Future of Sports and American Society

Future of Sports and American Society


Menand, Louis. (2016, May 16). Show them the money: Is the sports business a bubble? (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/16/the-professional-sports-bubble) New Yorker.
Guttmann, A. (2012). From ritual to record: The nature of modern sports. (Links to an external site.) New York: Columbia University Press, pp.157-161 (Links to an external site.), 165-170 (Links to an external site.).
Delaware North Corporation. (2015, September). The future of sports. (Links to an external site.) Delaware North Corporation, pp.1-37 (rest optional) [PDF, 7 KB].
Aspen Institute. (2015, January 26). A New Vision, Platform for Youth Sports in America. https://www.aspeninstitute.org/blog-posts/new-vision-platform-youth-sports-america/
Morgan, W. J. (1983). Toward a critical theory of sport (Links to an external site.). Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 7(1), 24-34.
Novy-Williams, E. (2016, July 15). Pro Sports Bets on Video Gamers for Growth (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-15/pro-sports-bets-on-video-gamers-for-growth). Bloomberg News.

Aspen Institute. 2015. Sport for all: Play for Life. Solutions (http://youthreport.projectplay.us/the-solution). Aspen Institute.

View or listen:

Delaware North. 2015. The future of sports is here (https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/2016/01/26/future-of-sports-athlete-stadium-broadcasting-e-sports-fans/79325114/). [Video file, 2:54 mins].
Advertising (TRANSCRIPT: The media delivers the game to the people and also delivers the people to the advertisers.

There’s no question that normal producers want to be involved with sport to sell their product, and that’s mainly because of sports acceptance in the Australian community especially. We accept sport as almost second nature.

So obviously those sports that have the higher profile have the higher profile athletes, or that just have high profile athletes within minor sorts of sports– I’m thinking maybe a Kieren Perkins team or something like that– there’s no question that producers want to be associated with those people to move their products. But sport, generally, it’s just a marvelous vehicle.

When we look at advertising specifically, we spend most of our money on television for a number of reasons. One, it’s the best medium to communicate image. When you think about Gatorade, you’re thinking about portraying active lifestyles, people running, people getting thirsty, and the best medium for that is, in fact, television.

Gatorade is well known for its relationship with Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan actually was a strong believer in drinking Gatorade even before we signed him up as our key spokesperson, and since then, we’ve used him internationally representing the brand and featuring him playing basketball.

Now, Michael Jordan for us here in Australia was a very big win because the research that we showed, and it’s still true today, that Michael Jordan is the best known athlete amongst teenagers irrespective of whether they’re international, domestic, or any sport they play. So Michael Jordan for us is a very key player, and we featured him through advertising, through our point of sale, and our consumer promotions.), from A Marriage of Convenience: Sports and the Media [Video file, 1:44 mins].

Hyper-Commercialization. (TRANSCRIPT: By the mid 1990s, Australian corporations including Fosters, Coca Cola, Ford, and Optus were spending $600 million a year on sponsorship deals linking their products with sporting identities and sporting events.

What we see today is the hyper-commercialization of sport. What I mean by hyper-commercialization is that now sport not just depends on people coming through the gate to get their revenue, or the odd truck raffle, or the lottery. What sport generates now is enormous income from other major sources, and those major sources are TV rights.

We’re now talking, in Australia for the major sports, a TV right on an annual basis of not $10 million or $20 million, but rather $30 million a year just for the right to televise a rugby league and Australian football. Not only that, we’ve also got an enormous amount of money coming through sponsorships, and that can be measured again in not thousands of dollars, but millions of dollars every year for our major sports.

Without this money, sport as we know it today wouldn’t exist. Ultimately, it is the media and sponsors who fund large scale events such as the Olympic games and Grand Finals. ) A Marriage of Convenience: Sports and the Media [Video file, 1:10 mins].

Media Control Over the Game. (TRANSCRIPT: As the money paid by television networks for broadcasting rights has increased, so too has their ability to influence the staging of the game to suit their own needs. The timing of AFL night football, for instance, is controlled by the broadcaster. The game is scheduled to begin in prime viewing time, and throughout the match, play is regularly interrupted so the station can run commercials.

Play stops after every goal, and doesn’t resume until the network signals the ad break is over.

Yes, there’s always the problem that the television station will try and dictate the scheduling of a sporting event. And of course, they’ve already done it to some extent with basketball by changing the timing of that and the scheduling of that. There’s also examples of the Olympics where the marathon is being put on at a time quite inappropriate for the athletes but at a time to fit in the prime time viewing schedule of, say the North American audience particularly.

So there are lots of examples of the TV scheduler basically dictating the structure of the game. But there aren’t a lot of examples all the same. And in many respects, sport has still been able to maintain its integrity and its autonomy, but they’ve got to be careful and vigilant.

Today, the new mass communication technologies are driving other forms of media control over sport. Subscription television delivered by cable and satellite has transformed global audiences into global markets, and sport, 24 hour sport, has become a major inducement for people to sign up.

It’s a great vehicle for television, and the fact that people like Rupert Murdoch are ready to establish world leagues, virtually, for his own television purposes indicates that he believes there’s a huge market there for sport on television. I don’t think there’s any question. The success of ESPN and ESPN International, Optus Vision in this country, FOXTEL– There’s no question that people subscribe to pay TV purely on its sport content.), from A Marriage of Convenience: Sports and the Media [Video file, 2:07 mins].

Module 8: Module Notes: American Sport and Society in the 21st Century

In Module 7 you learned about the contemporary state of American youth sports, and its many pitfalls and possibilities. In thinking about the future of sport and American society, it is worth considering if US society is becoming more and more a tale of two societies, with sport mirroring these growing divisions. In youth sports some trends beyond over-professionalization are alarming, for example, so many fewer youth participate. The Aspen Institute reported that between 2008 and 2013, nearly 3 million fewer children played basketball, soccer, track and field, baseball, football, and softball. Worse still, less than 1 in 3 children between the ages of 6 and 12 participated in a high-calorie-burning sport or fitness activity three times a week (Aspen 2015). Is this reduction in participation, accompanied by the parallel rise in child obesity, caused by overly competitive youth sports with undue adult pressures, or is it the simple high cost of playing sports and the growing income inequality in American society, or perhaps both of these in addition to many other factors including video stimuli replacing outdoor play?

Whatever the causes, one can see both fewer youth in sport and fewer still fewer adult and kid fans in the seats at major sporting venues. The cost of attending a professional sporting event in one of America’s latter day high-tech coliseums has done nothing but explode. The “new” Yankee stadium, for example, has 10,000 less seats than the classic one from 1921. But, the front rows are luxury box seats, which offer the most elaborate technology and gustatory experiences for the top 1% of Americans, perhaps that is why they are only half-filled for most games. The Delaware North corporation offers a nice vision of the future results of these trends, one of ever more costly and pan-optically engrossing stadiums where actual ticket-buying patrons are drawn only from the top 10% of American income-earners. Other “fans” are then tied into the fate of these modern day gladiatorial escapades through television and mobile technology, creating virtual communities of identity and escape for the non-elite to cling to, a modern day ‘bread and circus’ (Links to an external site.) for the denizens of a declining American empire.

All the theorists that Guttman discusses (Guttman, 2012, pp.165-170) and Morgan reviews (1983), explore the role and often the ruling class purposes of sport, but few of them explain the attraction of sport to young people as an organic outgrowth of the desire to play. Once sport is commercialized and propagated to the masses through media, the original beauty of the boys and girls games is certainly changed, perhaps even perverted to the ends of franchise owners and the broader elite of America’s socioeconomic system. Nonetheless, individuals identify with sports and teams, and this forms a sort of ideology, even identity, for many in society, infusing familial relations with material to bind members together if only in awkward conversation. A metanarrative (Links to an external site.) of individual identity may form as well and this is an overarching belief system that large numbers of people subscribe to, and that shapes a common perception in a culture or society. For example, fans of the Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Lakers, or any other sport franchise subscribe to the metanarrative of “fandom.” In this sense, fans of the Green Bay Packers “root” for their team, and invariably root against the opposing team. The metanarrative essentially says: you are either a fan of this particular team, or you are not; you are either with us, or against us. Morgan (1983) offers a thoughtful application of critical theory concepts such as these to the institution of sport and he borrows from the work of German critical theorists Max Horkheimer (Links to an external site.) and Theodor Adorno (Links to an external site.).

These scholars hold the dominant character of sport ideology to be a reflection of the larger ideological framework of advanced industrial society. The metanarrative of sport, from this perspective, emanates from the economic order of any nation, and therefore can be seen as a window into the analysis of the broader society. Morgan argues that critical theory is well suited to examine the institution of sport because it is a theoretical framework that analyzes how autonomous (or independent) this institution is from the foundations of industrial society. For example, if we live in a society that is based upon maximum efficiency and achieving goals in the most effective way, should sport not also reflect this societal trait? Or, if American society becomes more winner-take-all and economically unequal, should not sport reflect this too, distorting the value of winners and losers in games, many of which ultimately come down to chance?

Louis Menand’s essay reviewing the book This is Your Brain on Sports (Crown 2016) offers a compelling critique of the pop psychology of sports fandom amidst a deeper dive into the ever-expanding role of sports in American culture. Menand retraces the importance of sport in all societies and then he examines the role of sport as a form of American business. He does an exemplary job putting sport in its proper sociocultural place, and he notes one salient fact: “only 13,700 people make their living playing spectator sports in the United States (compared with, for example, sixty-nine thousand people who are actors). The median annual wage for athletes is $44,680” (Menand, 2016). While a few multi-millionaires play sport at the highest level (e.g., 800 major league baseball players), none of them are richer than the owners of the franchises or the media barons who hype and profit from their on-field exploits and off-field personal foibles. The money flows primarily only to the top athletes and they pursue it with great vigor and too little consistent concern for rules or norms in their sport or the broader society. Hence, we see the violent criminal records of many National Football League players (Links to an external site.) and the rampant cheating and drug use in almost all sports, not to mention a form of sports-wealthy affluenza (Links to an external site.) among the top athletes that borders on sociopathy.

Morgan noted that the specific goal of any sport could be efficiently achieved in comparison with the mores of our socioeconomic system by violating the rules. One obvious example of this rule violation is using performance-enhancing drugs: they improve efficient performance, making the designated goal easier to attain, yet they are usually prohibited by the rules and are subject to public scorn. It would stand as a matter of reason that a society with strict adherence to efficiency and demonstrable outcomes would encourage performance-enhancing drugs, but instead, there are other ideologies present in the institution of sport that run counter to this “efficiency ” metanarrative — for example, the belief in fair competition. Taking this one step further, even though the institution of sport reflects many aspects of the greater society, it has its own unique set of ideologies. To Morgan the institution of sport restricts the most efficient way to achieve a goal and often defines it as “cheating,” and this makes it independent of an efficiency-based, industrial society, somewhat apart then from the simple capitalist critique of sport as a social opiate and diversion for the masses. Yet, one finds never-ending examples of cheating at the highest levels of nearly all sports. Perhaps the most disturbing predictions come from the business community looking forward to the future of sport, where the prospect of gene doping to build even more freakishly capable athletes will help pack the “megavenues” they envision for our future Romanesque circuses (Delaware North, 2015, pp.14-15).

The future of sports in American society very much hinges on how close the citizenry and the athletes become. Many foresee a future of even more virtually interconnected sports and society links, particularly in fandom. As Delaware North observed the business model of fan-team relations: “Being a fan is no longer just about watching and cheering. Empowered by social media, fans now expect an unprecedented level of access to players, coaches, and owners. What is more, they expect to be part of decisions that were once made behind closed doors” (Delaware North, 2015, p. 36). Ever-present social media, talk radio and various and sundry interlinkages among sports fans and their teams are creating these virtual realities and communities among fans and teams, but the risk is still present that the broader society disengages from sports in general and any one sport in particular, as happened to baseball in 1994-1995, and may be happening to football today with domestic violence, concussions and an obstinate and obtuse NFL front office. Whichever way this goes, more instant interconnected communication will facilitate the trends, and athletes, franchises and sports leagues have to pay attention and be responsive to the various publics at play.

Certainly athletes are made more into celebrities than before, but this should not be too overstated. Babe Ruth was famous once too, boasting that he deserved a higher salary than the president of the US because “I had a better year didn’t I.” Yet, there is something alarming about twitter following fans and what Hutchins (2014) describes as the “media sport content economy.” Before the advent of mobile communication, sports fans had to “tune in” to live or previously recorded sporting events at a designated time; hence, sports audiences a generation ago consumed sporting events synchronously through the mass media. Now, with the advent of mobile technology, a fan can consume (often in real time) the content of a sporting event from virtually any location around the world. This “perpetual contact (Links to an external site.)” with the consumer/fan yields a circular metanarrative that a particular fan lives within, constantly reinforced by applications on smart phones, for example, providing news, highlights, and statistical updates from his/her favorite athletes or sport franchises.

This change in technology challenges the sport industry, as well how our society perceives it . These technology changes and the accompanying rise of “professional video gaming,” now make “E-sports” a $500 million industry, which has owners targeting the millennial audience, where 75 percent of E-Gamers are between 18 to 34, and more than 80 percent are male (Novy-Williams, 2016). The simple uploading and sharing of sports-related content is now beyond the control of various professional sport organizations (e.g., the Ray Rice video of abuse in a mall elevator (Links to an external site.) [Video file, 3:34 minutes]). Information now challenges individual athletes, sports hierarchies and the wealthy that rule them, and perhaps this will democratize some aspects of sport governance. Certainly, controlling how athletes present themselves via Twitter and other outlets is a primary concern of the sports franchises and management companies of athletes. For example, the English Premier league’s twitter policy (Links to an external site.) is an important case, and virtually every professional sports organization now has a policy in place regulating the use of Twitter. For example, the NBA has a strict policy (Links to an external site.) prohibiting the use of twitter from 45 minutes before game time, until end-of-game, and after players have finished their media responsibilities. This includes halftime. The NFL has a similar policy (Links to an external site.), but restricts the use of Twitter, Facebook (Links to an external site.), and other social media from 90 minutes before the game begins, and not allowing its use until the game and all media interviews have been completed.

Such measures demonstrate the new media landscape in which consumers and star athletes find themselves. Prior to the advent of social media, professional sport organizations exerted tremendous control over the platform through which their star athletes could express themselves. Because it is a consumer driven platform, and completely individualized, Twitter and other social media applications provide a channel of communication between a star athlete and his/her fans at any time, day or night. This is unsettling to the governing bodies of professional sports organizations who want to transmit a unified message to their fan base, and control the public impression that athletes and other employees have. Policies that regulate the use of such social media are designed to minimize controversial content like that of potential NFL top draft pick, Laremy Tunsil, who was shown in a video posted minutes before the NFL draft smoking marijuana out of a gas mask (Links to an external site.) [Video file, 1:12 minutes].

Whichever direction communication among athletes, fans and society takes in the future, the role of sports in American society is unlikely to diminish any time soon.

This discussion addresses Module Outcomes 1 and 2. Your module notes and reading content demonstrate that the future of sports is difficult to predict, but the role of sports and athletes have increased in American society, while paradoxically the participation by youth has fallen. Given this possible disconnect, you will address some critical aspects of the present and future of sports in American society in this discussion activity.

Sports are an ancient institution and have been used as spectacle and distraction for the masses since the Roman coliseum. Today, we have modern corporate parks for our games and the various ways scholars and theorists assess the role and importance of sports varies, while the modes of viewership and fandom are proliferating, as of course is also the pay of the top athletes. Yet, we are at a loss to state the actual significance of sports to American society, and assess whether it will endure.

Please be sure to have the appropriate video and reading content completed before beginning the activity.

Before participating in this discussion, make sure you have completed the relevant video and reading content for the module, particularly the Menand, Delaware North and Guttmann readings. Drawing upon this content, please respond to the following questions:

• Identify and explore at least one way that contemporary American sports are in peril, at risk of losing their fans and future athletes. What would any theorist you have reviewed have to say about this peril?
• In what ways do you see this/these sports being able to overcome these shortcomings?
• Finally, does the future of sports that Delaware North forecasts fill you with optimism about the prospect of sport in American society? Why, or why not?

Your initial post should be at least 250 words and must substantively integrate the assigned readings with proper APA (Links to an external site.) style formatting.

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