This past Tuesday our graduate class had a great discussion on the topic of Sociology in Sports.
What is sport sociology? It is the study of the relationship between sports and society (Crossman 2014). It examines how culture and values influence sports, how sports influences culture and values, and the relationship between sports and media, politics, economics, religion, race, gender, and youth. (Crossman, 2014)
The discussion in our class was based on an article written by Ken Reed of League of Fans called “Sports Media Dropping the Ball on Social, Cultural and Economic Issues in Sports”. The purpose of the article was to investigate whether or not sports media is going to continue to be about entertainment sports coverage, and putting profit-at-all-costs above the journalistic and corporate responsibilities, or will they aspire to be something higher.
As the article suggests, the way in which we consume sport has changed drastically over the last half century. Gone are the days of just being able to watch your local sports team. Fans can follow their teams across the country and all over the world. This is mainly due to the relationships that sport has developed with the media. This relationship has allowed for more access to sport and has de-territorialized sport for long-distance fans. However, the growth of sports media has come with some huge drawbacks. Sport has now become increasingly distorted at all levels, due to the Win-At-All-Cost and Profit-At-All-Cost mentalities. The focus for sports media has been on what generates ratings, not on actually what is good for sports. Sport media has done a great job at identifying issues and describing problems in the world of sport; however, sports media struggles when it comes to following up with features that dig deeper into the root causes of issues.
Symbiosis of Sport Media and Commercial Sport
As mentioned earlier, a huge reason for sports growth in popularity can be attributed to its relationship with the media. This relationship has the characteristics of a symbiotic relationship. A symbiotic relationship is the living together of two dissimilar organisms (Reed, 2011). This relationship came about when pro-sport organizations saw television as an excellent medium to build a larger audience beyond their geographical area. Since then, sport has depended on sport media for free publicity of their product. Sport media have long depended on sports to help boost readership, listenership, and viewership.
Media moguls such as Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corporation, saw sport as a “cornerstone of broadcasting efforts.” In 2011, Murdoch, along with NBC, ESPN, CBS, and DirecTV aided NFL owners during the leagues lockout. The group agreed to give money to NFL owners to help underwrite the cost of a possible lost season due to a strike. Most major newspapers in North America devote more space to sport than any other topic, including business, politics, and world news. This shows that both entities, although dissimilar, have become dependent on each other to succeed and have created what sport has become today.
Corporate Responsibility and the Sports Media
Sport media has an obligation to its viewers to provide content that covers all aspects of the world of sport. Not just results, but financial and social issues, as well. As Coakley suggests, “Capitalist corporations sponsor nearly 100 percent of all sports programming in the media, and their goals are to create consumers loyal to capitalism and generate profits for corporations and their shareholders. However, we seldom question how this influences what we see in sports coverage, what we hear in commentaries, and what we do not read, see, and hear as we consume media sports” (2011). So why is it that sport media isn’t taking more responsibility in producing a more well rounded view of the world of sport?
As the article suggests, sport media is under increasing pressure for ratings and page views. The allure of entertainment quick hits gets in the way of that. It is easier for sports media to show fans more game coverage, trade rumors, injuries, reports, and scandals than it is to develop in depth discussions and analyses on critical social, cultural, and economic sport issues of the day, as well as examine the sport systems that lead to these scandals. This is because developing these in depth articles is time-consuming. Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports spent 11 months on a story on the University of Miami football scandal. As Moran suggests “There is not enough time or bodies to produce this type of work on a regular basis” (2011). Sport media is also exceedingly profitable with the current system for them to even want to consider change. To them the system is working just fine.
So What Can We Do?
Here is what the article suggested we could do as consumers to hold sports media accountable to a higher standard then just Profit-At-All-Cost.
- Demand that the Sports Media establish a sports issues and sports reform beat.
- Every Sports Media organization should add an ombudsman, who would function to investigate complaints from fans and other sport stakeholders.
- The sports media must cover all aspects of sports, including participatory sports, not just highly commercialized spectator sports.
- Use the tools and reach of the Internet to challenge the dominance of big commercial sport.
As consumers of sports media we must continue to challenge the dominant ideology that sports media pushes on us. If we, as consumers, demand a higher quality product and more critically developed content then it will be on sports media to produce that content or we will begin to us other mediums, like sport blogs or podcasts, to receive our information.
So ask yourself. Where do I consume sports media? Do the platforms I use to watch sports contribute to the problem? Or do they go against the dominant ideology in which sports media show us?
Please comment and let me know where you think the world of sports media is headed.