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Social Media and Sport Research: Empirical Examinations Showcasing Diversity in Methods and Topics

Jimmy Sanderson and Gashaw Abeza

This commentary introduces the second of two special issues in the International Journal of Sport Communication centered on social media and sport. The empirical studies presented in this issue illustrate both the diversity of topics and methodological approaches utilized by researchers working at the intersection of social media and sport. Research articles in this issue analyze topics ranging from sport consumer behavior to online fan communities to coaches’ perceptions of activism-related content posted on team social media accounts. The research presented here also employs a variety of methodological approaches including experimental design, critical discourse analysis, rhetorical analysis, and applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Collectively, these studies offer a foundation on which future research in social media and sport can build to continue to enhance our understanding of social media’s impact on the sport world.

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Assessing the Social Media Landscape in Sport: Evaluating the Present and Identifying Future Opportunities

Gashaw Abeza and Jimmy Sanderson

This article introduces a special issue of the International Journal of Sport Communication containing insightful commentaries by distinguished scholars in social media scholarship in sports studies. By inviting 25 scholars in the field, who contributed a total of 16 scholarly commentaries, the issue benefits from their extensive knowledge of the interplay between social media and sport. The scholarly commentaries address current trends, critique methods, challenge theories, and propose fresh approaches to understanding the impact of social media in sport. These scholars offer unique perspectives, innovative methodologies, and engaging writing that caters to a diverse readership. The articles provide valuable critiques; shed light on critical issues, controversies, and gaps in knowledge; and identify future directions for sport and social media scholarship to traverse. Importantly, the diverse perspectives presented in this issue stimulate academic dialogue and foster productive discussions within the field of social media in sport studies.

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Social Media and Sport Studies (2014–2023): A Critical Review

Gashaw Abeza

Building on the foundational study conducted by Abeza et al., this work extends the investigation by critically reviewing social media research in sport studies published from June 2014 to June 2023. Methodologically, the review involved an examination of 153 original research articles from five prominent journals in sport communication and sport management, namely the International Journal of Sport Communication, Communication & Sport, Journal of Sport Management, Sport Management Review, and European Sport Management Quarterly. The study identified the research streams, platforms, theories, and research methods that have garnered attention in the social media research community. The findings reveal several key insights that contribute to the ongoing dialogue in the field, stimulating further exploration and advancing knowledge at the intersection of social media and sport.

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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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I “Like” It: The Effects of Social Media Platform and Message on Consumer Engagement Actions

Rebecca M. Achen, Ashley Stadler-Blank, and John J. Sailors

The academic literature reports mixed evidence on how social media platform and message impact consumer engagement. We investigated the effects of three platforms (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) and three message themes (sales, informational, and relationship building) on six consumer engagement actions (comment, like, search, share, talk about, and purchase) in a lab experiment. College students responded to social media posts featuring their National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I women’s basketball team. Results for platform show that participants were more likely to comment on Facebook and Twitter (vs. Instagram) and more likely to purchase on Twitter (vs. Instagram). Results for message theme show that participants were more likely to comment, like, and share informational and relationship building posts and more likely to purchase after sales posts. Results for message theme vary by gender for search and talk about (with others). These results can help sport marketers develop social media content that drives specific engagement actions.

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Habitually Scrolling: An Examination Into How Sport Consumers Use Social Media

Heather Kennedy and Daniel C. Funk

Uses and gratifications theory has often been used in (sport) communication studies to examine social media usage. Yet, criticisms of uses and gratifications theory (e.g., it overstates purposefulness) and competing research suggesting media use is more habitual and unconscious in nature have often been overlooked. Thus, through semistructured interviews, this research explored how social media is used, identifying five themes: passively, distinctly, periodically, habitually, and universally. Theoretically, this research contributes by highlighting the passive, habitual, and unconscious nature of some sport social media behavior, thereby challenging our current assumptions that sport social media usage is always active, purposeful, and goal directed. It also considers the uniqueness (or lack thereof) of sport content within the social media experience. Managerially, this research helps sport organizations understand how consumers use social media to inform marketing and communication strategies.

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Erratum: Do Fans Care About the Activist Athlete? A Closer Look at Athlete Activism Effect on Brand Image

Open access

Erratum. The Importance of an Organization’s Reputation: Application of the Rasch Model to the Organizational Reputation Questionnaire for Sports Fans

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Theory and Social Media in Sport Studies

Gashaw Abeza and Jimmy Sanderson

A key feature of a robust academic discipline is that its homegrown theories and investing in theory contribute to building good research. In the field of sport and social media research, the rigorous utilization of theory is one of the areas where the field is still facing “disciplinary pain.” In fact, the unique features of social media provide researchers in the sport research community with a valuable opportunity for proposing, testing, applying, critiquing, comparing, integrating, and expanding theories. In this commentary, the authors, based on their own experience (as researchers, readers, and reviewers of social media in sport), contend that reference resources are lacking on this topic to help young (or existing) researchers locate appropriate theories for their research. Hence, this work identifies, documents, and discusses the theories used, advanced, and developed in social media research for sport studies. Furthermore, a compilation is brought together of different theories from various disciplines that researchers in this community may consider for their future work.

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Erratum: Price et al. (2022)