The Impact of Social and Digital Media on Sport

The Impact of Social and Digital Media on Sport

Social media is changing the way sports stars, clubs and fans are interacting with each other. From live-tweeting games, creating snarky memes and cheerleading from the webosphere, spectators are no longer simply watching sport, and fans can often get news, insights and commentary straight from the source.

Singaporean commentator Walter Lim says that social media and sport are ‘a match made in heaven’.

The instantaneous, intimate and interactive nature of social and mobile technologies make them perfect platforms to fuel our sporting desires.

While fans have taken to social media to share their love of sport, some sporting clubs and athletes are finding it more challenging.

If social media is making it possible for fans to be more engaged, it’s also making it possible for sporting professionals to be more accountable for their public comments and the way in which they, in return, engage with their fans and wider community.

Social media platforms pose a minefield for some users. Posts and updates by sports officials and athletes that could at best be described as ‘incautious’ are resulting in those individuals being questioned in the media and sometimes being reprimanded and penalised.

Stephanie Rice lost a valuable Jaguar sponsorship after using a gay slur in a tweet and in 2012, Voula Papachristou was ejected from the Olympic Games for posting a racist tweet.

Social media channels, including blogs and video channels, are changing the nature of sport reporting for journalists as well. A study by La Trobe University’s Centre for Sport and Social Impact, Web 2.0 platforms and the work of newspaper sport journalists, found that Australian sports journalists are now required to research and report news across multiple platforms.

As well as traditional media outlets now offering varied forms of news, there are new online competitors. Merryn Sherwood, a La Trobe University PhD candidate, studying with the Centre for Sport and Social Impact, said in a 2013 podcast:

…there’s a lot of new media out there that’s really changing up the way that we view our news, […] but particularly in sport it’s had a really interesting impact. […] I’m thinking of things like online only websites or broadcasts, blogs, places like the Sporting Journal, which is a website run by a fourteen-year-old who actually managed to get accreditation to go to the London Olympics.

Sporting bodies are also developing their own media platforms and companies, like NBL TV and AFL Media, bypassing the traditional news media to broadcast their own games and break their own news.

This changing media landscape, where sports organisations can tell their stories directly to their fans through their own social or digital channels, is making it more difficult for traditional news journalists to get access to athletes or coaches. The organisation’s media department often holds the power to decide which player appears, where and when, and it’s becoming more common that their own channels win.

The voice as well as the face of sport is changing in response to social and digital media. In this context, with all of the relationships between fans, sports stars and clubs and journalism shifting, what shape will the future take?

Author: Narrelle Harris
Academic Advisors: Merryn Sherwood and Dr Liam Lenten

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