Roone Pickney Arledge, Jr.
1931 – 2002
American Television Pioneer
Sports Ranking 8th of 12
Monday Night Football first televised in September 1970. U.S. stamp, 1998.
Roone Arledge was by far the most influential person in making televised sports successful. Arledge created “Wide World of Sports” in 1961 and later, in 1970, “Monday Night Football.” Televising sports has transformed sports and created modern sports heroes like Michael Jordan and Arnold Palmer.
“Television is largely responsible for having made sports the global and moneyed enterprise that it is,” wrote Steve Rushin in Sports Illustrated in 1994, “and Roone Arledge is largely responsible for having made sports on television look and sound and succeed the way it does.”
Television sports had been as bland as oatmeal; Arledge spiced it up. He was the first to use a platoon of TV cameras surrounding the field to capture all of the game’s sights and sounds from various angles. He was the first to use cranes, blimps and helicopters to offer the TV audience a panoramic view of the stadium and the first to have cameras wander just as spectators’ eyes would—to the nervous coach, the backup quarterback, the eccentric spectator, the cheerleader. Arledge introduced, or perfected, the use of halftime highlights, pre-recorded biographies and interviews, superimposed graphics, split screens, isolation cameras, hand-held cameras and field microphones. He also pioneered slow-motion instant replay in 1961. According to Arledge “nobody had ever seen anything like that before, and the impact was unbelievable.”
While transforming the way America watched the game, Arledge proceeded to influence what America chose to watch. Since the other networks owned the rights to most of the major sporting events, Arledge flew around the world purchasing rights to somewhat obscure, and sometimes outrageous, sporting endeavors to fill airtime. He called his weekly, year-round program “Wide World of Sports,” and it remains the longest-running and most successful sports anthology show in television history. According to Ron Powers of Sport magazine, the show “established a truth that had never been tested before: that instead of telecasting events because people were already interested in them (the World Series, the Rose Bowl), clever programmers could make people interested in events because they were on television.” Arledge also transformed the Olympic Games from an athletic competition for sports aficionados into an entertainment spectacular enjoyed by billions across the globe.
Key References: By Arledge, Roone: A Memoir, 2004. Television shows: "Wide World of Sports," 1961; "Monday Night Football," 1970.