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  Chapter Seven:

Professional Sports
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Professional Sports

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The major professional sports of baseball, football, basketball, and ice hockey achieved extraordinary growth in the last two decades of the century.
Baseball was the dominant spectator sport during the first half of the century. The National Football League was founded in the 1920s but did not attract a significant following until after World War II. Professional basketball and ice hockey first acquired mass audiences in the 1950s. 

Baseball continued to draw the largest total attendance in the latter decades of the century, but football and basketball had larger per-game shares of the television audience. According to the NFL, eight of the ten most watched television programs ever were Super Bowl games. Professional football’s television revenues exceeded $1.2 billion in 1998, compared with about $600 million for basketball and about $300 million for baseball. 

The rising income from television commercials and steeply rising ticket prices enriched the players. As late as the 1960s, ordinary players in professional sports were not paid much more than ordinary blue-collar workers. After 1980, however, their pay climbed rapidly. The stars in professional sports, whose large salaries were supplemented by huge fees from product endorsements, had some of the highest incomes in the nation, albeit usually for a relatively brief period of time. Many team owners benefited similarly. The Washington Redskins franchise was sold in 1999, after a particularly dismal season, for more than half a billion dollars. 

Black players were barred from professional sports until 1947, when the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson. At the end of the century, blacks held a majority of playing positions in basketball and large shares of the football and baseball rosters. 

Other minority groups also achieved greater representation in professional sports. Among major league baseball players, for example, the proportion of Hispanics more than doubled in a decade, from 8 percent in 1987 to 17 percent by 1997.

Chapter 7 chart 1

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

HS series H 868, H 869, and H 870; SA 1979, table 407; SA 1988, table 373; SA 1997, table 417; SA 1999, table 441; and faxed communications from National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League, January 1999. For information on salaries, see Thomas Heath, “Redskins Sold in Record Deal,” Washington Post, January 11, 1999, sec. A, p. 1. See also Suman Bandrapalli, “ Major League Baseball Teams Tap into Latin American Talent,” Christian Science Monitor at (accessed September 19, 2000).


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