NFL on TV: A short history

NFL on TV: A short history

POSTED: Friday, October 12, 2012 - 5:00pm

UPDATED: Friday, October 12, 2012 - 5:04pm

Pro football is America’s passion, and nowhere is that more evident than on television. Sunday Night Football was the highest-rated program on TV last year; nine of the ten most-watched shows in 2011 were NFL games or pregame shows (the other was the Academy Awards); and each of the 21 biggest audiences in TV history are Super Bowls.
But that was not always the case.

The NFL was less than two decades old when its first game was broadcast on television. NBC decided to air the October 22, 1939, game between Philadelphia and New York. The game coincided with the World’s Fair, which was also being held in New York, and fans could watch the game at a special RCA booth inside the fairgrounds. The rest of the audience consisted of roughly 500 New Yorkers who owned their own TV sets.

There was no instant replay, no first down line, and no ticker with constant fantasy updates. NBC only used two cameras to film the game (compared to 12 for a typical game today, and the 40 NBC used for Super Bowl XLVI), and the entire broadcast was created by just eight people. Today, commercials for the Super Bowl cost as much as $4 million for 30 seconds; that day, there were no commercials.

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