people like myself, because 9 times out of 10, the scoring plays are usually from players who are heavily rostered.

Recent years have seen the streaming networks get involved as well. Peacock simulcasts NBC's Sunday Night Football games, but this past season, Peacock started exclusively airing select games, even airing one of the Wild Card Playoff games (the Chiefs/Dolphins game). In 2022, the NFL began a very lucrative business relationship with Amazon Prime, which sees them as the current home for Thursday Night Football beginning with Week 2 of the season. Recently, Amazon Prime aired the NFL's first ever Black Friday game, and it was announced that they will air a playoff game for this upcoming season. Speaking of this season, Netflix will be involved in NFL telecasts, as they will air both Christmas Day games taking place during this year.

Last season also began the new four-network rotation for the Super Bowl, as ABC is now part of the fray along with CBS, NBC, and Fox. Super Bowl LIX will air on Fox this season, and ABC's first coverage of the big game in over 20 years will take place at Super Bowl LXI, which will also air on ESPN and ESPN+.

It is absolutely amazing how sports telecasts have evolved. Sports packages, streaming telecasts, channels like Red Zone and Strike Zone, and of course, the streaming exclusives. It is truly a great era for watching sports, that's for sure!


About the Creator

Clyde E. Dawkins

I am an avid fan of sports and wrestling, and I've been a fan of female villains since the age of eight. Also into film and TV, especially Simpsons and Family Guy.

Feel free to follow my social media:

Twitter - Facebook - Tiktok - Instagram

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  • Philip Gipson29 days ago

    This article on sports telecasts is absolute perfection all over.

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