The sports world’s near universal moratorium in response to the COVID-19 pandemic was abrupt and unprecedented. From professional leagues to youth sports, doors were closed to competitions and events to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The hiatus began at one of the busiest times on the calendar for sport, with the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League seasons concluding; the Women's National Basketball Association and National Football League drafts taking place; Major League Baseball's spring training nearing its conclusion; the Professional Golf Association and Ladies Professional Golf Association Tours starting their seasons; and the National Collegiate Athletic Association's marquee events, the Division-I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, set to begin. The suddenness of the interruption was met with a need by the various sport entities to engage their public with information about their respective responses. The statements that emerged on or after March 12—“the day the sports world stopped”—were not all the same. Many of the statements, in fact, were quite different. That was especially the case with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, whose governance structure and messaging practices hindered their ability to have a uniform response. The purpose of this essay was to examine the public messaging of sport leagues and organizations and to discuss the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of those public statements.
Timothy Mirabito, Robin Hardin, and Joshua R. Pate
With sporting events canceled and Safer at Home orders in place, both athletes and sports fans have a void to fill. Consequently, social media use by both parties has increased. Athletes have become more active and interactive online, which may serve to strengthen parasocial relationships between them and their fans. These connections could develop to the extent that the line between parasocial relationship and friendship is blurred. Will stronger ties between athletes and fans be a by-product of COVID-19? In this editorial, the author builds an argument for the plausibility of this result by linking published studies regarding sports fandom and parasocial relationships to current trends in athletes’ use of social media. The author then raises questions regarding the future of sports fandom, which can be assessed once athletics resume. To conclude, the author offers practical recommendations to sports organizations coming out of COVID-19-related suspensions.
Madeleine Pape and Fiona McLachlan
A growing body of research suggests that economic crises tend to exacerbate existing gender inequalities, particularly in the realms of paid work and political representation. Translating this to the case of sport, how and why might the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic be felt unevenly by professional female athletes and women leaders? In this essay, the authors reflect on the classic feminist critique of the gendered construction of dependence and consider how its application in the context of sport might aid scholars in making sense of (a) the persistence of gendered precarity and inequality in sport, (b) the prospect of their exacerbation under conditions of a pandemic, and (c) how the current crisis might enable sport to move toward a model of interdependence in which its vastly unequal structures are changed for the better.
Kevin Hull and Miles Romney
When COVID-19 shut down the sports world, local sports broadcasters were without the games and events that traditionally fill the content of their shows. While national media outlets could dive deep into the archives to play old games and classic content, local sports broadcasters traditionally do not have that option. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine how the jobs and daily routines of local sports broadcasters changed in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak. A cross-section of local sports broadcasters from a variety of markets was surveyed, and, based on the responses, several themes emerged: (a) an emphasis on creativity, (b) a shift in daily responsibility, (c) and an uncertain future.
Danielle K. Smith and Jonathan Casper
COVID-19 has brought about an unprecedented time where a majority of major American sporting organizations have ceased competition. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) actions, historically an avenue for sport organizations to positively impact society, provide a compelling avenue of study during this time. While researchers have observed the role of CSR and crisis communication when the crisis arises from within the organization, there is a need to understand CSR shifts and responses when the crisis is on a societal level. This commentary examines efforts of major U.S. sport league CSR programs (National Basketball Association/Women's National Basketball Association, National Football League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and National Hockey League), starting in mid-March when the majority of organizations ceased competition. Data were gathered using a mixed-methods approach of qualitative interviews, secondary research, and social media sentiment analysis. Key findings included the emergence of two different approaches to CSR communication strategies among U.S. sport leagues as well as three clear themes of COVID-19-related communication: educate, assist, and inspire. In addition, this commentary provides an initial glance at consumer response to CSR programs, showing both positive and negative sentiment trends.
Bettina Callary, Abbe Brady, Cameron Kiosoglous, Pekka Clewer, Rui Resende, Tammy Mehrtens, Matthew Wilkie, and Rita Horvath
The commentary brings together the perspectives of a group of coach developers from across the globe who form a community of practice (CoP) from their involvement as “Cohort 5” in the International Council for Coaching Excellence and Nippon Sport Science University Coach Developer Academy. The CoP includes people from three types of organizations: university professors of sport coaching programs, national sport federations, and national multisport organizations’ directors of coach education. While this CoP existed prior to the pandemic, the forced isolation has created a new structure and purpose to the CoP: The authors are all making meaning of the landscape of coach development within which they work by understanding the perspectives of others who work in their domain from across the world and the similar realities that they face in North America, Europe, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand. The authors outline the key themes that emerged from their weekly CoP video conference meetings to shed light on how this pandemic has changed the way they think about coach development.
Ted M. Butryn, Matthew A. Masucci, and jay a. johnson
While most professional sports quickly postponed their seasons due to COVID-19, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) took a decidedly contrarian approach as president Dana White continued to promote UFC 249 until pressure forced its cancelation on April 9, 2020. Drawing from work on sport and spectacle and the media as well as sport management scholarship on crisis management, the authors provide a commentary on the mediated spectacle of White’s (eventually successful) efforts to promote UFC 249 during the pandemic. Drawing from numerous media sources, they discuss how White sought to control the public narrative in several key ways. The authors further explore how White decried the seriousness of the pandemic while centralizing the UFC’s place in the U.S. sporting landscape. Finally, the authors discuss how White’s efforts might both help and hinder the UFC as a mainstream sports promotion.
Brody J. Ruihley and Bo Li
The American sports television industry has scrambled to adjust to the loss of live sporting events in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic—a scramble clearly evidenced in programming schedules suddenly filled with replays of older event telecasts. However, rather than focusing on the apparent novelty of this type of substitute coronavirus programming, this article, instead, argues that the loss of live sporting events represents the amplification of a problem that television networks have already been grappling with for years: how to fill an ever greater number of outlets with sufficient year-round programming given a finite number of live events. With that in mind, this article proposes that many of the programming strategies that networks have turned to in the midst of the pandemic, including the expanded coverage of transactions (e.g., coverage of National Football League free agency) and the increased scheduling of documentaries (e.g., The Last Dance), have been familiar extensions of previously established alternative programming solutions.
Alexander L. Curry and Tiara Good
The 2020 coronavirus outbreak led Major League Baseball to cancel spring training and postpone the start of the regular season. Although baseball stopped, reporters continued to write about baseball, and fans continued to talk about baseball. But with no games being played, what were they writing and talking about? More than a simple examination of what these two groups are saying, the authors also examined why their focus has turned to particular topics and themes. Through a textual analysis of Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) baseball headlines and Reddit posts, the authors found writers jolted out of their routines, yet still framing many of their 2020 stories to focus on the actions of players. For fans, they uncovered conversations that, in many ways, read like friends mourning the loss of a loved one.