Patents in Sports: Early Broadcast Patents

The purpose of this blog will be to discuss the impact that patents have made on sports. I will explore how patents have helped evolve sports to bring them to where they stand now. Some of these patents will be ones specifically designed for sports while others are patents never intended to be used in relation to sports. Some of these inventions made sports more enjoyable for fans, while others made the game easier for the players. There is a number of patents that have drastically changed sports but these posts will explore just how inventions and their legal patents have taken sports from a hobby, used primarily for physical fitness to an entertainment business that generates billions of dollars of revenue, is enjoyed around the world, and has woven its way into the fabric of our modern society.


Radio: British Patent No. 12,039

An example of a mid-1930’s radio

In 1923, people were able to hear a live hockey unfolding in the comfort of their homes. The game featured Midland and North Toronto, tams from the Ontario Hockey Association. It was the first time a sporting event had ever been broadcasted via the radio in Canadian history. (Kitchen, 246)

The history of the patent for radio is rather convoluted with many people staking their claim to the historic piece of technology. Names like Marconi, Edison, Bell, and Tesla all have grounds to be seen as inventor of the radio. The first official patent that described a radios function belonged to William Henry Ward in 1872, U.S Patent 126,356, who was aiming to improve the telegraph system. There would be many more patents to come after that with the most important one being British Patent No. 12,039, in 1897. This belonged to Guglielmo Marconi and his company (The Marconi Company Ltd.) helped popularize the device and turn it into the piece of technology we still use today.

While the radio was not specifically intended to be a medium for sporting events to be shared with the public, it quickly became one of the most popular broadcasts on radio. Just 24 years after Marconi’s patent the device was being used to broadcast sports. The first baseball game announced took place at Forbes Field between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies.

The introduction of radio had far reaching implications on the existing professional sports. The rights to broadcast the games became worth a lot of money. One radio company tried to circumvent the cost of broadcasting rights by relaying play-by-play information of the Pittsburgh Pirates from a vantage point outside of the stadium and would then share the information with their listeners. (Pittsburgh Athletic vs. KQV Broadcasting).

The money earned from selling broadcasting rights now is the largest generator of cash for sports teams. Major League Baseball receives 800 million annually from Fox and Turners Sports 1. The National Basketball Association just signed a new broadcasting deal that will see ESPN and Turner Sports pay 2.6 Billion dollars annually (Beginning in 2016) for the right to broadcast basketball games 1. This all began with a patent that looked to improve the telegraph machine.


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