Sports Channels: A Brief History of Sports Broadcasting in the UK

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Published: 15th November 2010
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Sports broadcasting in the UK has been in effect since the mid 1920’s when the first ever live sports broadcast was made via radio in January 1927. The broadcast covered a Rugby Union international match played between England and Wales, and was broadcast from the England team’s national rugby stadium, Twickenham.

Just two weeks later, the first live broadcast of a football match took place. The match between Arsenal and Sheffield United at Arsenal’s then home ground, Highbury, was also broadcast via radio and listeners were able to keep track of where on the pitch the action was taking place by way of a published numbered grid in the Radio Times; the grid-references of where play was happening being read out by a second commentator.

With the first television sports broadcast coming in 1936 – the Berlin Summer Olympic Games – it was a natural progression that television broadcasting would expand to other sports, although in those times such broadcasts were usually shown as a delayed broadcast. The first live UK television sports broadcast in September 1937 was shown by the BBC and was a specially arranged match between Arsenal and their reserve team.

Since then, live sport on television has become a staple part of many people’s Saturday afternoons and dedicated sports shows such as Grandstand and World Of Sport were devised to bring live sports such as rugby, motor racing, horse racing and wrestling among other sports into living rooms around the UK.

Sports broadcasting took another evolutionary step with the introduction of satellite television, which allowed operators to purchase and broadcast live sports events from around the world. As interest in these sports grew – many of which were new to the UK - satellite operators introduced new sports channels to meet an ever-increasing demand and this in turn gave rise to new opportunities of live sports broadcasting such as Pay-Per-View events, high-definition broadcasts and most recently 3D broadcasting.

Dedicated sports channels have also came to life, with several top UK football clubs introducing their own TV channels, while horse racing fans have received the benefit of two dedicated channels to the Sport of Kings.

With sports broadcasting on TV continuing to evolve and adapt to new demands, markets and technologies, it’s all a far cry from those early days of radio commentary – which still goes on today - and consulting numbered grids to keep track of the action.

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