The Sport Media Ecology

As I have argued in the Project page (see here) sport might be considered as the most serious of our mundane passions; so, how this unimportant pastime of the masses became so important to many of us to a point where during its absence in the course of the current Covid-19 pandemic we might have experienced a sense of loss in our lives?

A possible answer to this question might lie in the intricate symbiotic relationship developed over the last 100 years between two of the most important invented traditions of European modernity (see Hobsbawn’s arguments here): professional sport and mass media. As argued by David Rowe (see here) we can understand this symbiotic relationship as the links between the symbolic (media) and the physical (sport) in a way that today it becomes inconceivable to think of one without the other.

If we accept that by being by-products of European modernisation both sport and mass media might share other similarities in respect of their functions to society, namely: entertainment, education, and social integration around an imagined community (see Benedict Anderson’s argument here). As McQuail and Deuze (see here) argue there are four issues that are particularly important for reflecting on the relationship between mass media and society, which are also important for us to appreciate when looking at the intersect between sport, mediatisation, and society. For McQuail and Deuze (2020) those issues are: the power of the means of communication; the social integration or disintegration caused by them; how they educate the public (think of the current fake news pandemic); the ephemerality of mediated relationships. Those four issues will be recurrent in our discussions during the entire module.

But maybe one good example that encompasses all four of those issues is to look at media roles in an already digitally disrupted sport media ecology. In a post on my personal blog (see here) I have used a football derby (Grêmio versus Internacional, or simply Grenal) in Brazil (Porto Alegre – the place I grew up) social network analysis {on Twitter} to show how to some extent media organisations, journalists, or even new media individuals (bloggers, influencers, etc) still maintained their original position and role for the masses: they continued to mediate. As it is possible to see in the below graph the individuals and institutions I have highlighted above are situated in the middle of the network and are acting as bridges between the two sides of the derby.

social network analysis showing traditional media roles in digitally disrupted sport media ecology. Social network analysis of Gremio vs Internacional derby in 2019
Grenal Derby Social Network Analysis (source: author)

Nevertheless, whilst those traditional and new media organisms are situated in the middle of the network (so helping with the integration of this community of football fans) they are not the ones with the higher authority. As the node sizes denote both football clubs are the ones with higher authority and thus there is the first evidence of how the digital disruption is impacting the once sedimented sport media ecology. Power is moving away from those traditional media organisations – or even new media individuals – to sport institutions such as the two football clubs. Another possible point we can highlight is how ephemeral those links – and the network itself – are, as between kick-off and the end of the game there were over 14,000 nodes (users who tweeted) and 23,000 edges (mentions, tags, etc), but nevertheless over 98% of those users were strongly connected according to connected components analysis.

In summary, both continuities and discontinuities in the sport media ecology are at the centre of digital disruption, and it is of extreme importance to understand how this symbiotic relationship continuously metamorphoses. This will be the point of this module and the blog.

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