The Historic Role of Mass Media within Sport Media Ecology

This is the first instalment of a 6-part series aiming to explore the historical, current and future symbiosis between sport and media by analysing the media and digital transformations that have developed within the sport industry and sport media ecology.

How has achievement sport, argued to be the dominant form of ludic body culture in the world become an integral component of popular culture within our lives? Perhaps the answer can be found in the symbiotic relationship professional sport and the mass media have developed from the beginning of both institutions, which has grown at unparalleled levels through the phases of globalisation over the last 100 years.

The mass media documented and dominated sports coverage at this time through the predominant mediums of TV, Newspapers and Radio characterised by one way communication, transporting standardised messages to large heterogenous groups to inform and entertain consumers who were not in attendance at a particular sporting event. Without such communication, contemporary sport would be a set of largely localised, segmented activities.

Newspapers can be credited as the first medium of mass media that covered sport dating back to the 1700’s in the form of print media, with local newspapers covering sports contests in the USA. The popular press and media was mainly funded by advertisers which relied on a rising readership achieved through one of the functions of media – to entertain. Consequently, as sport continued to diffuse across the globe, media outlets became quick to capitalise on sports’ intrinsic qualities meaning sport gained more space within print and news departments while attracting large and passionately devoted audiences to the media. The mass media’s design and role to reach a mass audience with a degree in consensus in what is true afforded the media with a degree of power within society and also sport. However, this power and the fact mass commercial media is driven by profit raised questions about its function for education as well as the true nature of news.

For example, questions of patriarchal values exist as to why such few women’s sport is covered through traditional media and the type of content produced, potentially cultivating readers into thinking that women’s sports are trivial or non-existent. Furthermore, a national sport culture bias exists perhaps formed through Benedict Anderson’s argument of imagined community created by the relationship between mass media and society. This bias may explain why certain sports are covered and others are absent depending on the media, and especially to which country this medium writes to.

Both these points beg the question – does media create or reflect reality? Despite the educational potential of media, perhaps their commercial interests elicit a false sense of reality where the decision of inclusion of what is newsworthy is facilitated by the beliefs and interests of their audience, highlighting Niklas Luhmann’s contention:

“We can speak of the reality of the mass media in another sense, that is, in the sense of what appears to them, or through them to others, to be reality.”

(Luhmann, 2000, p.4)

Sport has undoubtedly evolved into one of the central components of the increasingly global media entertainment industry. The full blooming of the symbiosis of sports and media occurred with the development of television which became the major component of the “circuits of promotion” that made sporting events “newsworthy”. However, how has sport media transformed in the present day? In the attention economy, has the emergence of new digital media complemented the traditional TV medium for consuming sport or in fact completely replaced it? What implications does this digital disruption have for sport broadcasting rights?

Stay tuned to my series where I explore the answers to these questions and more!

Be sure to give a thumbs up and let me know your thoughts in the comments.


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