From the Roman Colosseum to Over-the-top (OTT) Streaming: The Evolution of Watching Sports and Fan Engagement


In today’s fast-paced, high-tech world, there are a million options for consuming sports. Whether it’s in person or on the radio, on TV, through an app, or through your favorite streaming service, you have the ability to watch nearly any sporting event at any time, from anywhere. As amazing as that is, it hasn’t always been that easy.

Archaeological research suggests that sports have been a part of the human experience for a long time. In fact, artifacts found in China show evidence of sports as early as 2000 BC. Egyptian monuments show that sports were popular and regulated in Ancient Egypt. And it’s difficult to imagine ancient sports without thinking of gladiator bouts and jousting matches.

For thousands of years, crowds have been gathering in stadiums, coliseums, and arenas, cheering on their favorite athletes. Up until the 20th century, the only way to consume live sports was in person.

The 1920s: Sports on the Radio

Then along came the radio. The first-ever broadcast of a sports event over the radio took place on April 11, 1921. The event was a boxing match between Johnny Ray and Johnny Dundee on the Pittsburgh-based radio station KDKA. Known for its pioneering efforts in broadcasting, KDKA transmitted the play-by-play account of the match to listeners who eagerly tuned in to experience the thrill of the sport through their radios. The appeal and accessibility of radio quickly captivated a growing audience of sports enthusiasts across the nation. By the mid-1920s, radio ownership had surged, with estimates indicating that around 60% of American households had a radio set. As a result, sports broadcasts became a regular feature on radio stations, attracting millions of listeners who eagerly tuned in to catch the latest games, updates, and commentary. The power of radio in connecting fans to their favorite sports teams and athletes became undeniable, establishing a foundation for the subsequent advancements in sports broadcasting.

The 1930s-40s: Sports and Television

Several years later, sports consumption underwent a drastic change. While the history of television as a medium for entertainment and information dates back to the late 19th century, it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that TV sets became a common feature in households around the world. Like radio, sports lend themselves perfectly to television. The first-ever broadcast of a sporting event on television took place on May 17, 1939. The event was a college baseball game between Columbia University and Princeton University, held at Baker Field in New York City. NBC’s experimental station, W2XBS, captured the game and transmitted it to a limited number of television sets in the New York area.

For the first time, viewers at home could witness a sporting event in real-time, albeit in black and white, and experience the thrill of the game without leaving their living rooms. The success of this inaugural broadcast paved the way for the growth of sports programming on television, leading to more extensive coverage of various sports and ultimately shaping the way sports fans engage with their favorite teams and athletes.

The 1950s: CRT and Enhanced TV Clarity

It was not until the 1950s that sports broadcasting gained momentum. The invention of the cathode ray tube (CRT) enabled the transmission of live sporting events with greater clarity. The 1951 Wimbledon Championship marked the first live sports broadcast in the UK, while in the United States, baseball and football captured the public’s attention. Sports on television became a cultural phenomenon, bringing people together around the shared experience of watching their favorite teams compete.

The 1960s: Color!

The 1960s witnessed a significant leap forward in sports broadcasting technology. The introduction of color television in the mid-1960s added a new level of immersion, enhancing the viewer’s experience. Suddenly, the vibrant green grass of the football field and the colorful jerseys of players came to life, captivating audiences worldwide.

1970s: International Sports via Satellite Broadcasting

The 1970s saw the rise of satellite broadcasting, enabling networks to transmit live sporting events across vast distances. This breakthrough allowed fans to witness global competitions like the Olympics and FIFA World Cup from the comfort of their living rooms. The 1972 Munich Olympics became a milestone in television history as the event was broadcast to an international audience via satellite.

The 1980s: The Digital Age and Cable

The 1980s marked the entry of cable television into the sports broadcasting landscape. Channels like ESPN and Sky Sports emerged, offering dedicated coverage of various sports. The ability to broadcast multiple events simultaneously on different channels expanded the choices available to sports enthusiasts.

The 1990s: HD and Viewership in the Millions

The 1990s witnessed further technological advancements with the advent of digital television and high-definition (HD) broadcasts. Crisp visuals and improved sound quality transformed the sports viewing experience. Major sporting events, including the Super Bowl and the Olympic Games, became grand spectacles, drawing millions of viewers.

The 21st Century: The Internet and Streaming Sports

The 21st century ushered in a new era of sports consumption with the rise of streaming services. With the proliferation of internet connectivity, various platforms began to offer live sports streams, providing flexibility and on-demand access to fans. As streaming gained popularity, traditional broadcasters also adapted by launching their own online platforms, allowing viewers to watch live games and highlights on smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs.

The Future: A New Era in Streaming Unfolds

Traditional cable is losing its stronghold on sports media rights, and it’s been estimated that OTT subscription revenue will increase to $22.6 billion by 2027, a 73% increase from 2022. There are now more than 50 sport-specific OTT services in the US, creating competition amongst OTT providers and confusion on where to watch sports amongst consumers. 

With so many channels, devices, apps, and OTT services, it can be difficult to find what you’re looking for. Many people turn to the internet to find out where they can watch their game or event, and it’s important for OTT providers to target sports fans according to their unique preferences.

One strategy that has proven successful for OTT providers is to partner with a content creator that can identify major and micro-fan communities with online sports content. Online sports content is the premier choice when it comes to targeting sports fans with How to Watch options, because when people search online, they self-select which sports, teams, and players they follow, and as a result, are given sports articles with relevant streaming options based on the topic they’ve just searched for.

At Data Skrive, we understand what sports fans are looking for and what they’re interested in. We understand what they need to place a bet, watch an event, or make a purchase. If you’re an OTT platform, we can help expand your How to Watch coverage for all major sports, leagues, and teams. If this sounds interesting, please reach out to us for more information!

About Data Skrive

Data Skrive is revolutionizing how the world’s leading sports, media, and betting brands drive fan engagement through online content. With our nationwide Fan Engagement Network, sponsors can directly interact with sports fans through captivating, relevant, and SEO-friendly content that fosters loyalty, encourages repeat visits, and improves engagement. For more information, email us at For press inquiries, email

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