How sports coverage shapes the game

No matter what type of sport you most enjoy watching, the media coverage is sure to add an extra degree of interest to it for you. In fact, you might not have noticed it before, but the sports coverage we see in the media plays a big part in shaping the game in a number of different ways. How does this work, and what changes can we expect to see in the future?

Helping audiences connect and giving us something to talk about

Sports fans love interacting with other fans and learning more about the games. While social media and fan forums have given them a way of doing so directly, the traditional media’s sports coverage is vital in helping audiences connect with each other as well as giving them talking points that encourage this.

The articles and commentaries that we find online can be immensely useful in generating conversations in a diverse sporting landscape. News of a new interview with a star player or details of someone moving on to find a new challenge elsewhere are among the most interesting pieces of information fans love to discover. Even a well-written report of a game can spark debate by pointing out some of the key points and reactions.

Our appetite for more information on our favorite sports has only increased over time, with new technology allowing us to find new, fresh ways of connecting. For instance, some football, soccer, and baseball teams have been looking at how to use the blockchain to encourage a greater level of connection with their fans and let them interact directly.

Worldwide sports clubs, including Barcelona and the Los Angeles Lakers, have tried different ways, such as allowing fans to buy branded tokens as part of their relationship with the franchise. However, despite these new ways of making fans feel closer to their team, it’s still the mainstream sports coverage that largely drives our interest and gives us subjects to talk about with other fans.

Naturally, anyone looking to enter the sports journalism world needs to understand the modern approach to sports coverage as well as the classic elements of the role, and students can learn this and more at St. Bonaventure University. The reputable online Sports Journalism Degree at St. Bonaventure includes the best practices and ethics of the industry, as well as future business models and the increasingly diverse nature of the sector. The university also educates students on how best to begin podcasts and prepare for interviews when joining the press row for an event.

Increasing global awareness of events and personalities

We live in a fast-changing world, and sport is as dynamic as any other aspect of our lives. At first glance, the sports we’ve grown to love over the last few decades are still the most popular, but there’s a lot of change going on, so we need to dig deeper to find out what difference this has made.

For example, the rise in mainstream popularity of certain female sports in the last few years is one of the best examples of how sports coverage can help build public interest in events that they might not have been aware of otherwise. The FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2019 was won by the US and broke all sorts of viewing records as fans watched the sport’s best and top-earning players take part, with the 2023 version of the event even more popular and the sport now firmly established in the mainstream.

As part of this popularity, you can now find more mainstream coverage of female soccer. In fact, Google recently amended its search engine algorithms to ensure that the women’s version of this sport is fairly represented in user results. It leads to the question of whether the media has created more demand for the sport or simply reacted to it, which was building up anyway. Perhaps the best answer is that a sport that’s building popularity reaches a tipping point where fans look for more information, and the media happily obliges.

The 2024 Olympics in Paris are going to introduce a few new sports. Surfing, sport climbing, breakdancing, and skateboarding are all going to be part of this global event, but which is going to capture the attention of the public? It seems safe to say that the media coverage of the event is going to at least partly determine which of the new sports grabs most of our attention.

It’s easy to imagine any of these sports gaining a lot of new fans, and they’re already quite well-established anyway. Perhaps the key will be whether any of the events produce a truly memorable performance or a star who captures the imagination of millions of fans.

Sports are clearly becoming even more personality-led, with the most successful stars gaining millions of fans on social media and earning massive additional sums in this way. Yet, one of the key factors that helps any sportsperson gain widespread recognition is the coverage that they receive in the media. Someone who gives good interviews and comes across as likeable is going to be more popular among a wider range of the population in general.

It is one of the reasons why many franchises encourage their stars to take some form of media training after they’ve joined a franchise in the draft. All of the major pro sports in the US—football, baseball, basketball, ice hockey, etc.—have rookie training programs that give new players advice on how to handle the media. It’s a vital part of their training these days, and how well they complete it can go a long way to gaining them new fans if they come across as friendly in interviews.

The most charming, charismatic, and talkative athletes like Muhammad Ali, Magic Johnson, and John McEnroe have always endeared themselves to fans. One of the greatest examples of the media image of a star being changed over time is that of George Foreman. Regarded as silent and brooding as a young boxer, he matured into a friendly and much-loved star in his older years when he returned after his first retirement, with the media coverage helping to shape our new view of him.

Creating stories that hook us

Every time we watch a sports event, we see new stories unfold in front of our eyes. But sometimes, it’s only later that the true enormity of the action sinks in. Maybe you saw some sort of world record being set, or the game you just watched was the birth of a new star, but you never realized it. Anyone who watched Tom Brady’s debut in the NFL for the New England Patriots in 2000 could have been forgiven for forgetting about it almost immediately afterwards.

It’s the way the most skilled journalists create a memorable story about these events that makes them stick in our collective memory for so long. Take the example of the Muhammad Ali fights that made him a worldwide star. The Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman is now regarded as one of the greatest sporting events of the 20th century, but a huge amount of the esteem that we hold it in comes from the media coverage like the When We Were Kings documentary and the many great reviews of the tactics used in the fight.

The best kind of sports journalism helps us appreciate an event more fully by placing it in a global context or by letting us discover the story behind the action we wouldn’t otherwise have seen. The media has also helped to shape the image of superstars from Tiger Woods to Lionel Messi and LeBron James, giving us a glimpse at the person rather than just the sports star. The hook of these stories can be a personal story of triumph over adversity or a tale of redemption after earlier problems like drugs or other personal issues.

It can be interesting to watch a game or sporting event and try to guess what the main hook will be in the media afterward. A look at the 50 most memorable NFL games of all time brings up a list of games that probably seemed run-of-the-mill at the time but have stood the test of time because of some sort of hook in the story. The Epic in Miami and the Ice Bowl are among the games that have remained classics in our minds because of the iconic photos, news reports, and TV coverage they inspired.

Adding revenue to the sports world

Money is vastly important in the sports world these days for a variety of reasons. For a start, TV companies earn a large percentage of their overall earnings from the biggest and most popular events of the year. It is why they try to show the sport in its best possible light and encourage as many people as possible to watch it with them.

Soccer is a good example here, as it’s been introduced to the massive American market relatively recently. While it shares some of its roots with the American sport of football, there are some differences at its heart that have made it difficult to sell to American audiences in the past. These include the relatively long periods in which no goals are scored and the way that there is one long break in the middle of a game rather than several shorter breaks that advertisers would like to see and fans are used to.

Therefore, one of the biggest challenges for American media companies and soccer authorities has been finding ways to shape this sport to become more suitable for their local market. They’ve tried various options, and the list of ways of potentially Americanizing soccer has interesting ideas, such as dividing games into shorter periods of play and letting substitutes re-enter the field once they’ve left it.

With the FIFA World Cup coming to North America in 2026, it’s going to be interesting to see how the local media covers it and whether it strikes a chord with the population in general. This sport has already made a lot of progress in the American market, and hosting this global event—with 11 venues out of the 16 in the US—could see it reach the next level.

On the other hand, American fans have often asked why their sports, like baseball and football, aren’t as popular elsewhere as soccer and other global games. In terms of football, it could be seen as a question of infrastructure, as it needs to be set up with specialist equipment. However, despite several countries in Europe making a serious effort to introduce a version of football, it’s never taken off there.

Perhaps it’s the attitude of the media that’s shaped these sports, which are specifically American in nature, while European journalists prefer to talk up their own sports like soccer and rugby. It would be extremely interesting to see whether European fans would be warm to American sports if the media there made a serious effort to encourage them to fall in love with the likes of football and baseball.

Ultimately, the teams and franchises earn from this revenue, as they gain a share of TV money in a market that is getting bigger and more lucrative all the time. Therefore, it’s in everyone’s best interests to keep fans engaged and interested in the product. It is where sports media is crucial because they help us see the beauty of these sports and forget that it’s a money-making business that moves billions of dollars every year.

Contributing to sports culture

What does sports culture really involve? These days, it’s become even more diverse and no longer simply involves going to the stadium at the weekend or settling down in front of the TV to support your team.

You can go to a sports bar where the walls are filled with numerous screens showing diverse games from across the planet, and the menu has eye-catching, sports-themed snacks. Or you could play one of the growing number of officially licensed sports games. These life-like games immerse you in the world of your favorite sport and let you find out what it’s like behind the scenes.

Sports culture has reached many other parts of our lives these days; for example, the engrossing sports documentaries you can now find on many different sports and personalities. Examples from recent years include 2023’s Reggie, which looked at Reggie Jackson’s life, and Boom! Boom! The World vs. Boris Becker was also released this year by Apple+ TV.

While these documentaries typically look at the real stories that fans wouldn’t otherwise be aware of, Hollywood has also set its sights on sports culture in recent years. Taking into account the massive popularity of sports in current times, they’ve created movies that often embellish real life or create a fictional world for us to enjoy.

Michael Oher’s life was shown in The Blind Side, which was released in 2009 and featured Quinton Aaron as the NFL player with Sandra Bullock playing his adoptive mother. While it’s a heartwarming story about his unlikely rise to the top of the sport, Oher wasn’t happy with the way he was portrayed as unintelligent and how the movies played up to stereotypes. It lets us see the huge influence the media has and how they need to be extremely careful with how they show players and their lives.

What does the future hold for sports coverage?

We can expect the best sports journalists to keep up with the latest technology as they look for new ways to reach their audience and capture their attention with stories and reviews. The basic art of grabbing the attention of fans isn’t going to change, but the way it’s done could.

We’ve already seen how the blockchain and social media are playing an ever-bigger role in the way we consume sports action and find out about what our heroes are up to. Other areas of cutting-edge technology, such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), could prove vital in giving us new ways to follow the action.

VR could be used to put us directly in the middle of the action, and it’s already being used in this way in some cases. The first sports games have already taken place in the metaverse, while some sports stadiums allow us to feel as though we’re really there when we’re sitting at home with a VR headset on.

As for AR, it allows us to follow the game’s statistics or see reports on what’s happening superimposed over the action. Towards the end of 2022, the SoFi Stadium was used for an AR experiment during a game featuring the Los Angeles Rams as a way of engaging fans further.

Many stadiums have already incorporated one or other of these technologies, but this doesn’t stop journalists and other communication experts from adding content that shapes the game. After all, the need for experts to add context to the data and create the stories that keep fans coming back isn’t going to go away any time soon.