The Evolution of Watching Football: A Complete Viewing History of the NFL

Brandon Alisoglu@@BrandonAlisogluCorrespondent IMay 18, 2013

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03:  Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens holds the Vince Lombardi trophy as CBS announcer Jim Nantz looks on after the Ravens won 34-31 against the San Francisco 49ers during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Do you ever have one of those mind-blowing thought processes where you realize that mankind has gone from arrowheads to microchips? Well, just like the human race, the NFL has revolutionized its viewing experience a little since its debut in 1920.

That might have been a bit grandiose, but the evolution is still quite impressive. Read through to see where the NFL started, where it is now, and where it could be heading.



The Throne Age

There weren't many alternatives to attending games in the early days. You had to physically plant yourself in a bleacher and take in the action firsthand.

The radio wasn't used in the manner we have grown accustomed to until 1912, and the first news show wasn't shot out to the public until a month before the first NFL game was played. Suffice to say, nobody understood the potency (and profitability) of putting the infant league on the freshly invented airwaves.

So they assumed their thrones to observe the barbaric ancestor of today's professional football, and waited for innovation to take its course.



Did You Hear That?

As most of us can attest, there are fewer pains in the butt (or back) that are worse than sitting in bleachers. They're metal or wood, uncomfortable and provide little support. So being able to kick back and listen to the action in your living room or local watering hole would seem like a fantastic innovation.

But the NFL was not an early adaptor. The first news broadcast happened in 1920, followed closely by the first college football game in 1921. 

The league didn't jump on the fast-moving train until 1934. When the Detroit Lions took on the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving, America got its first taste of a nationally broadcasted game. 

Radio as the main form of following the NFL never really took hold the way it did for baseball. The quick conversion to television meant only people traveling in their cars and those working on Sunday afternoons would enjoy the audio experience. 



Are You Ready For Some Football?

The NFL wasn't so slow on the uptake when it came to television. In fact, within five years of the league's initial radio broadcast, the NFL televised its first game. Ironically, the cloud cover that day crated a darkness that completely erased the picture, leaving eager fans with an occasional radio broadcast instead. 

The real boom didn't come until The Greatest Game Ever Played. Johnny Unitas stole the attention of a nation by rallying his Indianapolis Colts often, including a late drive that resulted in the game-tying field goal. The Baltimore Colts eventually prevailed in overtime, leaving the country smitten with professional football.

Those late-game heroics set the foundation for the next half-century. From Joe Montana to Tom Brady, the last few minutes of do-or-die games has made for compelling television, which is why Super Bowl telecasts have been five of the six most-watched television programs of all time

That's how gigantic the sport has become, and the success of the marquee event demonstrates the NFL’s importance in our society. It's allowed the league to charge DirecTV $1 billion a year for the exclusive rights to "NFL Sunday Ticket."

There isn't a single misprint in that sentence.

The advancement and dropping prices of high-definition televisions has created a market that seems insatiable. Regardless of the costs, fans have been willing to plunk down the money to spend time eating, drinking and watching football with family and friends.



Anywhere, Anytime

Television isn't the final frontier for the NFL. It would be foolhardy for the league to sit back when the viewing public demands more coverage and mobility.

So innovation took its course, and we can now watch a game anywhere. Have to go to grandma's house for a family reunion? Fine, just take your cell phone or tablet with you (like those items weren't on your person anyway) and find a quiet spot away from the family.

That's right! You don't have to pay attention to anyone anymore!



The Future

In all seriousness, the NFL has come in a long way in terms of being able to follow the action. But there are still more ways to tap into our wallets.

Soccer has found a way to put butts in away stadiums by projecting holograms of real-time action onto the empty home pitch. It's incredible. Brazilian fans would be able to watch their team on their home field, despite the game taking play thousands of miles away.

If you think the NFL isn't going to adapt this technology for its own benefit, you haven't been paying attention. Think about it. There would be 16 regular-season games to tailgate, all without leaving your own city. 

The future isn't here yet, but history has proven that the league will find a way to get the game to its fans.

Mostly because we demand it.