Introduction to the Special Issue: Contemporary Issues in Social Media in Sport

in International Journal of Sport Communication

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Gashaw AbezaTowson University, USA

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Norm O’ReillyUniversity of Guelph, Canada

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Benoit SeguinUniversity of Ottawa, Canada

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In 2015, we, the guest editors of this special issue of the International Journal of Sport Communication (IJSC), published a study that assessed the history and state of social-media scholarship in sport-management research. The study was a census review of 123 social-media articles mined from a cross-disciplinary examination of 29 scholarly journals from January 2008 to June 2014. We chose the January 2008 start date as we could not find any published work prior to that date, demonstrating how new this topic is. The review enabled us to conclude that there was a solid foundation in our understanding of social media in sport-management research. However, we also suggested that scholars should aim to develop more-sophisticated research questions covering broader topics, advance the use of theories, and expand research methods. To further our understanding of the complex interrelationship of social media and the sport industry and to celebrate a decade of work in social media in sport management, we initiated this special issue.

We are pleased to report that our call for papers received over 30 submissions, indicating high levels of interest and a good trajectory. Researchers demonstrated scientific rigor and great diversity in the research streams covered, the theoretical frameworks used, and the research methods employed. We are thankful to all who submitted their work and especially grateful for the eight included contributions by 18 authors from seven countries (Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Norway, and the United States). These international contributions are a fitting reflection of IJSCs global scope. Specifically, the articles are on the subjects of journalism in the age of social media, social-media content management, brand-image communication, crisis communication and image repair through social media, and social-media-based anti-sponsor-brand communities.

In this special issue we present two interviews, one commentary, four research manuscripts, and one case study. Jueyin Ashley Zheng, in her interview with NFL China’s digital media manager, presents the National Football League’s strategic use of social media in its effort to expand internationally. In the second interview paper, the Dallas Cowboys’ director of content strategy shares his perspective on the past, present, and future of social media in professional sport, particularly in the North American context. He discusses how the 3 Vs (velocity, variety, and volume) of data/content led the team to restructure its programming department by bringing together television, Web, social-media, and game-day content under the production  department. In line with that, Lowes and Robillard (in their commentary piece) discuss how content is increasingly becoming “king” in the industry, more than ever before. They argue that, as opposed to the dominance of audiences in the era of traditional media, content is what drives revenue in today’s media world and, by extension, is a challenge to the practice of traditional journalism. The case study of Frederick and Pegoraro examines the image-repair strategies used on the University of Louisville’s official Facebook page. The authors identify a new strategy referred to as “rallying,” in addition to common strategies of image repair such as transcendence, bolstering, and stonewalling.

In the opening research paper, Bell and Hartman analyze Maria Sharapova’s use of the crisis-communication strategy of “stealing thunder” to announce her failed drug test ahead of the traditional media’s coverage of the story. They demonstrate how this influenced the media narratives about her suspension. In the second research paper, Popp, Horbel, and Germelmann studied two distinctive, prototypical Facebook-based anti-sponsor-brand communities of teams from the Bundesliga. They report on the impact of social-media-based anti-sponsor-brand communities on sponsoring brands, sponsored clubs, and the sport of soccer itself.

Maderer, Parganas, and Anagnostopoulos examine the practice of brand-image communication on the Facebook and Twitter accounts of the 10 most valuable European professional football (soccer) clubs. Gathering Facebook posts and Twitter feeds from the two most valuable football teams in each of England, Spain, Germany, Italy, and France’s premier leagues, they identify the range of brand associations that are communicated and the level of online fan engagement displayed on the two social-media platforms. Finally, Achen, Kaczorowski, Horsmann, and Ketzler use content analysis and a multivariate multilevel model to compare content type and interaction on Facebook in the off-season across North American professional sport (the National Football League [NFL], National Basketball Association [NBA], National Hockey League [NHL], Women’s National Basketball Association [WNBA], Major League Baseball [MLB], and Major League Soccer [MLS]). They report on the type of content that is most successful in engendering interaction on Facebook, and they compare content strategy and interaction on content types across the leagues.

We are pleased to present this special issue. We hope that the compiled works will help stimulate discussion and debate to further scholarship in the area of social media in sport management.

Abeza is with Dept. of Kinesiology, Towson University, Towson, MD. O’Reilly is with the College of Business and Economics, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada. Seguin is with the School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada.

Abeza (gabeza@towson.edu) is corresponding author.
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