A collection of various scorebugs. Screengrabs via YouTube.

Sports in 2024 look dramatically different than did before June 17, 1994 — and not just for the late O.J. Simpson’s prominence on NBC football telecasts. On what is perhaps the most famous (if not infamous) single day in American sports history, the most enduring development that debuted then is now downright ubiquitous. It’s the scorebug, and it first appeared on domestic game coverage the same June day as Simpson’s Ford Bronco chase.

Essentially every athletic event aired or streamed today features some form of scorebug – and if it doesn’t, it’s annoyingly apparent. In retrospect, for as simple of a concept as it is having vitals like the score, time remaining, and so on, it didn’t become reality until ABC and ESPN needed it to.

Born from Necessity

“You know the old saying: ‘Necessity is the mother of invention,’” said Dennis Deninger, a professor at the Syracuse University Falk College of Sport & Human Dynamics and a multiple-time Emmy Award winner for his production work at ESPN.

Deninger spent 25 years leading production teams at the Worldwide Leader, starting with the network in 1982. Televised sports evolved dramatically in that time, with necessity prompting plenty of invention — though nothing quite like what ESPN and ABC faced in 1994.

Necessity in this case came from the network’s agreement to present the World Cup without commercial interruptions. The 1994 FIFA Men’s World Cup marked a pivotal moment for soccer in the United States, with the sport’s premier event played here for the first time in its history.

ESPN and ABC acquired the rights for $23 million — a hefty price that more closely reflected the networks’ ambitions than the precedent for American World Cup viewership.

The 1990 World Cup attracted an average rating of just 571,000 viewers for 23 telecasts on TNT, Mike Zizzo reported for the Orlando Sentinel in May 1994.

The first ever scorebug.
1994 World Cup Screengrab via YouTube.

Without the same challenges due to the time difference, and with optimism the United States Men’s National Team might fare better than its dismal 0-3 showing in Italy, Zizzo reported ABC brass estimated an average of 3.8 million viewers over the 52 telecasts in 1994.

World Cup USA ‘94 president Alan Rothenberg predicted the actual numbers would exceed projections. He was vindicated in July 1994 when the Nielsen rating of 5.3 surpassed the forecast by 18 percent.

Rothenberg was hardly the only person bullish on the World Cup’s drawing power. Hoyt Harper, then-vice president of ITT Sheraton, said in a Knight-Ridder Newspapers syndicated article that overhearing a young girl in Boston explain soccer’s nuances to her father captured the sport’s huge domestic potential.

ESPN and ABC commanded a reported $12 million each from the World Cup’s five primary sponsors (Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Snickers, Canon Inc., which was sponsored via FIFA; and Mastercard, a national sponsor).

That investment — though relatively inexpensive in the context of the Cup’s overall viewership — was still predicated on the advertisers’ visibility.

The networks thus had to thread a needle that both met sponsors’ needs, while showcasing the World Cup with appropriate gravitas.

“Prior to that, any soccer on ESPN had been kind of a crapshoot as they’re going to take a break [for commercials],” Deninger said. “And if you miss a goal, they’d come back and do a replay of it. But you know that World Cup is too important to treat that way.

“So, because the ESPN agreed to have 45 minutes of soccer uninterrupted [by commercials] for each of the haves, there had to be a way to display the the sponsor logos for the five charter sponsors that it signed on,” Deninger added.

Thus, the scorebug as it existed in America debuted on June 17, 1994, commensurate with the opening of the World Cup, as a subtle advertisement. The concept existed overseas before coming stateside, however, thanks to David Hill.

The NFL Gets A “Fox Attitude” Adjustment  

Fox launched in the United States in 1986, and almost immediately strived to distinguish itself from American television’s entrenched Big Three of ABC, NBC, and CBS by branding Fox as an edgy alternative.

Some of its attempts to stand out whiffed — a sitcom starring the late comedian Sam Kinison as a Jiminy Cricket-style conscience for a middle-aged loser lasted less than two months, for example. Others like Married…With Children and The Simpsons became pop-culture sensations that pushed boundaries and helped define Fox’s identity as a network.

In August 1994 — just a few weeks after the completion of the World Cup and less than two weeks before the fledgling network took a huge step toward prominence with its first-ever NFL broadcast — Fox Entertainment president Sandy Grushow described “the Fox attitude” in an interview with the Chicago Tribune as “an outlook, a way of life, a sense of adventure.”

Allow this Millennial writer to borrow a Zoomer term and label Grushow’s Boomer appeal to Gen X sensibilities as “cringe.” And that isn’t merely a position benefited through hindsight; Fox’s most iconic show, The Simpsons, routinely lampooned the idea of “Fox attitude.”

Nevertheless, it’s an ethos the network leaned into. As Grushow told the Tribune, that meant, “You know that when you watch Fox, there will be certain elements you’ll find that you won’t necessarily find anywhere else.”

Thus, it should come as no surprise that Fox’s inaugural foray into broadcasting the NFL in the 1994 season debuted a never-before-seen element for any of the three major American sports. It was courtesy of Australian-born David Hill, who introduced the idea of heading up Sky Sports in the UK.

Bryan Curtis produced a terrific look at Fox’s 1994 plunge in the NFL, which set the network back a staggering (for the time) $1.6 billion for four years.

The influx of cash from Fox was substantial enough to increase the league’s salary cap, making it transformative for the direction of the NFL ahead of a new millennium. And the Fox presentation likewise changed sports broadcasts thanks to Hill’s idea.

“I put together a tape,” Hill told Curtis. “And I wrote this thing up: ‘This is how we do soccer in England, and this is how we’ll do American football.’”

That included implementing the scorebug. The omnipresent graphic displaying the quarter, time remaining, and score — down-and-distance had yet to debut as a permanent fixture — is subtly viewed through the present-day lens.

However, the “FoxBox” scorebug made for a stark contrast compared to the NFL’s standard presentation just a season earlier.

Fox's first NFL scorebug from 1994.
NFL on Fox 1994 Week 1 scorebug – screengrab via YouTube

Here is a 1993 Week 1 matchup between the Dolphins and Colts and Fox presenting Week 1 between Minnesota and Green Bay a year later.

The difference was apparently so drastic 30 years ago that it resulted in Hill fielding death threats; five, per Hill’s recollection.

That level of ire seems quaint in retrospect, given the tweaks to broadcast production that have followed in the last 30 years.

Like Fox’s attempts at cutting-edge TV, some ideas since the debut of the FoxBox fizzled; ask hockey fans of a certain age their memories of “FoxTrax,” a glowing puck allegedly meant to make following the action easier, and you’ll probably hear language that would have made Sam Kinison blush.

The FoxBox, however, embodied Fox’s 1990s pursuit of “attitude” by giving the audience the unexpected while at the same time introducing a feature that’s proven timeless.

The Art of the ScoreBug

Scorebugs and the overall graphical presentation networks provide regular change — and not always for the better.

Fox’s NFL FoxBox has gone through several iterations in the last 30 years. Awful Announcing’s Ben Koo took a fun trip down memory lane on the bug’s 20th birthday, which seems to reinforce the value of subtlety.

Fox NFL scorebugs.
A look at some past versions of Fox’s various NFL scorebugs.

At the turn of the 21st Century, cable news networks ran wild implementing graphics in a phenomenon that Saturday Night Live hilariously parodied.

Graphical creep has invaded sports coverage at times, too.

Some of it, Deninger said, is a byproduct of what we watch events on.

“Back in 1994 people were watching television on maybe 35-inch screens,” he said. “Now they’re watching on at least 55- and 60-inch screens over the past decade or so. …Back then, it was 4:3 aspect ratio for the picture and now it’s 9:16, so you actually have more space.”

How networks opt to utilize that space varies, and so do the audience’s reactions.

Fox rolled out a huge scorebug for its college football broadcasts in the 2023 season. The graphic seen at the bottom of the screens ate up considerable real estate and was met with a negative response.

No word if the producers behind it endured death threats like their predecessor Hill — present-day viewers appear to reserve such ridiculous reactions for players they blamed for losing bets — but the detractors were nevertheless vocal.

Providing more information doesn’t have to mean more clutter, however.

“If you look at what TNT is doing for their NBA [playoff] games, they’ve got one lower-right bug that has all the information — the teams, the Western Finals, the game [number], and who leads [the series] by what — and then, if they want to add information, they don’t add a second graphic, they flip [the scorebug] then flip it back to the score,” Deninger said. “So there are efficient smart ways to do it rather than just littering the screen.”

Credit: Bally Sports, NBC Sports, ESPN, MLB Local Media, Fox, Apple TV+

On June 17, 1994, the New York Rangers celebrated winning their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. Their current drought isn’t nearly as dire, but the Rangers are at 30 years and counting without winning another.

The New York Knicks moved within a game of claiming their first NBA championship post-ABA merger. Three decades later, the Knicks are still seeking that elusive title.

O.J. Simpson returned to TV, but the closest he ever came to his days as a marquee network analyst were the short clips of football analysis he tweeted in the years before his death in April 2024.

The scorebug that debuted that June day, meanwhile, has remained a vital part of our sports consumption. Scorebugs will continue to evolve — gambling’s growing ubiquity, for example, likely means live betting odds are the next wave of data to be integrated into the display.

But the basic concept remains as the longest-lasting development of sports’ most famous day.

About Kyle Kensing

Kyle Kensing is a sports journalist in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @KyleKensing and subscribe to his newsletter The Press Break at https://pressbreak.substack.com.