What Role do Sport Fans play within the New Digital Media Landscape?

The fifth 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.

As they have permeated society, social media has also fundamentally changed the way consumers and businesses communicate and social media users value connecting with brands on social media networks. The ability to engage fans and consumers in two-way communication has been enhanced by social media platforms while researchers have regularly asserted brand image, visibility, and fan loyalty can be cultivated effectively through these mediums. But what role do audiences play in realising these outcomes for sport organisations, and how do they exist in the “space” provided by digital platforms within the sport media ecology?

The interactive web of communication that now exists characterised by Web 2.0 has resulted in the blurring of sender and receiver roles. The ‘traditional’ media roles of content ownership and production have been destabilised giving audiences power in shaping their mediated interactions. Audiences are now active prosumers able to produce and consume content and are no longer passive in their consumption as their previous relationship with the media once evoked. Moreover, as a result of globalisation, the way we consume in this digital world allows fans to connect to any content around the world as well as bypass different boarders of the nation state, exemplified by how people who shared an interest in Liverpool FC found each other in Brazil and Switzerland.

Audiences now have more power about deciding what they consume, when they consume and with whom they are going to engage with, but do they have complete agency or are social media platforms dictating our attention via algorithms? Accelerated by digitalisation and UGC platforms, perhaps audiences could be viewed as workers, not only destroying value when they consume but also creating value for themselves, others and businesses through their engagement either by creating content or selling their attention for free to help the algorithms flourish. In fact, Malhotra et al call active consumers an “ambassador” for brands that acts on its behalf through the actions of sharing and retweeting, thus generating large profits from what Fuchs terms “labour power” of users including sports fans. For example, Twitter is a content agnostic platform that relies on the engagement of its 190 million users for its attention economy business model.

Maybe sports fans were ironically working from home even before the pandemic…

I would argue it’s not just sport fans who could be viewed as workers but also other actors within the sport media ecosystem like team sport athletes through the interactions with and among users via their mass online followings and the commercial benefits this affords organisations. For example, 49 of Lionel Messi’s posts featuring Adidas produced 150 million interactions and $6.9 million in ad value for the brand. Additionally, media companies by showcasing the live sport product and other sport related content to global audiences, without which conversations and online interaction during the consumption of this content between spectators not physically present, for example, would not be facilitated while also contributing to these conversations on their various social media accounts.

The 10-second Instagram video highlights the global “No Fakers. Creators Only.” Adidas campaign

As is theorised, our consumption decisions to say follow a certain sport or team has a particular meaning which audiences associate value to but also communicate externally as well as internally curating their identity as a result. Like higher social strata seeks to differentiate themselves by endlessly adopting new fashions and imitating others, will sports fans change and adopt new ways to consume in the future and what will the Sport Media Ecology perhaps look like?


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