Sports Was Impacted By David Sarnoff 98 Years Ago

Sports sells.

On July 2, 1921, David Sarnoff changed the sports world. Sarnoff got his bosses at the Radio Corporation of America or RCA to invest $15,000 and broadcast a heavyweight championship boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier because Sarnoff felt that Dempsey and Carpentier could sell radiolas. It was an effort to get the boxing match on radio because Sarnoff had to virtually build a radio station, WJY, for a one-time only purpose at the 80,000 seat temporary boxing venue in New Jersey. It was a demonstration on how boxing and sports would work on radio. KDKA in Pittsburgh would become Sarnoff’s partner in the venture. It came out of a thought by a Madison Square Garden employee Julius Hopp who suggested that it might be something worthwhile. The radio audience consisted of people who had receiving capability in a 200 mile radius around Jersey City where the fight took place and that included some movie theaters. In the end, the promotion worked for Sarnoff and RCA, people would buy receivers if there was worthwhile programming. Sarnoff would start NBC radio in 1926 and was a television pioneer getting games on TV by 1939.

Sarnoff’s initiative isn’t that much different from Jeff Bezos going after the NFL or tennis tournaments in the United Kingdom for his Amazon streaming service. Nor is it much different from Facebook and Twitter going after sports programming. In Cincinnati, Powell Crosley was a radio designer and would have two radio stations, one that was sports heavy in programming. Crosley knew he needed programming and purchased the Cincinnati Reds and placed games on his radio stations. G. A. Richards, a radio station owner in Detroit, bought the Portsmouth, Ohio NFL team in 1933 and placed his relocated Detroit Lions on his station. Sports sold radios.