How the Internet has changed Sport and Fandom

Since the creation of the World Wide Web twenty five years ago the way in which sport is consumed by fans has changed forever.

Twenty five years ago, sports fans were more or less dependent on their local newspaper for updates on their favourite sports teams.  If you wanted to watch a game live you’d either have to hope that it was a rare televised encounter or actually be in the stadium itself.  The last decade however has seen an explosion in the internet, meaning there are now more and more sources that can provide the information that fans desire.

As I am writing this now, I have got several windows and tabs open on my computer allowing me to keep up to date with the latest sporting news and scores as they happen.  I have live snooker scores from Haikou.  I have tennis scores from Tipton. I have got the BBC Sportsday live open. I have access to an almost infinite amount of forums. At the touch of a button, I can research almost any sporting figure in the world.

Not that long ago this information would not have been so readily and easily available.  If I wanted to know the result of something, I would have had to wait until either it appeared on Ceefax or failing that, was in the results section of the newspaper the following morning.  If I wanted to discuss football with someone, I would have to wait until I came across a knowledgeable person who I could have that conversation with.  If I wanted to find out about a specific sportsman, or wanted to check a fact, I would have to find a reference book or an encyclopedia.  Nowadays, none of the above is relevant.

The online world has made it so much easier for fans to access and view content from their favourtie sport.  Major League Baseball established its Advanced Media site in 2000, and the result has been an entity that generated $380 million in 2007 and grows by 30% annually. during the baseball season gets 8 million viewers every day.

This successful model has been copied by the majority of other sports: American Football has the NFL Game Pass, Tennis has Tennis TV, and there are countless others.  Even ‘ sports entertainment’ has gotten in on the act with the WWE Network having been launched to success in the past month.

The explosion of social media, particularly Twitter, has also dramatically changed the way in which sport is covered, especially the ease of direct access with famous sporting figures.

The immediacy of Twitter ensures that it is the first place for news of any kind to be broken.  If a press conference is taking place, then someone will be live-tweeting what is being said.  If a draw is taking place, then people will be relaying this information live, and if a TV programme is broadcast then there will be a onscreen twitter #hashtag to encourage the online audience.

Twitter has made it much easier for the public to find out about their sporting heroes.  By following them, then can find out what they are interested in and can even have conversations with them, something that would have been a pipedream only five years ago.  Of course, having the ability to have a conversation with a sporting figure has also led to the ability to abuse them.

Kick It Out has reported that it has encountered a 43 per cent increase in abuse being posted on social media over the past year.  Pundits such as Stan Collymore have received abusing messages on Twitter for daring to post a valid opinion.  When Elise Christie was disqualified from the 500m Short Track Speed Skating final in Sochi, she revealed that due to the torrent of abuse she received she had had to close her Twitter account.  Sadly this was so predictable that it seems to be the normal order of things. Clearly, this abuse is not acceptable.

The rise of interactive elements within all manners of broadcasting has also increased the value of the opinion of the man in the pub.  Pre-internet, his perhaps ill-informed comments would have only been subjected to those in the pub with him.  Now, they are fed into live texts as opinions on sporting incidents; or Twitter comments used across TV broadcasts.

The Internet has changed the ability in which sporting events can be broadcast.  Two of the most famous moments in American sporting history were broadcast in a fashion that could no longer be done. The Miracle On Ice USA-Russia Ice Hockey game in the 1980 Winter Olympics was not only broadcast on a tape delay to ensure it could be broadcast in primetime, but had an embargo on reports from the game to ensure that there was no way in which the score could be leaked.  And the 1996 Magnificient Seven women’s gymnastics team’s gold medal was edited for broadcast in a fashion that it seemed that Kerri Strug’s vault while injured won the American team the gold.  In reality, the Russian team were still to compete on the floor even after the vault had been landed, and in hindsight, even without Strug’s heroic second vault, the Americans would have won the gold.

Neither of these two moments, voted the two greatest in American Olympic history, could possibly have been taken place in our virtual era.  It is simply no longer possible to avoid knowing the score of a major sporting event hours after it has happened without cutting yourself off from society.  The famous episode of The Likely Lads were they try to avoid the score of an England football game until the highlights showed beautifully how difficult it was to do so, and that was broadcast in 1973…

The arrival of the Internet has significantly diminished the newspaper industry and reduced it to a shell of its former glory.

In 2004, when the majority of Internet users were still using a dial-up connection, an average of 12 million newspapers were sold daily in the United Kingdom.  Ten years on, that figure has reduced to just under 8 million, a drop of 35%.  But in addition to the drop in figures, the selling point of a newspaper has changed as well.

It used to be that if you wanted to find out about a football match that had taken place on a Wednesday night, then the first place and time you would be able to read about it would be when you looked in the newspaper on Thursday morning.  There, the match report and analysis would be represented in a way that only gave you an outline of what happened in the game.

Since the spectacular growth of the Internet that traditional role of the newspaper has gone.  Now, match reports posted online virtually on the final whistle of the match.  Not only that, minutes spending navigating the web and you can see the goals from that match as well.  And considering the enormous analysis from experts and fans, what new information can the next days papers provide that you haven’t already been able to source?

The Internet has irreversibly changed sport and the way that fans consume it.  It has taken sport from the few who are able to watch in the stadium to the masses that can watch from wherever they see fit.  It used to be that you needed a ticket to watch a sporting event; now you just need a screen…

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