Mediated sport, mediated fandom: New challenges for sport and media studies

Lise Joern
Dept. of Sport Science, University of Aarhus

Adam C. Earnheardt, Paul M. Haridakis & Barbara S. Hugenberg (red)
Sports Fans, Identity and Socialization: Exploring the Fandemonium
301 sidor, inb.
Lanham, MD: Lexington Books 2010
ISBN 978-0-7391-4623-1

The obsession with mediated sports has grown tremendously in the past few years. However, there has been little scholarly inquiry focused on how mediated sports figure into fandom. Many fans use a combination of media to follow their teams or favorite athletes and to converse with other fans. Media enable, facilitate, and constrain contemporary sports fandom. Technological developments have had a huge impact upon sports culture and behavior, altering fandom considerably. New technology has revolutionized much of fan culture, expanding networks, opening up more opportunities for expression of fandom and providing a forum to discuss fan issues. It has also allowed fans to provide a window into their subculture for those from outside. From both a quantitative and qualitative perspective, Sports Fans, Identity, and Socialization. Exploring the Fandemonium provides an understanding of the impact of mediated sport in the lives of sports fans.

Although the volume concentrates on sports in the American context it is highly applicable to the European context, partly because mediated sport has become increasingly global due to new media technologies, but also because many of the factors addressed play a common role to a diverse range of sports fans. Many of the chapters in the book use specific cases as a starting point. The first chapter, for instance, explains the emotional and affective bonds between fans and the Nebraska Cornhusker Football Team using the theory of place attachment. At first sight this seems to be of little interest to anyone else but Nebraskans. However, the results of this and the other studies in the book indicate that the conception of geographical location, eustress, self-esteem, escape from everyday life, entertainment, economic, aesthetic or artistic qualities, and group affiliation enhances the understanding of sport spectator behavior and motivations responsible for sport fandom in a broader perspective.

The book consists of 19 chapters and the editors divide the book into five intersecting parts that define sports fandom and address its relationship to different media – in some chapters more explicit than others. It covers a wide range of sports, e.g. American football, basketball, wrestling, golf, NASCAR (stock car racing), and fantasy sports. The first two sections consider the particularity of fan identity and socialization. These sections examine the affective, cognitive, and behavioral consequences of identifying as a sports fan.

When sports fans identify strongly with a team, they tend to experience more extreme feelings than those who identify weakly with a team. Among the affective and behavioral consequences of sports fan identification that are investigated are sympathy, post-game affect, enjoyment, self-presentational strategies, loyalty, and pro-social behavior. The results of the studies suggest, not surprisingly, that sports play a powerful role in the emotional reactions of sports fans, especially those who identify most strongly. For those with a deep psychological attachment to a team, emotions such as enjoyment, happiness, satisfaction, and anxiety can fluctuate dramatically depending on the success or failure of the highly-valued team. Strongly identified sports fans appear to possess greater knowledge of sports in general and of their favorite teams in particular than those weakly identified. It is also not surprising that strongly identified fans appear to be biased in their perceptions of their favorite teams as well as in their perceptions of the fans of their own and opposing teams. It is, however, somewhat surprising (at least to me) that all these factors also count for fans of wrestling, as chapter 2 points out, i.e. fans who become passionately invested in a spectacle that they know is artificial and with a predetermined end.

However, women continue to be marginalized in fan communities, and there exists little consideration of women’s everyday experiences of being a sport fan.

The volume’s third part deals specifically with fans and media. It addresses the way in which sports fans through new media technology (e.g. online forums) co-create and influence the media narratives of teams and athletes. Fan-produced media content has been a growing element of the media landscape as the Internet takes prominence, suggesting that, today, many sports fans ’make’ media when they use media. While for many, this takes the form of less-intensive practices like commenting on a message board, for others it takes on a more involved form. One of the most prominent forms of this user-generated sports media content is the blog, which is increasingly prevalent across the world of online sports media. Passionate, often personal blogs are seen as providing an “alternative” media space compared to the more established publications. Fans match their consumption of sports media with production of sports media, with blogs, podcasts, and fan-produced videos all proliferating. It is pointed out that media production enables fans to transform and recontextualize the traditional mass media narratives.

In recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of female participants in, and fans of, sport. It is becoming more common to find women with a passion for sport. However, women continue to be marginalized in fan communities, and there exists little consideration of women’s everyday experiences of being a sport fan. Gender comprises the fourth section’s focal point. It is argued that even when women do attend sports in equal numbers, they’re still frequently excluded from fan ’communities’. Therefore, women continue to be restricted in their patterns of attendance to sport events. Women’s marginal positions within sport fan cultures mean that their legitimacy as sport fans is often questioned, and proving they belong is constantly at play. Interestingly, these gender differences exist even though males and females report similar levels of identification with a team and similar levels of perceiving themselves as sports fans.

The last section deals with fantasy sports. With the recent explosion of affordable technology and growth of the Internet, more sports fans have found yet another avenue to express their obsession with sports: fantasy sports. In an age when scores and statistics can be exchanged and analyzed in a matter of seconds, sports fans can play out their fantasies by creating leagues and teams in cyberspace, measuring their skills against other fans, which could reside anywhere from next door to the other side of the world. A fantasy sports league is made up of a group of participants who compete against each other based on statistics from real-world competitions. There seems to be no significant connection between actual participation in team sports and participation in fantasy sports. However, it is stated that knowledge of motivations for participating in a fantasy sport that is based on the real sport may provide further insight into sports fan motivations in general. Additionally, there may be gratifications sought through online gaming that are not fulfilled by mere sports consumption alone or perhaps not fulfilled completely. Participants may enjoy the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and the managerial decisions that accompany the fantasy sport experience. Participants in fantasy sports leagues can be challenged ‘professionally’ in a way that for most people would be impossible in a real-life sporting experience.

Sports Fans, Identity, and Socialization offers a range of diverse views on sports fans and communication, and provides an excellent resource for academics interested in the culture and business of mediated sports fandom. It points out that while new media technologies have blurred the line between those who produce and those who consume sports media, sports fandom is marked by fans’ engagement with and use of various media. Many of the chapters in the book tend to raise more questions than they answer. Although it can be frustrating this circumstance contributes to the fact that the anthology is full of interesting ideas and suggestions capable of motivating future research in the field.

Copyright @ Lise Joern 2012

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