Media Disruption in Sport: Twitter and UFC 229 McGregor v Khabib

Continuing with my approach of reheating old social network data – as we are still without live sports due to Covid-19 pandemic – I will use a Twitter network I have collected from the UFC 229 McGregor v Khabib event that took place in 2018. On that night I have collected over 100k nodes and 230k edges before, during and after the event. My goal for using this data is to show how social media, and in particular Twitter, might be disrupting the traditional sports media ecology.

Traditionally – as I have discussed here in this post – media outlets as newspapers, magazines and TV channels, and also individuals as journalists or bloggers are mediators of information in a network of consumers of news (the audience). In a way we have an ecological system where those organisms are at the top of the chain because they control the message by controlling the medium.

Then, in the traditional sport broadcasting we can assume that athletes, competitions, and events become hostages to those entities because for their message to be passed on to a wider audience it needs to go through channels that they do not control. But how social media – and in particular Twitter – has disrupted traditional sports media?

Let’s look at this network below. What can we see? Who are the larger nodes?

Well, in a traditional sports media ecosystem it was expected that the larger nodes – representing more prestige – would have been media outlets and journalists. But in a social media disrupted ecosystem the ones with more prestige are actually athletes and the event organiser itself.

Even having more followers on Twitter – represented from blue (less) to red (more) – traditional media outlets as ESPN, ESPN SportsCenter, Twitter Sports, BBC, The Guardian, Bleacher Report, TMZ, Marca, SkyNews or journalists/YouTubers as Rafinha Bastos, Daniel Howell, and Joe Rogan did not have the same prestige as the athletes on the card – Conor McGregor (@thenotoriusmma), Khabib Nurmagomedov (@teamkhabib), Tony Ferguson (@tonyfergusonxt), Anthony Pettis (@showtimepettis), Ovince Saint Preux (@003_OSP), Dominick Reyes (@domreyes), Derrick Lewis (@thebeast_ufc), Alexander Volkov (@alexdragovolkov), Michelle Waterson (@karatehottiemma), and Felice Herrig (@feliceherrig).

The network shows very well how social media has disrupted the traditional media ecosystem by allowing audiences to interact directly with athletes and the event. In a way, the power of controlling the message by controlling the medium is diluted when athletes and events organisers become media outlets themselves. Thus, audiences do not need mediators anymore as they can reach their desired information directly.

How to adapt to this disrupted sports media ecology becomes of the greatest importance for traditional media outlets when we are all producers and consumers of our own news.

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