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Today in Sports History: 2/28 – First Televised Basketball Game

Today in sports history (1940), W2BXS, now Channel 4 New York the flagship station of the NBC network, televised the first basketball game ever. Pittsburgh would beat Fordham, 57-37, at Madison Square Garden with an estimated viewership of 400-1,000 people.

Credit: NBC Sports

Apathy Around the First Televised Basketball Game

It’s hard to imagine, but at the time of the first televised basketball game, the fact that the game was being televised was not a big deal to many. As a matter of fact, neither the Pittsburgh Press nor the Fordham Ram, Fordham’s school newspaper, even made mention of the game being televised. At the time, this could be attributed to the fact that the radio was still king. Newspapers would have entire pages devoted to the radio listings of games.

Part of the reason the televising of games was so underwhelming for many was largely because of the lack of televisions owned. According to Mitchell Stephens, a professor of journalism and mass communication at NYU, the number of homes with television sets in the U.S. could be measured in the thousands.

Today’s Impact

It would be foolish to believe that, if not for this game, college basketball would be any different today. It was simply a matter of time before the product would be televised. Fordham and Pittsburgh did, however, set the stage for the televising of college basketball games today. Interestingly, the NBA lagged behind in televising their games. The first televised NBA game came in January of 1965, almost 25 years after college basketball started broadcasting.

Today, March Madness is one of the most beloved times of the year by basketball fans. With nearly every game broadcasted on national TV, it’s almost a full month of nonstop televised college basketball. For a sport that started out with no interest on television, NCAA basketball has since taken off.

In 2021, they averaged over 3.8 million views per game during the NCAA Tournament. Since 2019, the two most-watched non-football sportscasts since 2019 were both college basketball games. Both games saw over 14.9 million viewers. Not bad for a sport that started out with no more than 1,000 people watching when it all started.


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