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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.

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Branden Buehler

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.

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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.

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Elsa Kristiansen, Therese Dille and Simon Tærud Day

This commentary uses the Norwegian Football Association’s COVID-19 crisis communication strategy as an example of how federations can take an active role and use their influence to guide and be proactive in the opening of a society after a lockdown. By paying close attention to the public debate and by interviewing the federation’s communication director, the authors outlined the four phases of the strategic crisis communication—and the consequences of them in Norway. While the first consequence was the postponing of the Euro Qualifier against Serbia on March 26 for the European Championship this summer, the lockdown changed the focus quickly, and the strategy became about getting all players back on the football fields. The authors elaborated on how a major federation can (and maybe should) take a leading role by using its “voice” in the media and public and expertise to aid reopening a society after lockdown.

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William Roth Smith

The cancellations and postponements of large-scale organized sport competitions provided the first indicators of the impact that COVID-19 would have on society. During the pandemic, sport media reporting has focused on cancellations. Although not receiving as much media attention, “lifestyle sports,” such as rock climbing, parkour, BMX, kayaking, or skateboarding, were also impacted by COVID-19 in ways that differ from organized team sports. In this commentary, the author draws upon select media reports and subcultural social media posts to highlight two primary impacts of COVID-19: (a) the civic organizational challenges of limiting lifestyle sport participation and (b) the influence on the social and risk-laden experience of these sports. The article concludes by detailing lifestyle sport stakeholder communication, digital sporting communities, the use of social media for organizing lifestyle sport communities, and sport risk communication as fruitful avenues for future research in a postpandemic lifestyle sports.

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Jeremy J. Foreman, Joshua S. Bendickson and Birton J. Cowden

Rule changes are not uncommon in most professional sports, and scholars often study the effects of such changes. Given the substantial increase in rule changes and the substantially different nature of new rules (e.g., safety driven) in the National Football League since 2005, the authors examined how coaches adapt to the changing National Football League in terms of coaching strategies and securing subsequent head coach positions in the labor market. Using agency theory, the authors identified agency misalignment when coaches employ strategies whereby incurring more penalties results in on-field success, but decreases their likelihood of obtaining future employment as a head coach. In addition, the authors found evidence that, regardless of the penalties accrued, former coaches who previously held more head coaching jobs, are Black, or are younger have higher chances of securing subsequent head coaching positions. However, these attributes do not increase team performance, indicating that coach-hiring decisions are incongruent with determinants of coach performance.

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James Bingaman

Despite its relative obscureness in the United States, Australian football has graced American airwaves since the 1990s. The outbreak of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020 paved the way for the Australian Football League to be one of the only professional sports leagues broadcasting games live on American television. Although the Australian Football League would later suspend the season, for at least one weekend, Australian football was the most popular sport in the United States. This short essay pulls from news articles, social media posts, and existing literature to explore this unique time in the American sports landscape by investigating the response to Australian football from fans, the response from media outlets, and the future directions of Australian football in the United States. The increase in exposure could help the Australian Football League become the next big spectator sport in the United States as well as help grow the game at a local, grassroots level.