Media Spreadability and Sport

The current worldwide Covid-19 pandemic has halted most – if not all – live professional sport events and leagues. This led sport, marketing and media professionals to scramble for solutions to fill this void. Some decided to broadcast old tournaments or games, like in Brazil where Globo is showing all games from previous FIFA World Cup tournaments. Others decided to have their events in different formats, like in the UK where the Grand National was contested virtually with the help of algorithms that correctly predicted winners in the past. On the other hand, in cycling the competitions moved from actual roads to indoor trainers as with the Tour of Flanders being contested online for the first time in its history.

While the Tour of Flanders is a classic one day event in the traditional cycling calendar, it was with the Tour de Suisse that indoor competition made its inroad into multiple days series. The 2020 Tour de Suisse was competed between the 22nd and 26th of April on Rouvy, and it was contested by different UCI WorldTeams and riders like the current Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet, the current road world champion Mads Pedersen, and the current time trial world champion Rohan Dennis. The event was branded as the Digital Swiss 5 and was broadcasted by major TV channels as the BBC in the UK, ZDF in Germany, SRG in Switzerland, TV2 in Norway and Denmark, and worldwide through the Olympic Channel app (full list here). A hashtag (#DigitalSwiss5) was used throughout the event, and I have collected tweets from this hashtag network during the official broadcast of those 5 days.

My idea when collecting the tweets was to check Jenkins et al (2013) notion of spreadable media, thus looking into how the message circulated through this network of cycling fans, and in particular to see who shaped the flow. To do so, the layout of the below network reflects the following: the bigger the size of the node = more network authority; redder the edges = more weight.

So, what can we see? Initially we note that who has more authority in this network are not the traditional media companies (Olympic Channel and others) that were broadcasting the event but it was some of the UCI WorldTeams (Deceunick – Quick-Step, Sunweb and Team Ineos). Also, it was not the event’s organisers as the international cycling federation (UCI) or the Tour de Suisse, but it was Velon – an organisation owned by different WorldTeams that focus on creating more marketing and commercial opportunities to teams by bringing pro cycling closer to fans – who had more authority. And this authority was also matched by the edges’ weights.

Nevertheless, while this particular network shows one form of digital media disruption in sport [the authority moving away from traditional media outlets], it does not fully demonstrate the role of grassroots intermediaries in circulating this spreadable content (the hashtag). From what we can see, we still do not have unofficial parties like fans having authority in spreading the content, but we do have a shift in authority from traditional governing bodies like the UCI to new organisations like Velon and UCI WorldTeams.

And if you are from one of those organisations losing authority maybe is time to think of innovative solutions before you become dispensable in this new media ecology.

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