The public flocked to sporting events in record numbers to be entertained by a host of sporting celebrities, both male and female.
Media Attention Creates Sports Stars
Sports which grew and flourished in the nineteen twenties due to unprecedented publicity and promotion included baseball, tennis, golf, swimming, football and boxing. Newspapers, magazines, radio and movies all played a role in boosting the profile of sport and the sporting giants.
The 1920's was a transition period for many sports. Sports that had up until that time been largely amateur events caught the eye of promoters who could see an opportunity to capitalize and make money. The professional football league, golf tours, and tennis circuit were organized. Media publicity ensured large crowds and guaranteed the financial success of the ventures, allowing new stadiums to be built and providing steadily increasing salaries for the sports stars.
As people spent more time watching and listening (radio) to sport, they engaged in less sport themselves, a trend which has continued down to the present day resulting in the so-called "couch-potato" syndrome. Watching Babe Ruth play baseball became more important than playing baseball yourself. However this was not true of all sports, as tennis and golf in particular boomed due to their higher profile, and were popular with both men and women.
Golf, as a sport, had been around for a relatively long time, but the 1920s saw a rapid rise in popularity so that by the end of the decade it was estimated that there were 3 million golfers playing in the U.S. on over 4,000 golf courses scattered around the country. In addition there were over 30,000 mini golf venues where the general public who couldn't afford the costs of equipment and club memberships could enjoy a much cheaper version of the sport.
Money also became a factor in college sport where it was claimed that sports had also become commercialized to the point where the few were exploited to make a spectacle for the many and where the games became a source of financial revenue rather than a school of sport and exercise for the majority, and no longer focused on sportsmanship or moral development.
The sports stars of this era remain well known even today, such was their fame and the publicity they received for their amazing careers, endorsements or promotions. Very few will not have heard of Babe Ruth in baseball, Jack Dempsey in boxing, Johnny Weissmuller in swimming, Knute Rockne and Red Grange in football, Bill Tilden and Helen Wills in tennis, and Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and Glenna Collett in golf.
As the current sports champions were coming to the close of their careers a younger generation of sports stars were in the making.
The momentum these sports built up in the 1920's has ensured that these sports have endured in popularity to the present day. Present day sporting stars are often compared to the greats of the 1920's and great publicity attends the player who exceeds the records set 80 years ago, ensuring our old heroes are not forgotten. Pilgrimages are made to the various halls of fame where the 1920's giants are immortalized in memorials and collections of memorabilia that showcase their careers.
Annual Sports Highlights
- 1920 in sports - National Football League formed; baseball's Negro National League formed; Babe Ruth sold to New York Yankees and hits 54 home runs, signalling the arrival of the lively ball era in baseball; Cleveland Indians' shortstop Ray Chapman is killed by a Carl Mays pitch; the Grand Prix de Paris horse race changes its name to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe
- 1921 in sports - The schooner Bluenose begins her undefeated career in racing, winning the International Fishermen's Trophy
- 1922 in sports - First sub-one minute 100m freestyle swim; Walter Hagen becomes the first U.S.-born golfer to win the British Open
- 1923 in sports - First 24 hours of Le Mans race; Ty Cobb breaks Honus Wagner's major league record for career hits
- 1924 in sports - First Winter Olympic Games; in the Summer Olympics, Paavo Nurmi wins 5 golds in Athletics (track and field)
- 1925 in sports - French Open in tennis opened to non-French players for the first time; first handball international between Germany and Belgium
- 1926 in sports - Jack Dempsey loses his world heavyweight boxing title to Gene Tunney; Gertrude Ederle becomes the first woman to swim the English channel
- 1927 in sports - First Ryder Cup of golf - Samuel Ryder presented the Ryder Cup as a prize at the first international competition between U.S. and British professional golfers (Won by the U.S.); In tennis, France beats America in the Davis Cup
- 1928 in sports - Women's Olympic athletics and gymnastics are held for the first time at the 1928 Summer Olympics; "Dixie" Dean scores 60 league goals in 39 matches as Everton F.C. win the Football League
- 1929 in sports - Wally Hammond scores 905 runs at an average of 113.12 as England defeat Australia in The Ashes
Gate receipts for the ten biggest football clubs increased throughout the 1920's until the depression hit when takings of less than $2,000,000 in 1931 were lower than in 1925. Indoor games that could be played at home suddenly increased in popularity - games like table tennis, quoits, dominoes, chess, backgammon, and checkers.
The Effect of Radio on Sport
The RECENT SOCIAL TRENDS IN THE UNITED STATES Government Report published in 1933 made some interesting comments on how radio affected sport.
Interest in sports increased, it is generally admitted. When analyzed in further detail we see fifteen further social effects, which are as follows: The broadcasting of boxing matches and football games tends (1) to emphasize the big matches to the neglect of the smaller and local ones, (2) increasing even more the reputation of the star athletes. In the case of football (3) the big coaches are glorified and (4) their salaries become augmented. (5) The attendance at colleges specializing in football whose football games are broadcast is increased. (6) Football practice in the springtime is thus encouraged and (7) the recruiting of prospective star players for college enrollment is fostered. (8) The smaller colleges or the ones with higher scholastic requirements tend to be differentiated as a class by contrast. (9) Boxing matches with big gates have accentuated trends in boxing promotion, notably the competition for large sums of money to the neglect of smaller matches. (10) Broadcasting of sports has led to a greater advertising of the climate of Florida and California, and (11) no doubt has aided a little the promotion of these two regions. (12) Broadcasting of sports has led to the developing of a special skill in announcing the movements of athletes not at times easy to see, a skill rather highly appreciated. (13) Athletic and social clubs with loud speakers have become popularized somewhat on the afternoons and evenings of the matches. (14) The broadcasting of baseball games is said to have bolstered the attendance, particularly by recapturing the interest of former attendants. (15) Another effect it is said has been the reduction in some cases of the number of sporting extras of newspapers.