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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).

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The Kraken Awakens: Exploring the Digital Launch of a New Sport Team Brand During a Global Pandemic

Cole G. Armstrong, Melissa Davies, Matthew Blaszka, and Ann Pegoraro

This study explored the public’s response to the digital brand launch of the Seattle Kraken. Informed by agenda-setting theory and through content and social media analyses, the study identified the initial digital sentiment around the brand and the reach of the virtual conversations. The Kraken were able to encourage favorable conversation about the team by setting the agenda and encouraging consumers to engage with content at specific times during launch. In the first hour after brand launch, consumers focused conversation on the team, the logo and color scheme, and the effectiveness of the launch video. In the following 24 hr, the conversation remained positive and focused on how the brand positively represented the city and region. Through agenda setting, the Seattle Kraken were able to effectively launch their new brand while also setting the stage for positive brand-association development.

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Machine Learning in Sport Social Media Research: Practical Uses and Opportunities

James Du, Yoseph Z. Mamo, Carter Floyd, Niveditha Karthikeyan, and Jeffrey D. James

In tandem with the burgeoning popularity of social media research in the field of sport communication and marketing, we are witnessing a concomitant rise in its epistemological sophistication. Despite this growth, the field has given less attention to methodological issues and implications. In light of the development of machine learning, the overarching goal of the current research was to answer the call for innovative methodological approaches to advance knowledge in the area of social media research. Specifically, we (a) assess the current state of sport social media research from a methodological perspective, with a particular focus on machine learning; (b) present an empirical illustration to demonstrate how sport scholars can benefit from the advancement in natural language processing and the derivative topic modeling techniques; (c) discuss how machine learning could enhance the rigor of social media research and improve theory development; and (d) offer potential opportunities and directions for the future sport social media research that utilizes machine learning.

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Regulating Ambush Marketing in an Increasingly Social Era

John Grady

The practice of ambush marketing continues to proliferate around mega sport events, notably during the Olympics. The ongoing commercial threat to official sponsors and event organizers threatens the sponsorship model on which the events rely. The current situation is further complicated by increased social media activity and engagement by competing athletes to engage not only with their followers on social media but also with endorser brands who may not always also be official sponsors of the event. The increasing role of Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter as a regulatory tool on social media to prevent ambush marketing is discussed as an additional brand protection measure beyond traditional legal enforcement. The commentary explores advances in recent scholarship related to ambush marketing and suggests directions for future research. Legal, policy, and practical implications for social media in sport are discussed.

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“Time to Award Some Medals”: A Comparative Social Media Analysis of Olympic Coverage in the United States and Australia

Kelsey Slater, Dunja Antunovic, Meg S. Messer, and Sam P. Dreher

Rights-holding broadcasters of the Olympic Games play an integral role in conveying the values of the Olympic Movement, but few studies have examined these networks’ social media content. This investigation involved a comparative content analysis of rights-holding broadcasters’ official Olympic Twitter accounts in the United States (@NBCOlympics) and Australia (@7Olympics) during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Results indicate significant differences between the two accounts in sport disciplines, gender representations, and national interest. Both accounts dedicated <40% of the tweets to women’s sport. Whereas the American outlet NBC promoted home athletes, Australia’s Seven Network emphasized athletes from other countries. Twitter accounts partially followed the televisual logics of representation patterns, but contextual factors specific to social media structured agenda diversity. Contextual elements (e.g., structure of sport schedules and nation-specific factors) are also relevant when interpreting representation patterns. Theoretical implications for agenda setting and methodological directions for cross-national Olympic social media research are discussed.

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“Be a Good Fan During the Good, the Bad, and Even the Ugly”: Exploring Cultural Boundaries Through Sport Fan Discourses on Twitter

Katherine Sveinson and Larena Hoeber

While sport fandom can be assumed to be inclusive, a deeper exploration of discourses around fandom exposes alternative perspectives. Using the frameworks of cultural boundaries and critical discourse studies, we explored how sport fans use Twitter to create, maintain, and transform cultural boundaries of sport fandom. We used tweets from a season of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team as a case. Data were collected via Visual Twitter Analytics software focusing on tweets containing #LetsRise and #BlueJays. From the larger data set, we selected 172 tweets to examine using critical discourse analysis and ideological structures of discourse. Findings demonstrate that discourses of loyalty, consumption, and unity have plural meanings and are used to draw boundaries that are simultaneously fluid and rigid. Thus, we argue that fans engage in an active process of determining who is and is not included in fan cultures through Twitter use.

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A Critical Analysis of Coaches’ Perceptions of Athletic Department Involvement in Team-Related Social Media Activism

Natalie Bunch, Beth A. Cianfrone, and Lauren Beasley

National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) coaches are among the most visible leaders on campuses. With recent calls for diversity efforts, coaches are faced with decisions regarding supporting or promoting their teams’ and athletes’ racial justice actions on team social media accounts. However, sport information staff often manage the team’s social media strategy and may not reflect the coaches’ goals. Framed by the theory of racialized organizations, we examined NCAA coaches’ attitudes toward their athletic department’s role in social media activism on their team pages. We surveyed 174 coaches across divisions and investigated differences based on coaches’ gender, race, and division. Findings suggest that coaches supported activism but were less confident in the role of the athletic department in posting about racial justice on team accounts. Interpreting results through the theory of racialized organizations, coaches, specifically White coaches, may view their college athletic departments as race-neutral organizations. There is opportunity for those managing team platforms to further promote social justice messaging to demonstrate organizational support.

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Cyberbullying in Sport

Ellen MacPherson and Gretchen Kerr

Despite over 30 years of scholarly attention devoted to bullying and cyberbullying behaviors in school settings, research related to these experiences in the sport context remains limited. Yet, numerous anecdotal examples and preliminary evidence suggests cyberbullying exists in the sport domain and must be addressed given the potential adverse psychosocial outcomes for athletes. This commentary reviews research related to bullying and cyberbullying in the sport literature. To advance our understanding of cyberbullying in sport, recommendations are made to clarify conceptual issues around the central defining features (i.e., power, repetition, intent) commonly used to operationalize these experiences. Further, methodological issues to be addressed are discussed, including, the use of more diverse methods; adoption of an intersectional lens to all research; and the development, implementation, and evaluation of interdisciplinary evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies. Only through a research base that addresses these conceptual and methodological challenges, will empirically-informed prevention and intervention strategies be developed to advance safe, healthy, and inclusive sport environments.

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Dynamic Social Media Content in Sport Communication Research

Galen Clavio

Research focusing on social media usage in sport communication and its related media has made significant strides in the last 2 decades. Researchers have provided key insights into how social media content is created by sport entities and media members, how sport fans and consumers feel about social media content, and how aspects of social media content inform public perception of matters pertaining to race, gender, ethnicity, politics, and other key cultural areas. However, the changing natures of social media technology and user preferences for content have often moved faster than the body of research surrounding them. This commentary highlights a gap in published sport communication studies focusing on dynamic social media content and provides suggestions for addressing a key present, and future, need for scholarly inquiry in the field.

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Opportunities for Advancing Relationship Marketing and Social Media Research

Rebecca M. Achen

Since the creation of social media platforms, sport researchers have used relationship marketing as a conceptual and theoretical framework for studies on social media in sport. While many of these studies have contributed to our understanding of relationship building on social media, there is much room for advancement. This special-issue commentary provides a brief overview of the scholarship on relationship marketing and social media in sport and then suggests areas for advancement. It ends with specific recommendations for moving from using relationship marketing as a framework to testing the theory in sport social media research and expanding on its application to understanding relationship building on social media in sport.