Pro-sports through the years
People who watched the earliest sports
broadcasts on TV in the 1950's remember the successes of pro-wrestler
Rikidozan against foreign opponents, contests that did so much to promote
the popularity of TV. NHK's TV broadcast of the first international
pro-wrestling match, Rikidozan and Kimura Masahiko vs. the Sharp Brothers,
in February 1954, triggered a pro-wrestling boom.
In 1951, a special pro-baseball feed was
set up for an exhibition. The following year, sumo was selected for
the first broadcast. These two sports have been the staples of sports
broadcasting ever since. Commercial broadcasters' interest in sumo has
varied, but NHK's coverage of Japan's national sport has remained consistent.
Throughout the 60's and 70's pro-baseball was a fixture of the Saturday
evening "golden hour" starting at 7:30 p.m. The popularity
of baseball and sumo in that era was reflected in a popular Japanese
saying that the three things every child liked were "The Giants
[baseball team], Taiho [a sumo wrestler], and omelets." Commercial
broadcasters have tended to focus on particular baseball teams, but
NHK provides a balance of both Pacific and Central League games to try
to satisfy all viewers.
The launch of the J. League in 1993 was
greeted with enormous enthusiasm that extended far beyond the soccer
fraternity. Although the enthusiasm later abated somewhat, NHK has continued
to broadcast numerous games each season on the satellite BS-1 channel.
This support helped to generate World Cup fever in 1998 and 2002.
Global sports come to Japan
The start of satellite broadcasting in 1984
brought a dramatic change to sports broadcasting. With the new channel
and the tremendous increase in the number of hours broadcast, many more
top-class overseas events that had previously received little coverage
in Japan were added to the lineup. From the U.S. came MLB baseball,
NBA basketball, and NFL American football. From Europe, the sports included
cycling's Tour de France, and the automotive Paris-Dakar Rally. MLB,
which NHK started broadcasting in 1987, made a particularly strong impact
on the Japanese audiences when pitcher Nomo Hideo found success in the
U.S. in 1995. Now that players like the Seattle Mariners' Suzuki Ichiro
are also making names for themselves, NHK is showing more than 200 games
a year, and audience figures are being boosted by new fans, including
housewives. Because of this "MLB phenomenon," it's said that
even people who couldn't name the 12 teams in Japan's own domestic league
know the Mariners.
PGA golf was added in 1992, and "La
Liga" Spanish football in 1995. In 2001-02, 231 MLB games were
shown, along with 89 NBA games, 51 PGA events including the senior tour,
all 16 races of the motorcycle WGP, 54 La Liga matches, 10 days of World
Cup ski jumping, and much more besides. NHK sports broadcasting lives
up to its motto of "TV as a window on the world," lavishing
top events on viewers almost every day of the week.
NHK's mission includes the promotion of amateur sports. As far
back as 1953, coverage was given to amateur events like All-Japan
Judo, the Waseda-Keio Swimming Championships, the All-Japan Senior
High School Baseball Championship Tournament (Koshien) and All-Japan
Table Tennis. Since then, NHK has continued to show a wide variety
of Japanese and international competitions. Koshien and the All-Japan
Inter-High School Championships, which are broadcast in the spring
and autumn, have become a goal for many high-school students.
Women's Long Distance Relay races, or Ekiden, were first shown
in 1983. Their appearance popularized the concept of inter-prefectural
competition, encouraged a significant improvement in overall standards,
and paved the way for the emergence of Olympic medalists like
Arimori Yuko and Takahashi Naoko. At the World Table Tennis Championships
in 1991, the first-ever joint Korean Peninsula team composed of
North and South Koreans won the women's title, and NHK was there
to broadcast the historic moment. NHK has also hosted and broadcast
top-level NHK Cup international tournaments in figure skating
and other sports.
All-Japan Senior High School Baseball
Championship Tournament (Koshien)