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What Are the Sports Emmy Awards

by Scott Kacsmar
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The Sports Emmy Awards are a subset of the Emmys, an annual award show for honoring the best achievements in the television industry. Yet, the Sports Emmy Awards is only for sports-related television coverage in America.

An annual spring event, the Sports Emmys will soon be hosting their 45th ceremony. Before heading into the online sportsbooks to check this year’s odds, let’s look back at the history of the event, the awards handed out and the big winners over the decades.

The Origin of the Sports Emmy Awards

Way back in 1950, the Primetime Emmy Awards were taking place for only the 2nd time. They included an award for “Best Sports Coverage” and it was won by KTLA, a local station in Los Angeles, for its coverage of wrestling.

KTLA Primetime Emmy Awards 1950

You have to remember this was in the infancy of television. ESPN did not exist for a few decades. The NBA only officially started playing under that league name in the 1949-50 season. The NFL was just a few years into the TV broadcasting of certain games. A local station’s coverage of other sports would stand out much more in that climate than it ever could today.

In 1950, the Los Angeles Rams became one of the 1st NFL teams to broadcast all of their games on television. A year later in 1951, another Los Angeles-based station, KNBH, won an Emmy for their coverage of those Rams.

It wasn’t until 1955 when NBC became the 1st major network to win a Sports Emmy for its popular series the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. If you are a fan of the band Glassjaw, now you know where they got that 2002 song title from.

As the decades passed, watching sports and sports coverage on TV became more commonplace among Americans. In 1979, the 1st ever Sports Emmy Awards was held at the Rainbow Room in New York City with a total of 12 awards handed out. The 9th Sports Emmys were held in July 1988 and that was the 1st time it was televised. It moved to ESPN in 1991.

Award Eligibility and Rules for the Sports Emmy Awards

To qualify for a Sports Emmy, the show must air to at least 50% of the country between January 1 and December 31 of the previous year.

Certain well-known sporting events are ineligible for awards, including the Super Bowl halftime show or any opening or closing ceremony at the Olympics. The actual Super Bowl game and Olympic events are eligible for awards.

Entries must be submitted in January. Peer judging panels vote in February and March, and the panels are organized so that each corporate entity (Warner Bros., Discovery, NBCUniversal, etc.) only has a single representative to cut down on any biases.

When a show wins a Sports Emmy, any member of the show’s crew can purchase an Emmy statue as long as they had a job title consistent with what the award was for. That means a large number of people can share some of these awards.

Categories of Sports Emmy Awards

While the original Sports Emmy Awards had 12 awards, today’s ceremonies can have almost 50 awards handed out. They can be broken down into 4 categories:

  • Programming: Outstanding Live Sports Special, Outstanding Live Sports Series, Outstanding Documentary (Short, Long, Series, Serialized), Outstanding Studio Show (Daily and Weekly), Outstanding Journalism, Outstanding Opening/Tease, etc.
  • Personality: Outstanding Sports Personality awards for Studio Host, Play-by-play, Studio Analyst, Sports Even Analyst, Sports Reporter, Emerging On-air Talent and Personality in Spanish.
  • Technical: Outstanding Technical Team Event, Outstanding Camera Work (Short Form and Long Form), Outstanding Editing (Short Form and Long Form), Outstanding Audio/Sound, Outstanding Graphic Design, etc.
  • Special: Sports Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Sports Lifetime Achievement Award is a special award that has been given out since 1989 to a notable American sportscaster or sports TV executive. Some of the past winners include Jim McKay (1989), Pat Summerall (1993), Howard Cosell (1994), Vin Scully (1995), John Madden (2009), Al Michaels (2010), Ted Turner (2013), Dick Vitale (2019), Bryant Gumbel (2022) and James Brown (2023). It was not awarded to anyone in 2012, 2018, and 2020.

There are also 3 defunct categories that the Sports Emmy Awards no longer issues:

  • Outstanding Host or Commentator (1968-92)
  • Outstanding Analyst (1981-92 before it was expanded into multiple categories for analysts)
  • Outstanding Achievement In Content For Non-Traditional Delivery Platforms (awarded in 2005 before branching into 3 different awards in 2006)

Most Wins in Sports Emmy Awards History

As you might expect, ESPN often leads with the most Sports Emmy nominations as the biggest 24/7 sports network in the business. ESPN had 59 nominations in 2023, beating out NBC Sports (38) and FOX Sports (33) for the lead. ESPN ended up winning 13 Sports Emmys in 2023, which set a company record.

Still, what about the historic winners at the Sports Emmys? These series have won the most Sports Emmys in history:

  • 9 wins – NBC Sunday Night Football
  • 8 wins – College GameDay, Inside the NBA, Monday Night Football
  • 7 wins – NFL GameDay/Sunday NFL Countdown
  • 6 wins – MLB Tonight
  • 5 wins – Inside the NFL, NFL on CBS, The NFL Today

Football clearly dominates. What about the most Sports Emmy wins by an individual:

  • 28 wins – Bob Costas
  • 16 wins – Cris Collinsworth, John Madden (tie)
  • 9 wins – Jim McKay, Mike Emrick (tie)
  • 7 wins – Joe Buck, Al Michaels (tie)
  • 6 wins – Ernie Johnson Jr.

When Are the 2024 Sports Emmy Awards?

The 45th Sports Emmy Awards will take place on May 21, 2024, at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York City.

NFL 360 (11) and Super Bowl LVIII (10) have the most nominations of any show. Super Bowl LVIII between the Chiefs and 49ers, just the 2nd Super Bowl in history to go to overtime, will compete for the Outstanding Live Special Sports Emmy, among other awards.

The Prime Video sports documentary Kelce about the 2022 NFL season for brothers Jason and Travis Kelce is nominated for Outstanding Long Documentary.

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Scott Kacsmar
NFL football picks are Scott Kacsmar's expertise, serving as his main focus. He has contributed to various sports websites and blogs, such as NBC Sports, ESPN Insider, FiveThirtyEight, and, JoeWager. Originating from Pittsburgh, Scott maintains a love-hate connection with the Pirates.

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