USA Sports was the sports division of the American cable television channel USA Network. USA Network has a longstanding history with sports, dating back to its existence as the Madison Square Garden Network. The 2007 Masters was also the final event for USA Sports, which was dissolved into parent NBC Sports after the tournament. All future sports telecasts on USA would use NBC's graphics and personalities.
As the immediate forerunner for the USA Network, UA-Columbia, served as the cable syndicated arm of MSG Network in New York, PRISM channel in Philadelphia, and whatever pay/cable outlets were around in 1979.
Early years as the Madison Square Garden Network
Manhattan Cable (subsequently referred to as the MSG Network) debuted in the spring of 1969 and did all home events from the Madison Square Garden: New York Knicks basketball, New York Rangers hockey, college basketball, horse shows, Golden Gloves boxing, tennis, the Westminster Dog Show, ice capades, professional wrestling, etc. The first reference to the channel as “MSG Network” was sometime around 1971–72, although the name did not become official until 1977.
The first televised events were NHL and NBA playoffs in the spring of 1969; in those playoffs Marty Glickman did play-by-play for the Knicks broadcasts while Win Elliott did play-by-play for the Rangers.
Meanwhile, HBO began simulcasting some MSG games in 1972 beginning with the Rangers/Vancouver Canucks game on November 8, 1972 (the first ever program televised on HBO, to a few subscribers in Wilkes-Barre, PA). 1974–75 marked the only year in which HBO used MSG announcers for their feed. Because HBO is a premium cable service, this created a burden on announcers to fill in dead airtime on HBO while commercials aired on MSG Network. HBO did not broadcast Knicks or Rangers games after the 1976–77 season.
When the MSG/HBO marriage ended in 1977, Madison Square Garden proceeded to seek a new partner to launch a national network to show off its events. So for several years, beginning with the 1977–78 season, all MSG home events (such as those involving the Knicks, Rangers, etc.) were then televised on a fledgling network that would eventually become known as the USA Network. This channel, which debuted on September 22, 1977, was basically a continuation of the existing MSG Network. The key difference however, was that it was now nationally syndicated via satellite rather than terrestrially. It was also the first cable channel to be supported by advertising revenues. By this time (as previously alluded to), the channel was officially called the “Madison Square Garden Network” or MSG Network.
In 1979–80, the National Hockey League replaced their syndicated coverage package The NHL Network with a package on USA. As previously mentioned, the USA Network was for a time, called UA-Columbia. As the immediate forerunner for the USA Network, UA-Columbia, served as the cable syndicated arm of not only MSG Network in New York, but also PRISM channel in Philadelphia, and whatever pay/cable outlets were around in 1979.
In 1979, 22 Major League Baseball teams (all but the Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, New York Mets, and St. Louis Cardinals) participated in a one-year cable deal with United Artists Television and Columbia Pictures Television, then-owners of the USA Network. The deal involved the airing of a Thursday night Game of the Week in markets at least 50 miles (80 km) from a major league park. The deal earned Major League Baseball less than $500,000, but led to a new two-year contract for 40–45 games per season. The program ran through the 1983 season.
During USA's first three seasons (1980-1982) broadcasting college football, they broadcast several games (they in essence, cherry picked games from regional and national syndicators like Raycom, Mizlou, and Katz) a week. These broadcasts were shown on a tape delayed basis as much as two days later. USA's telecast of the 1981 Liberty Bowl was the first college bowl game to be exclusively broadcast on cable television.
Mazda SportsLook with host Roy Firestone debuted in 1981 on USA Network. It was created by the advertising agency Foote, Cone and Belding to advertise one of its clients, Mazda cars. Mazda SportsLook would soon move to ESPN a year later, where it would subsequently be rechristened as Up Close.
USA aired college basketball games from the Big East Conference leading up to their coverage of the 1983 Big East Tournament. USA also had rights to games from the Big Ten, ACC, and the old Metro Conference.
Regular season college basketball games aired on Thursday nights or Saturdays under the title of College Basketball... followed by the corresponding year during the season such as College Basketball '87. The games were subject to local blackouts. By this time, USA was airing games involving the Southeastern Conference (such as the Mississippi and Mississippi State) and games featuring UTEP and Wyoming.
For USA's final four seasons (1983-1986) with college football, they narrowed their coverage to only one game a week. Initially, the games were selected from virtually every conference. However, in the later years, USA would frequently (but not exclusively) air games involving Pittsburgh, Penn State, Notre Dame, Boston College and Maryland. More to the point, by 1984, USA primarily aired games from the Big Eight Conference.
When the USA Network signed a three-year (running through the 1981-82 season), $1.5 million deal, it marked the first time that the NBA had a cable television partner. USA would extend their deal with a two-year contract (along with another cable partner in the form of ESPN) worth a total of $11 million.
USA typically aired approximately 35-40 regular season NBA doubleheaders on Thursday nights. Besides regular season and playoff action, USA also broadcast the NBA Draft. USA (as well as ESPN) was ultimately succeeded by TBS, who paid $20 million for two years beginning in the 1984–85 season.
The USA Network began first and second round Masters coverage in 1982, which was also produced by the CBS production team. This was the first ever cable coverage for one of the golf majors. Initially, the USA Network provided Thursday and Friday coverage for 2 hours live each day along with a prime time replay.
On January 24, 1984, Al Albert, working for USA network, called what Syracuse fans call the greatest basketball game in the Carrier Dome ever. Syracuse faced Boston College, and the teams were tied 73-73 after a missed free throw by Boston College's Martin Clark. Sean Kerins passed the rebound to Pearl Washington who took three steps and made a half court shot to win the game. Albert's call lives in infamy as The Greatest Play By Play Call in the Carrier Dome ever: "Washington, two seconds, OHHHH! 'The Pearl' hits it ..at midcourt." Syracuse University basketball fans call that the greatest nine words in Syracuse history.
After the 1984-85 season, the NHL Board of Governors chose to have USA and ESPN submit sealed bids. ESPN won by bidding nearly $25 million for three years, about twice as much as USA had been paying. The contract called for ESPN to air up to 33 regular season games each season as well as the NHL All-Star game and the Stanley Cup playoffs.
After the USA Network lost the rights to the NHL to ESPN, they largely abandoned sports after the early 1990s as the channel shifted almost exclusively to scripted entertainment.
USA Network carried most of the World League of American Football games on Saturday and Monday nights in the 1991 season and again on Saturday nights for the 1992 season. Diana Nyad served as the network's host for pregame and halftime. The network premiered the helmet cam to TV audiences.
The reported cost of the contracts varied – the L.A. Times said that ABC had paid $28m for two years, and USA $25m. For the 1992 season the WLAF charged each network less for broadcasting rights; The New York Times reported that ABC's annual fee went down from $12m to $3m, and USA's from $14m to $10m. The ABC coverage's average ratings fell from 1991 to 1992, from around 2.1 to 1.7, and USA's from 1.2 to 1.1. Both networks asked the WLAF to expand into two major U.S. markets for 1993.
In early 2006, it was announced that USA was outbid by Golf Channel for its early-round PGA Tour rights, with USA's final season being 2006. NBC/Universal, parent company of USA Network, traded away the network's Friday Ryder Cup coverage through 2012 to ESPN for the rights to sign Al Michaels. However, USA did renew its Masters contract for an additional year. USA would televise the 2007 Masters before being outbid by ESPN for future coverage.
The Ryder Cup contract, which stipulated cable coverage air on USA, was still controlled by NBC even after it granted ESPN the rights to Friday cable coverage (normally the only day of the event covered on cable). However, in 2010, rain on Friday pushed the singles matches to Monday, necessitating that they air on cable. With NBC having granted only Friday rights to ESPN, the singles matches aired on USA, which would be the final golf telecast for the network. Four months later, NBC merged with Golf Channel, making Golf Channel NBC's primary cable outlet for golf.
Beginning in 2006, USA carried some coverage of top level hockey by cooperating with NBC's coverage of ice hockey at the Winter Olympics in 2006, 2010 and 2014; these games were mostly daytime contests that would not preempt the network's increasingly popular prime time programs.
As part of a 2011 contract renewal, Comcast's properties earned exclusive national rights for all Stanley Cup playoffs through 2021. Because NBC and NBC Sports Network could not carry all of the games on those two outlets alone, other Comcast properties would need to be used; USA was initially not used, due to the risk of preempting its popular prime time lineup, and the company instead used CNBC and NHL Network as the overflow channels for the first four years of the contract. In 2015, Comcast announced that USA would carry some games in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, mainly on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, returning the NHL to USA for the first time since 1985.
Programs throughout the years
- College Basketball on USA (1982–88)
- College Football on USA (1980–86)
- Major Indoor Soccer League (1982–84)
- NASCAR on USA (1982–85)
- NBA on USA (1979–84)
- NHL on USA (1979–85)
- North American Soccer League (1982–83)
- PBA on USA (1982–84)
- PGA Tour on USA (1982–2007, 2010)
- Thursday Game of the Week (1979–83)
- Tuesday Night Fights (1982–98)
- U.S. Open Tennis Championship (1984–2008)
- French Open (1994-2001)
- World League of American Football (1991–92)
- Cable television regulation: hearings before the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives, One Hundred First Congress, second session, Volume 2. 1990. p. 82.
- Anderson, Dave (December 30, 1979). "'I'll set women's tennis back 20 years'; Champs Come and Go; TV's Forever". New York Times. p. DX8.
- Shea, Stuart. Calling the Game: Baseball Broadcasting from 1920 to the Present. SABR, Inc. p. 373.
- "Big-League Baseball To Hit Hinterlands On Cable Television". Wall Street Journal. April 13, 1979.
- "Majors give cable rights". Lawrence Journal-World. April 13, 1979.
Jane Gross (July 12, 1981). "Sports on cable". The New York Times.
USA agreed to the baseball limitations rejected by ESPN and shows a Thursday-night game in cities that do not have a major-league team. In New York City, Manhattan Cable broadcasts USA's programs, but cannot televise the weekly baseball game because the Yankees and Mets declined to grant the waivers necessary under major-league statutes.
- Jicha, Jim (April 3, 1982). "Is The Chance To .Ao To The Park". Miami News. Archived from the original on July 12, 2012.
- "Giants Announce Signings of Stennett, May, Wohlford". Los Angeles Times. December 13, 1979.
- "Philadelphia Daily News : BASEBALL SWINGS AN UNREAL DEAL". Philadelphia Daily News. March 1, 1983.
- "USA NETWORK MAKING SOME MAJOR-LEAGUE CUTS". Miami Herald. February 10, 1984.
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- Wall, Kevin M. (April 12, 2016). "Pearl Washington: An Inspiration On and Off the Court". Nunes Magician.
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- Klatell, Marcus, David A., Norman (1988). Sports for sale: television, money, and the fans. Oxford University Press. p. 58.
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- Feb 14, 1982 - The 1979— Daytona 500 was a classic race, and it happened to be the first one televised live, start to finish, by The network could hardly ... and made a deal with the USA cable network to furnish the qualifiers for cablecasting Fri day night. doing this, in effect, satisfies the inter ...
- Feb 16, 1984 - The trucks which pulled Into Daytona International Speedway last week were all not necessarily those containing the cars of the NASCAR drivers ... The USA Network will show the two 125 mile qualifying races Friday night at 8 but that Is under an agreement where the cable network ...
- Mar 29, 1982 - ... ... th Nabisco Dinah Shore Invitational Sports has signed a pact with video evangelist Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcast Network for the Dinah ... the right to tape them for replay later which has been in the business of cable since it split coverage of the Daytona 500 with USA Cable ...
- Apr 10, 1982 - an undisclosed fee for two days of broadcast rights USA had so little to do with the telecasts that it had just one of its own people on air ... as he stated it has worked Ratings for the Daytona 500 improved Bait the viewer with cable hook him with the network broadcast not saying I ...
- Ratings For Each Round of The Masters Since '82 (First/Second Rounds Since '99)
- "History of the Masters golf tournament on TV (1956-present)". Classic Sports TV and Media. 9 April 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
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- "US Open's cable TV deal leaves USA Network for ESPN". New York Daily News. May 12, 2008.
- Strachan, Al (July 30, 1985). "ESPN acquires NHL games Backroom bickering in TV deal". The Globe and Mail.
- Mulligan, Kevin (July 26, 1985). "NHL Finds a Home at ESPN". Philadelphia Daily News.
- Cohen, Rachel (17 April 2015). "Back on the USA Network: Sports Return With NHL Playoffs". ABC News.