chapter  11
10 Pages

Reaction Time: Assessing the record and advancing a future of sports media scholarship

If you wish to know the sports I tend to play at least moderately well, there is a common denominator to discerning what they are: reaction time. I have never been good at reacting immediately to a sporting situation occurring in front of me. I have always needed at least a second to process. I was decent at baseball until I got older and the pitches became a bit too speedy to grant me that second of reaction time. With tennis, I’m a decent baseline player, but not as efficient at the net, where reaction time is reduced. Golf and bowling require no reaction time and I still enjoy some success at both. Having the moment to cognitively process the variables at play is critical for me to even have a modicum of personal accomplishment in sports. I mention this phenomenon when addressing the role of sports media in the 21st

Century because sometimes the technology and overall modes of communication advance in such a swift manner that scholars lack the time to adapt and react. In Academe, reaction time is usually not measured in seconds but in years, as the process of researching, studying, presenting and publishing meaningful work is inevitably laborious. The works presented in this volume on Sports Media: Transformation, Integration, Consumption are jointly a measuring stick; a communicative gut check, so to phrase, assessing the quality and quantity of sports media research in the past, with an eye on how it informs us on the mediated transmission and impact of and on sport in the future. When assessing the record of sports media scholarship, one conclusion seems

abundantly clear: the amount of seminal sport communication scholarship produced over the past three decades is astounding and, moreover, exceeds the overarching systemic structures that should support it. A case in point would be the evolution of other disciplinary organizations that study sport as an influential and critical social phenomenon. The North American Society for the Sociology of Sport

(NASSS) recently celebrated its thirtieth year of annual conferences. The North American Society for Sport Historians (NASSH) offers a similar multidecade lineage, as does the North American Society for Sports Management (NASSM). Most of these other disciplinary organizations attach a journal (e.g., Sociology of Sport Journal, Journal of Sport History) to their associative contributions as well. In contrast, the National Communication Association (NCA) offers 58 divisions,

sections and caucuses (as of the Summer of 2010) within a very layered structure, yet does not devote one to sport. The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) and Broadcast Education Association (BEA) only recently added a sport division, smartly coming to the realization that sports are no longer the “toy department” of media outlets, but rather are big business with quite real and serious consequences. One communication association, the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) has had a section devoted to sport for more than a decade, and that group has not traditionally had the attendance or reach of some of the other national academic communication organizations. The good news, of course, is that while communication scholars are 30 years

behind organizationally this certainly is not the case in regard to scholarship. Seminal works of the 1970s and 1980s (consider the works of Bryant, Real, Parente, and Williams in the 1970s just to name a few that are listed in the Appendix) still contribute mightily to discussions and understandings of communication concepts today, and some of those forward-thinking foundational authors have offered contributions to this collection of scholarship. One advantage of the lack of scholarly communities devoted to the formal study of sports as communication-based phenomena is that the work has often necessitated interdisciplinarity, as communication scholars integrate theories, methodologies, and past research from other disciplines in order to publish in sport-specific journals that do not claim communication as central focal points. Conversely, scholars in other fields with more established links to sport have found communication to be a fruitful angle in which they, too, could explore interdisciplinary projects. Much work must be done on the part of communication scholars to organiza-

tionally “catch up” with other disciplines, yet as it has been constructed in the past, we must do so with an eye to what these other areas of study contribute to the equation, asking: where does communication fit in with the larger puzzle? Just as other disciplines must re-examine their own fundamental conceptions by asking: what role does communication play in some of the assumptions we make about sport in society? The mode of communication becomes essential to the conversation. Nearly

every major technology innovation of the past several decades has been escalated, at least in part, by consumer demand for sports media content. Whether measured in quantity (number of sports media offerings) or quality (degree of informational and technical detail), the demand for sports product significantly influences everything

from cable and satellite billing structures to high-definition television purchases to Internet-based applications and social media offerings. This volume considers the role that sports media scholarship has played in understanding the increasingly complex world of sports media. With an eye toward a future that is increasingly about hybrid forms of media offerings, Sports Media: Transformation, Integration, Consumption has assessed the past scholarship in the field while positing important future questions about the role sports media will increasingly play in the daily lives of billions of sports fans worldwide. However, it is fair to say that the medium does not create the modern sports fan,

or at least that it does not do so in a linear, cause and effect manner. Rather, sports media has evolved largely through a combination of immense consumer demand, capitalistic network opportunities, and the ability to attract highly desirable demographics in ways that frequently allow for cross-promotional appeals. Sports media in the 21st Century drives product lines, demands increasing hours of our attention, and becomes part and parcel of the consumer culture. Sport becomes interrelated with all other forms of media, personal interaction, and professional conversations. In doing so, the conversation regarding the sport-media-communication nexus has never been more relevant or more warranted. So, we know that communication-based sports media scholarship has been

occurring in quality form for decades and has even escalated both in terms of quantity and quality of publications (and publication outlets) in the past decade. We also know that sports fandom becomes the “straw that stirs the drink” (see Wenner & Jackson, 2009) of complex issues of identity, consumption, and the enactment of sport. Finally, we know that the role of sport within modern society (both for media entities and beyond) is of an expansive nature even as other forms of traditional media consumption contract. As a result, scholars at the forefront of sports media scholarship must be prepared to serve multiple purposes ranging from the informed advocate to the conscientious critic to the provocative educator. This leads me to an overview of the current trends in sports media and how sport scholarship can follow, analyze, and impart knowledge upon and about them in the coming years. Six themes appear particularly relevant to this discussion: (1) Sporting community in the age of fragmentation, (2) Primary consumption beyond the sporting performance, (3) Defining identity beyond one-shot variable analyses, (4) Recognizing the interdisciplinary nature of sport without losing sports media identity, (5) Stressing the impact factor, and (6) Emphasizing the value of distraction.