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Professional sports were on the rise during the technological boom of the late 19th century. Telegraphy and telephony made it possible to spread sporting news to many people. Sports and capitalism were intertwined from that point on. Encyclopedia.com reports that, “The New York World in the mid-1890s introduced the first sports section. Daily coverage was supplemented by weeklies beginning with the American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine (1829) and William T. Porter's urbane Spirit of the Times (1831), which promoted angling and horseracing” (1). Sports helped sell newspapers and newspapers helped sell sports. As the word got out, people began traveling by railroad and mass transit to sporting venues. New equipment included rubber balls, new innovations for bicycles, and the ability to mass produce sporting goods. All of these improved both the supply and demand in the world of sports. Pretty soon sports became a symbol of prosperity and prestige for colleges and clubs.
The social elite had the wealth to use professional sports to boost their status by joining exclusive country clubs where various sports were becoming popular. Colleges began competing to build their reputations in sports such as rowing, baseball, football, and track and field (Encyclopedia.com 2). This promoted the ideals of capitalism not only with the purchase of sports gear, but through the purchase of expensive memberships, the sale of souvenirs, and the spread of advertising. By the last decade of the 19th century, state and private colleges began participation in sporting events all over the nation. “Student-run associations ran the teams and recruited gifted athletes through financial aid and easy course loads” (Encyclopedia.com 2). Schools began to define themselves through not only their sports programs, but their tuition costs, both of which contributed to the reputation and status of the college. The spread of sports to all colleges also opened doors for the middle class to participate.
When sports became accessible, lower class urbanites were able to participate, buying gear and attending events such as boxing, billiards, and basketball. If the middle class is the foundation for a healthy, capitalist economy, the availability of these sports boosted American economy the most. “Progressive reformers promoted sports at settlement houses to help inner-city youth acculturate” (Encyclopedia.com 3). As sports spread to every facet of American life, however, it remained a male dominated pastime for a long time. Unlike men, who often played for reputation and pride, women first began participating in sports as a way to stay healthy and fit. This opened another avenue for capitalism, first because women are traditionally the shoppers in a family, and second, through mechanical and clothing innovations for fitness that could be purchased. For example, “the cycling fad encouraged the development of sports clothes, including bloomers and shorter skirts” (Encyclopedia.com 4). As time moved on, some women encouraged the advance of intercollegiate, competitive sports for women as well as men.
Besides the production of clothing and gear for sports, “the era's most significant development was the rise of professional spectator sports, a product of the commercialization of leisure, the emergence of sports entrepreneurs, the professionalization of athletes, the large potential audiences created by urbanization, and the modernization of baseball, boxing, and horseracing” (Encylcopedia.com 5). In the 1860’s, baseball began hiring paid players, opened Brooklyn’s Union Grounds, and went on a national tour of the all-salaried Cincinnati Red Stockings. Over the last 3 decades of the 19th century, baseball created a variety of leagues and organizations, each one more business-minded than the last. The sport was eventually named “America’s national pastime,” a clear reflection of capitalist advertising designed to appeal to consumers. “Not merely fun, its ideology fit prevailing values and beliefs. It was considered a sport of pastoral American origins that improved health, character, and morality; taught traditional rural values; and promoted social democracy and social integration” (Encyclopedia.com). In the early 20th century, other sports became popular as capitalist ventures as well.
Since boxing was a sport accessible to the lower classes, men began participating in order to get out of poverty and achieve the elusive American Dream. Horseracing, having once been popular among the lower classes became the territory of the rich. Early success gave rise to the building of privately owned racetracks where gambling was rampant. “In the 1920s, Thoroughbred racing revived because of increasing prosperity, looser morals, ethnic political influence, and underworld influences. Racetrack admissions surpassed admissions for all other sports by the early 1950s” (Encyclopedia.com). Our capitalist economy promoted the gambling and the gambling promoted the sport. By the prosperous1920’s, people had more discretionary money and more leisure time, the radio was broadcasting the World Series and boxing championships, and people had discovered sports heroes (Encyclopedia.com). All of these things combined to create a national culture in which American values included sports and capitalism and even when the Great Depression hit in the 1930’s, while some sport programs were cut, many sporting facilities were built and people continued to turn to sports for comfort through the hard economic times.