1.2 Sports media
The media play a key role in the creation of iconic moments, sports celebrities and major sporting events, and in our everyday experience of sport. Sport is global not only because it is played across the world, but, more importantly, because the media transmit information across the globe so fast and so effectively to create a culture of sport and to place sport so prominently within popular culture. The media, like sport, are part of a massive global network that developed through the twentieth century and was strongly linked to the technological developments that made communications so important politically, socially and economically. We watch games on television, listen to commentaries on the radio or the internet, find out scores on the internet and on our mobile phones, and read about sport and the politics of sport in the newspapers. However, media messages are not simple, transparent reports of what is happening, on or off the field of play. The media are part of the whole process and experience of sport; they play a part in constructing our understanding of sport.
Pause for a moment to think about how you use the media in your own experience of sport – what part do different media play? Information can be instant: we can listen to ball-by-ball commentaries transmitted by satellite from the other side of the world or receive updates on mobile phones anywhere at any time. We no longer have to wait for the football results on the radio or buy a newspaper for match reports. But as well as giving us immediacy, the media also shape our perceptions of what is happening in the sporting world – the big events, the superstars. The media decide what matters to some extent. Think about sport and you think about media transmissions, in words, sound and images, as well as actually playing the game or being physically present at sports events.
Football (soccer) illustrates the role of the media very well.
Log on to two Premiership football league club websites and look at their welcome (or landing) and home pages (use a search engine such as Google to find the clubs you choose).
What first strikes you about the sites?
What information is highlighted?
What is listed on the menus on the home page?
Now compare the Premiership sites with two Coca-Cola football league or Conference football club sites. The majority of clubs outside the top of the Premiership have Premium TV websites, but the really big clubs often produce their own sites and do not rely on buying in the Premium TV format. However, just look and see what you notice on the home pages.
Bear in mind when reading this discussion that what we saw on the websites we discuss may have changed by the time you look at them.
We looked at Arsenal and Chelsea, both of which greeted us with invitations to watch their own TV online when we accessed them. The top Premiership clubs have not only very sophisticated websites but extensive menus of options, which include plenty of opportunities to gather information about the club and to spend money, whether on club merchandise or on betting. Lower league clubs do not have their own TV stations, but do offer the opportunity to receive club news on your mobile phone. When we looked at Cambridge United's landing page it had the image of a mobile phone inviting us to sign up immediately. Sheffield Wednesday also highlighted the possibility of receiving mobile updates as well as offering several chances to engage in online betting, using the same corporate deal that many of the clubs have. What is most noticeable is that the top clubs clearly have more resources to spend on their websites, and having their own online television is a significant bonus. However, all the clubs have an internet presence that links their supporters to the club, team details and, especially, club products. Commercial links are very apparent in football, although the fans are central to the club, not only as the purchasers of club merchandise, but also as the most important element in the club's history and culture. Most clubs also have ‘community’ sections on their sites, though you may have to look carefully to find them. Fans are nonetheless addressed as consumers and customers. All clubs have a ‘Customers' Charter’, which sets out the club's obligations to its supporters and the wider community (Woodward, 2007). Some clubs are more proactive than others in reaching out to the wider community to promote social inclusion and bring in under-represented groups of people, for example from ethnic minority groups who do not have a history of following the sport, women, girls and disaffected young people. If you looked at Charlton Athletic's site, for example, you would have seen a section called ‘Women's Team’ (at Arsenal, women are called ‘ladies’ ) and extensive coverage of community activities and those promoting social cohesion and diversity. What is most striking about these websites, however, is the high priority afforded to the promotion of products and media links.
The relationship between the media and sport is certainly not unique to football, and was involved in the development of all sport through the twentieth century. How did this partnership between sport and the media develop and what sort of partnership is it? Who calls the shots, or is this an equal relationship? It is certainly a dynamic one. In this course you will be looking at how the links between the media and sport have developed and at what makes sport part of culture, especially popular culture. Which themes characterise the relationship between sport and the media?