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Critiquing the Social Media Scholarship in Sport Studies: Looking Beyond Content and Adopting Critical Approaches

Jimmy Sanderson

Social media and sport research has produced a significant corpus of academic literature. This work has enhanced our understanding of the influence of social media in various areas of the sport industry. This work, however, has often glamorized social media and its benefits, leading to a normalization about social media that obscures its negative effects and impacts in sport. This commentary reflects on how social media and sport research has evolved over time and calls for more consideration to be given to critical approaches to social media research that look beyond analysis of social media content. The commentary specifically addresses areas of inquiry around athlete welfare and social media, social media and young athletes, and social media professionals and their work environment. The commentary aims to encourage more critical perspectives related to social media that will enhance the inclusivity of the social media and sport literature.

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Social Media Scholarship in Sport Studies and the State of Cultural Studies

Ryan King-White

This commentary provides a brief critique of current research on social media from a critical pedagogical and sociological perspective. It discusses how social media has become important for communities to congregate and share views, beliefs, and culture. Then, it describes how social media research in sport studies has developed in recent years, paying particular attention to how critical sport scholars view and evaluate this form of communication differently than traditional sport management academics. Following this, the commentary describes the ways that marginalized and privileged subcultures have utilized social media in ways that serve to amplify their voices in the crowded social mediascape and how the progressive possibilities of the two subcultures are in constant conflict with each other. Finally, the commentary describes theoretical, methodological, and empirical possibilities for future research by making the suggestion that more nuanced reception studies and/or praxical social media, as it pertains to sport, can be utilized toward progressive ends, despite the fact that those in power (read: upper class, heterosexual, White, and male) will incessantly fight to maintain their hegemonic position in society in and through the social medium.

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“I’m Obviously a Sucker for Punishment”: Responses to Audience Interactions Used by Women Working in Sports Media

Niamh Kitching and Aoife Sheehan

The gendered experiences of women working in sports media have been the subject of growing research, particularly in the United States, but cases are emerging in other contexts. This paper examines the strategies used by seven women working in sports media in the United Kingdom and Ireland to deal with undesirable audience interactions, both online and in person. With emotional labor as an overarching framework, semistructured interviews interviews were conducted and reflexive thematic analysis was used to construct two themes: internal and external responses. The study reveals the additional self-regulated emotional burden carried by women working in sports media and the strategies used to cope. Women in sports media publicly downplay their mistreatment and have not yet embraced the reporting of gendered practices in the workplace. The findings contribute to a growing body of literature that sheds light on the experiences of women in sports media and offer insights for women working in the industry and their employers.

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Interview with Brendon Hanley, Head of Global Social Media at FIFA

Gashaw Abeza

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Consumer Engagement on Weibo in a Professional Sport Context: The Case of the Chinese Super League

Yuanyuan Cao, Ziyuan Xu, and Hirotaka Matsuoka

Online fan communities on social media are an effective avenue for sport organizations to engage sport fans. Sport fans who identify with online fan communities express positive and negative consumer engagement behavior (CEB) on social media. Most researchers focus on the positive valence of CEB. This study explores the mediating effect of both positive and negative valences of CEB between online fan community identification and behavioral intention simultaneously. Additionally, the moderating effect of satisfaction with teams’ performance is examined. This study contributes to the conceptualization of the negative valence of CEB on social media and extends the literature on the dual valence of CEB in the sport context. It also provides insights to sport managers on relationship marketing on social media.

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Swag, Social Media, and the Rhetoric of Style in College Athletic-Recruitment Discourse

Luke Winslow, Blair Browning, and Andrew W. Ishak

Style—or the aesthetic dimensions of public presentation—is a dominant mode of symbolic expression. However, no one has explored how style functions as a coherent and generalizable symbol system influencing public conversations about athletic recruitment. The purpose of this essay is to fill this gap by developing a critical framework for theorizing the rhetoric of style in athletic recruitment discourse and significantly, how this is done through social media. We analyze sports journalism, recruiting websites, and the public messaging of athletic departments and athletes on social media according to five structural components: stylistic homologies, aesthetic rationales, primacy of text, imaginary communities, and market contexts. Our analysis offers practical lessons for athletes, journalists, and college athletic departments, but we also highlight several conceptual, methodological, and theoretical implications for scholars of communication and sport and social media interested in better understanding social influence in a dynamic and hyper-competitive context.

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“The Most Important Shot You Will Ever Take”: The Burgeoning Role of Social Media Activism in Challenging Embedded NCAA Patriarchy

Sarah Stokowski, Allison B. Smith, Alison Fridley, Chris Corr, and Amanda L. Paule-Koba

While the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) purpose is to protect college athletes within a hypercommercialized institutional setting, the protections prevent college athletes from accessing the lucrative marketplace. Extant literature has conceptualized the operating functions of the NCAA within the context of a patriarchal framework in which college athletes are infantilized, and authoritative institutional control is thereby justified. However, social media has provided a platform to engage in counter-storytelling and activism. As such, this study examined engagement with college-athlete-led social media activism. Utilizing a content-analysis methodological approach, social media engagement with the Twitter hashtag #NotNCAAProperty was examined over the course of the 2021 NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament. Findings revealed that most interactions were supportive of college athletes and suggest that social media may be a strategic mechanism for college athletes to engage in advocacy initiatives.

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Using Artificial Intelligence to Detect the Relationship Between Social Media Sentiment and Season Ticket Purchases

Nels Popp, James Du, Stephen L. Shapiro, and Jason M. Simmons

Sport marketing researchers and practitioners have suggested that sport organizations that effectively engage in social media conversations with fans are likely to influence fan behavior. Few prior studies have empirically examined the relationship between social media engagement and sport product purchases, particularly event tickets. The current study utilized artificial intelligence to examine eight user sentiments on official sport organizations’ Twitter accounts, then determine if those sentiments were related to season ticket sales. Three years of season ticket data were obtained from 62 NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams and utilized in a regression model, which also identified Twitter sentiment scores from 176,439 posts captured from the official Twitter account of those programs. A final model, which included several control variables, explained 65.7% of the variance in season ticket sales, with the lagged sentiments of “joy” (positive) and “sadness” (negative) having a statistically significant relationship with season tickets sold.

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Brand Management and Social Media

Beth A. Cianfrone

Social media allows sport entities (organizations, athletes, coaches, fans, and partnering companies) to reach audiences across the world and create, extend, maintain, and improve their brand equity through constant communication. Brand management and the strategies employed by entities to create effective content that reinforces brand image and brand equity are a common goal among sport marketers. Over the last 20 years, scholars have investigated a wide range of topics in sport social media and branding, yet there is a need to continue to expand the social media brand management literature to address and reflect rapidly changing industry challenges. The purpose of this commentary is to provide a reflection of past academic literature, while critically examining areas in methodology and theory to guide future research. The recommendations of more sophisticated designs, along with a call for experimental designs, qualitative approaches, and critical communication inquiry, among others, are discussed.

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From Gearshifts to Gigabytes: An Analysis of How NASCAR Used iRacing to Engage Fans During the COVID-19 Shutdown

Greg Greenhalgh and Chad Goebert

The sport industry is at an inflection point where all major professional sport leagues in North America are struggling to attract the same avid fans, once a staple within the industry. Furthermore, not only are the number of avid fans decreasing, the average age of avid sport fans is increasing. In other words, the current state of the sport industry indicates that fans are decreasing in number while simultaneously aging out of traditional professional sports. The current study aimed to investigate the ability of a traditional sport, NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) in this case, to utilize an esport, iRacing, to attract new and more diverse fans. Through a partnership with Zoomph, Twitter content was analyzed and revealed the shift from traditional racing to iRacing by NASCAR. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it assisted them in attracting new, more diverse fans whose sentiment on Twitter was positive. Overall, the current study demonstrated that traditional sport properties may be well served by tapping into the esport space in an authentic way to enhance their core product(s).