Ananya Vinay is now a champion of one of newest sports – spelling.
Vinay, 12, was crowned the victor of this year’s National Spelling Bee, taking home $40,000, a savings bonds, and of course reference books like a dictionary. More importantly, she also took home the title in a global competition that has increasingly being considered a “sport.”
It all started when ESPN, the global sports broadcasting TV network, decided to broadcast the entire Scripps National Spelling Bee in 1994 (a few years prior to Disney buying ESPN in 1996). Since then, the network has featured the event from beginning to end, about 14 hours of expensive TV air time given to the best spellers in the world.
But why give it? According to an official word pronouncer for the Bee, he has no idea. “I can’t quite figure out why,” said Alex Cameron in 1994 to the Orlando Sentinel. Maybe it’s the agony of defeat.” Defeat or in the case of the Bee, elimination, is very much an aspect of competitive sports like basketball and football.
Whatever the reason, the televising of the National Spelling Bee turned a simple promotional event into a respected sporting event that will continued to get millions of loyal viewers every year.
You can read more about the relationship between ESPN and the National Spelling Bee in a great story on The Outline featuring an interview with Scripps (official sponsor of the Spelling Bee) CEO Rich Boehne, who was instrumental in bringing the Bee to TV.