By Jeff Merron
Page 2

The "Big Bang" change of the past quarter century can be precisely dated: Sept. 7, 1979, when "SportsCenter" and ESPN rode the satellite uplink for the first time. Since then, scores and scores of innovations, both big and small, have created a sports world that would have been unimaginable 26 years ago.

These 100 innovations are a potpourri. We've got food, fashion, finances, and fads. Music, marketing, and Madden. Strategies, sales, and salary dumps. The Web, the wild card, and the WNBA. All were not for the good. But all were important.

Nothing scientific here, though I did try to nail down a start date (or approximate "tipping point") for each item, and I'm aware that almost all had precursors. But bloomers aren't Baggy Shorts, Babe Ruth wasn't a "salary dump," and the Bears-Spartans 1932 championship game inside Chicago Stadium wasn't Arena Football.

Complete list: 1-25 | 26-50 | 51-75 | 76-100

ESPN25: 100 BIGGEST INNOVATIONS
100
Jane Fonda's workout video
Released in 1982 and based on the former actress/activist's bestselling workout book, the video was a mega-seller that fueled the home fitness/aerobics craze. In RCA's original press release for the video, it claimed that it was "the first special production for the home video market featuring a major box office star."
99
Simulated high-altitude environments
No longer do endurance athletes have to move to the high mountains to enjoy the benefits of altitude. Many now use tents or rooms that allow them to sleep at "high altitude," while training at low altitude, which improves performance.
98
Major League Soccer
We'd seen men's pro soccer leagues come and go in the U.S. But MLS opened big in 1996, drawing 69,000 to the L.A. Galaxy home opener in April and 78,000 to its first All-Star Game at Giants Stadium on July 14, 1996. Looks like it's here to stay.
97
WUSA soccer
Riding the wave of the 1999 Women's World Cup, the women's pro soccer league raised $40 million to launch with eight teams -- and huge stars like Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and Tiffeny Millbrett in 2001. Despite national television coverage and first-year average attendance of 8,295, the league faltered financially and lasted only three seasons (2001-2003).
96
Baseball All Star game decides World Series home advantage
In an effort to make the Mid-Summer Classic meaningful, the league that won the All-Star game got home field advantage in the World Series beginning in 2003. Prior to that, home-field advantage had alternated between the AL and NL.
95
Two-point conversion in the NFL
College football and the AFL had the two-point conversion rule long before the NFL adopted it in 1994. Though used sparingly, the option to go for two has given head coaches one more arrow in their strategic quiver.
94
Rollerblades
Scott Olson, a hockey player from Minneapolis, was the first to successfully create an inline roller skate that could be used for off-season ice-skating training. Olson's breakthrough came in 1979; by the late 1980s, rollerblading was mainstream and a sport in and of itself -- not just a training tool.
93
Patches galore
They started as an occasional commemorative or tribute item, long before the ESPN Era. (The Pirates, for example, wore patches to honor the deceased Roberto Clemente in 1973.) But in 1991, all team unis were emblazoned with an NFL shield patch on the jersey and on the pants. Other leagues got into the act. There was the ubiquitous Nike patch; and now, if Michael J. Fox went back in time wearing a football helmet, everyone would be calling him "Riddell."
92
Throwback uniforms and jerseys
NHL teams sported throwback unis as early as 1993; and in 1994, NFL teams celebrated the league's 75th anniversary with throwback jerseys. (For example, the Rams sported a 1951 yellow/gold number.) In the past five years, there's been a throwback explosion in all the major sports.
91
The Triathlon
Although the first Hawaii Ironman was held in 1978, the sport really took off in the early 1980s. (ABC first televised one in 1980.) The International Triathlon Union (1989) followed the standardization of distances (1,500-meter swim, 40K cycling, 10K run). The triathlon became an Olympic sport in 2000.
90
"Premium" priced games
Variable priced seating goes back as far as 1980 as a regular practice, according to ESPN.com's Darren Rovell, when the University of Colorado started charging more for football games against Nebraska and Oklahoma. The Rockies, Cardinals, and Giants adopted the practice around 2000, and many other teams now vary single-game ticket prices according to time of the year and quality of opponent.
89
Luxury cap in baseball
Beginning in 2003, a little of that Yankee green started filtering down to the poor boys.
88
Uniform design goes high style
In 1988, Alexander Julian designed the new purple-and-teal Charlotte Hornets uni. According to Uni Watch guru Paul Lukas, "this was not only the first time a 'real' clothing designer had designed a major sports uni, it was also the start of the purple and teal craze."
87
Pay-Per-View
Existed in primitive theater form pre-1979, but boxing would be nowhere without pay-per-view. The service first came into big play for the September 1981 welterweight title bout between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns, when about 500,000 viewers paid $15 to watch the fight via cable. (Only about a million could receive the service.) Closed circuit for the same fight grossed $18 million, but PPV would soon take the lead.
86
Sideline interviews
Jim Lampley was reporting from the sidelines in the 1970s, but the sideline interview first came into play big-time when the USFL allowed ABC to do sideline interviews beginning with its March 1983 debut. Hard to imagine, but at first, the exchanges were actually meaningful. Two years later, Gerald Eskenazi of the New York Times praised the innovation, writing on March 19, 1985, that "The U.S.F.L. telecasts on ABC-TV continue to sparkle with intriguing sideline interviews by Tim Brant in the heat of the game. Immediately after the Baltimore Stars' Sam Mills picked off a Doug Flutie pass, Brant had him describe his team's strategy in trying to halt the little General. It gives a dimension and immediacy to the game."
85
Premium baseball cards
Topps monopoly was broken by court order in 1980. The following year, Fleer and Donruss came out with their own sets of cards. Since then, there's been an explosion of cards in all sports, with a larger variety (high gloss, limited edition, etc.) that has turned a kid's pastime into a collectibles business oriented more toward adults.
84
Sideline shots of coaches
Leo Mazzone rocks. He rocks when the Braves are ahead; he rocks when they're behind. College basketball coaches scream. They're up off their feet, with their hands flailing in more directions than a symphony conductor. But ... they're not playing the game! And way too many of the frequent shots tell us only two things. One is obvious: The coach is concerned about his team. The other is not: The coach is playing to the camera in ways that were rare, if not unimaginable, 25 years ago.
83
One-out lefty reliever
Another La Russa innovation. He used Rick Honeycutt and Vince Horsman as one-out men in 1992. Also in 1992, the Brewers' Jesse Orosco became a one-outer, appearing in 59 games but pitching only 39 innings.
82
Personal seat licenses
We're not sure who was the first, but it might have been the New Jersey Devils. In 1982, the Devils started charging $2,000 for rights to premium season tickets -- and an annual right to renew. Fans protested -- they'd managed to shoot down a variety of ticket fee schemes floated in the late 1970s -- but within a decade, seat licenses weren't raising many eyebrows. Unless they were too high.
81
Bobblehead dolls
Once upon a time, giveaways were only about trinkets. But the bobblehead craze, which probably dates to the Giants' giveaway of a Willie Mays bobbler in 1999, turned the dolls into sure-fire ways to draw fans. Many have also become true (and sometimes very valuable) collectibles.
80
Senior PGA Tour
On June 22, 1980, Don January won the Atlantic City International, the first event on the newly-formed Senior PGA Tour. The Tour would expand from five to 11 to 24 tournaments within just a few years, with prize money increasing quickly into the millions. And fans got to see Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus and other beloved greats play long past their prime.
79
Sports bars
We're not talking Toots Shor's here. We're talking widescreens everywhere, sports gear all over the walls, and packed to the rafters on every autumn weekend. They weren't the first, but Mike O'Harro and Jim Desmond opened "Champions" in Washington, D.C., in 1984, and were talking about opening more ASAP. "I think this is going to be a hot concept nationwide," said O'Harro. He was right.
78
Virtual signage
The ability to project advertising images onto the field, or walls, that can only be seen on TV, will ensure that Wrigley's bricks and ivy are never covered or painted over. The technology also means that marketers' logos are ubiquitous, and that viewers at home can't quite believe their eyes. Debuted in 1995, the virtual ads became common around 1998.
77
One-piece composite hockey sticks
Introduced in the late 1990s, the one-piece sticks, combined with graphite blades, added about 10 mph to shot speed.
76
Big, light goalie pads
In 1989-90, the NHL instituted a rule change that increased the maximum width of goalie pads from 10 to 12 inches. The increased width, along with lighter materials, now enable goalies to cover a lot more territory in the crease.




Jeff_Merron
Jeff
Merron
BIGGEST INNOVATIONS