It's not telly, it's football

Media academics don’t spend much time thinking about sport. Televised football is a case in point. Watching football is not seen as watching television. It is seen as ‘sport’. I heard a story recently about a lad who, on a first encounter with his girlfriend’s family, cut dinner short to go and watch a match, on his own. The family thought this was OK. Can you imagine somebody doing the same thing to watch any other type of programme without being considered to be ignorant or psychotic? ‘He left dinner to watch television on his own’. No danger of a second invitation there.

When it comes to sport, we seem to be unable to tell the difference between television and real life. A person who trains 7 days a week clearly likes sport. A television football fan who can’t run to save his life, can also legitimately say he likes sport. Our language does not seem to accommodate much difference between watching and doing. By overlooking sport, academia does not do much to right this popular misconception. There is a ‘sport’ blindspot at the centre of media studies that obscures what is perhaps the most popular, most lucrative and the most consequential use of media today.

Outside of policy discussions and debates about licencing, media and sport are seldom mentioned in the same breath. Yet media shape most of the sport that people see and experience. Television, newspapers and so on, shape the way we understand and discuss sport as a central part of our lives and cultures.

As media content, sport is fascinating. There’s been a lot of fuss about formats and reality television in recent years but sport got there first. A soccer match is essentially a format. It contains enough internal drama to let the same basic format and production model be rolled out endlessly. I think Mitchell and Webb say it best here.

As a production, sport is cheap and popular. Even massive premiership football productions are economical in light of the massive audiences they attract. This explains why sport, along with other cheap forms of entertainment, dominates our media.

Everyone knows that football is an industry but people often overlook that it is a media industry. Footballers are media workers. Their monstrous salaries are not paid particularly because they’re good at football. They are paid because they generate massive revenue for companies like Sky though viewers’ subscriptions and advertising. Footballers are employees who create spectacle. Extending from this they create glamour and value for the products and services they endorse.

When it comes to media effects, sport is fascinating but ignored. Anyone can see that mediated sport has affected the clothing we wear, whether its football tops or aspiring ‘WAG’ fashions. Most of today’s role models are media sports personalities. It has shaped our language and the metaphors we use to describe and understand the world. Ask any politician or businessman. Sport, as it is mediated, as opposed to how it is played, is the source of group membership, polite conversation, rivalry, violence and lasting friendships. We take all of this for granted. It is just not seen to be a media issue. Maybe we need to spend more time thinking about and talking about what it means to live in a media-sports saturated society.