Media, Sports, and the Stadium

In this contribution to our Reading and Resource Lists section, Helen Morgan Parmett introduces selected texts and materials on media, sports, and the stadium.

Sports stadiums and arenas are big business. Teams reap major financial incentives from city and state governments to keep them at “home” in their respective cities. In 2027, the Tennessee Titans, an American football team located in Nashville, Tennessee, will open what will be to date one of the priciest sports stadiums in history, coming in at over $2.1 billion. Nashville is not alone; cities across the globe are pouring money into sporting infrastructure, promising the expense—much of which will be borne by taxpayers — will be a financial and cultural boon to the city and its residents. Much of the expense in today’s stadiums is due to their integration of sophisticated media technologies. From high-definition cameras and ubiquitous screens to fiber optics and datafied touchpoints, the contemporary stadium/arena is likely a city’s most mediatized piece of infrastructure. Team and stadium executives believe this mediatization is necessary to get fans to leave the comforts of their mediatized homes and come out to games (and pay a premium price for doing so), believing fans desire a multi-mediated, immersive experience that can both replicate and supersede the at-home viewing experience.

Whether or not you are a sports fan or will ever attend a game at one of these new high-tech stadiums, these massive sporting infrastructures make an imposing and indelible mark on the urban landscape, making them hard to ignore or avoid. The following reading list aims to orient readers — sports enthusiasts and haters alike — to the increasingly ubiquitous global sports stadium boom and how it hinges on creating interconnections between sports, urbanism, and media. The scholarship here contends with media in a material sense, looking not at how media represents sport — the bulk of contemporary sports media scholarship — but at how media shapes sporting spaces and architectures; fan, urban, and governing practices; and the game itself. The readings throw focus onto the mediatized stadium boom phenomenon, tracing some of its genealogy. Most importantly, the research on the reading list contends with the cultural, economic, political, and social power struggles at stake — for fans, urban residents, and everyday citizens.

Johnson, Victoria E. Sports TV. Routledge Television Guidebooks. New York and London: Routledge, 2021

This excellent and undergraduate-friendly primer traces the connections between sport and television industry, texts, and audiences. The book thoughtfully and accessibly maps the major scholarly trajectories in sports media research, helping readers to understand how and why sports matter for television and vice versa. With regards to the connections among sports, media, and place/space, the book’s final chapter, “The Sports Media Ecosystem: Sport TV’s Out-of-Home Ecosystems,” does an especially astute job of tracing how sports TV shapes our material worlds — from the pub to the neighborhood.

Bale, John. “The Spatial Development of the Modern Stadium.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 28, no. 2–3 (June 1993): 121–33.

If you can read everything by John Bale on sports spaces, you should. When no one in geography was thinking about sport, John Bale was there to make clear that modern cities are inextricably tied to sports, and, likewise, sports are bound up with space and urbanism. Bale is especially notable for articulating the link between sports, team, and place as one undergirded by topophilia, or love of place. This journal article by Bale is a great starting point for digging into Bale’s important contributions to sports geography. Here, Bale looks at the modern development of football (soccer) and how it shifted from a folk game and past time to a professionalized sport and argues the enclosure of sporting spaces was key to their professionalization and financialization. Specifically, drawing on Michel Foucault, Bale suggests the modern sports stadium, which encloses and contains sport to create a spectacle for paying fans who can be carefully surveilled (including through media architectures such as CCTV), is a form of panopticism. Power is produced through the spatial construction and architecture of the stadium that constitutes docile subjects. Bale’s article is a great starting point for tracing the history of the contemporary stadium boom and its implication on the urban landscape and culture. Continue deeper into Bale’s work next with Landscapes of Modern Sport: Sport, Politics, and Culture.

Frank, Sybille, and Silke Steets, eds. Stadium Worlds: Football, Space and the Built Environment. The Architext Series. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY: Routledge, 2010

This fantastic edited collection analyzing the connection between football (soccer) and space features interdisciplinary contributions from a diverse set of scholars. The chapters cover a range of issues, from the politics of representation and design to emotions and the body, with authors focusing on the cultural and social implications of sporting spaces. The book’s Part II: Architectures and Media is of particular interest to this reading list, though many of the chapters across the book’s five sections consider how media is bound up with the football stadium both historically and contemporaneously. Frank’s and Steet’s “Conclusion: The Stadium — Lens and Refuge” provides a particularly thought provoking update to Bale’s theorization of the stadium’s panopticism, arguing that the medial transformation of stadiums of today shift them toward Gilles Deleuze referred to as “the control society.”

Perelman, Marc. Barbaric Sport: A Global Plague. London ; New York: Verso, 2012

Perelman’s is the most polemic book on the list — as the title suggests, the author, an architect and Professor of Aesthetics at the Université Paris Ouest-Nanterre La Défense, likens contemporary sport to a plague, whose viral spectacle is slowly (or maybe quickly) killing us. Perelman applies a Frankfurt School-influenced culture industry critique to modern sport, claiming sport benefits elites by deluding the masses with spectacle against their own best interests. Perelman covers a wide range of issues, from sport’s objectification of the body and doping to displacement spurred by mega-events. Chapters seven (“The Stadium: Consolidation of the Masses”), eleven (“The Globalization of Sport and the Sporting Mode of Production”), and thirteen (“The Power of Images”) attend specifically to the intertwining of sports, media culture, and the stadium, showing how the spectacle created by the mediatized sports stadium degrades culture.

Arkenberg, Chris, Pete Giorgio, and Chad Deweese. “Creating a Better In-Stadium Fan Experience.” Deloitte Insights, June 27, 2019.

Deloitte’s Center for Technology, Media & Telecommunications (TMT Center) has been a leading voice influencing sports teams and stadium owners on how to maximize revenue at the stadium via mediatization. This article provides insight into how those within the industry are thinking about the stadium, their fans, and the key role media, and especially datafication, should play. The authors suggest putting the fan at the center of the stadium experience means you need to know your fan and keep them happy and engaged. Maximizing data touchpoints before, during, and after the game, and integrating datafied gaming into the stadium-going experience are offered as key strategies for cultivating the happy fan.

Yang, Chamee, and C. L. Cole. “Smart Stadium as a Laboratory of Innovation: Technology, Sport, and Datafied Normalization of the Fans.” Communication & Sport, August 4, 2020, 216747952094357.

Yang and Cole’s article shows how the mediatization of the sports stadium extends beyond sporting spaces into the cities that house these stadiums. Taking Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium as a case study, they look especially at the integration of smart technologies—driven by digitization, big data, and able to adapt and respond in real time—into the stadium. They argue that smart stadiums like the Sun Devil Stadium are testing grounds for these technologies, making the stadium, and its spectators, into a laboratory for rolling out these kinds of technologies into the city more broadly. The smart stadium is therefore a precursor to the smart city, showing how thoroughly integrated the contemporary city has become with media and sport culture, industry, and practice. Yang and Cole further probe how this roll out of smart technologies in both the stadium and the city reconfigure power relations, charting out new parameters of “normalcy” that hinge on the seemingly benign discourses of “innovation, research, and fan experience enhancement.”

Hutchins, Brett, and Mark Andrejevic. “Olympian Surveillance: Sports Stadiums and the Normalization of Biometric Monitoring.” International Journal of Communication 15 (2021): 363–82.

Similar to Yang and Cole, Hutchins and Andrejevic argue sports stadiums are key testing grounds for new technologies, especially technologies that might otherwise be controversial or subject to resistance. Looking especially at the integration of biometrics and facial recognition technologies used for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, they argue the affective connection people feel to sports makes fans less resistant to these kinds of invasive forms of surveillance. Thus, mega-events, which garner global interest, fandom, and affect, are ideal venues for testing out and introducing technologies to the public that governments plan to introduce more broadly in a wider dispersion of spaces and institutions. Rolling out these technologies in sports venues helps to normalize and legitimate them, making it more likely that people will accept them in ever increasing domains of everyday life.

Secular, Steven. The Digital NBA: How the World’s Savviest League Brings the Court to Our Couch. Studies in Sports Media. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2023

Steven Secular argues the NBA has become a kind of media platform. Over the past decade or so, the league has done more than perhaps any other sport to position itself as not just the governing body of professional basketball in the US, but a global media producer, distributer, and content provider. Secular takes an innovative approach to studying the NBA with chapters that focus on the spaces in which this media platform is produced, distributed, and consumed—the court, venue, wires, office, and couch. In the chapter on the venue (“The Venue: Silicon Valley, Public Finance, and the Arena as Media Platform”), Secular shows how the league partnered with technology entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley to equip the NBA’s arenas with sophisticated technology, aimed to connect—in different ways—to both global and local fans.

The Home Team. Forage Films, 2019.

This documentary provides an up close look at the stakes and power struggles at play in the mediatized sports stadium. The film does a deep dive on the Atlanta Falcons’ Mercedes-Benz Stadium, opened in 2017, tracing how the stadium impacts the people who live in the city’s west side neighborhoods surrounding the stadium. Those neighborhoods, constituted by predominantly Black residents with deep ties to the city’s racial justice organizing, have long been subject to demolition and neglect by city, state, and county governments. Promising to rectify the harms of the past, from the urban renewal programs of the 1950s and 1960s to the displacement spurred by the Georgia Dome when it was built for the 1996 Olympics, Arthur Blank — owner of the Falcons — promised the stadium would contribute positively to the neighborhood. The Arthur Blank Foundation committed to charitable giving and neighborhood partnerships. But residents are skeptical, having been burnt by empty promises many times over. The documentary provides commentary from both representatives of the Arthur Blank Foundation and residents alongside contrasting images of the shiny, spectacular stadium and the deteriorating housing stock on the westside. Residents are shown not as victims, but as agents, showing that the deterioration is not the fault of the residents but due to the abandonment and disposal of the neighborhoods by government and corporate elites. It calls into question whether this new era of the mediatized sports stadium will continue this history or chart a new path.

Morgan Parmett, Helen. The Sportification of Place: Media, Sports, & the Stadium (forthcoming)

In my forthcoming book, I argue the stadium is a kind of urban media infrastructure — at once mediatized (integrated with media), mediatizing (making things into media, such as television production of the game), and mediating (standing between, symbolizing meaning)  — that connects and disconnects people, capital, and spaces in the city. Looking at three case studies in cities across the US—Atlanta, Seattle, and Minneapolis—I consider how media culture and practice bound up with baseball and football stadiums have marked the urban landscape in both historical and contemporary contexts. Calling this interconnection between media, sports, and urbanism “the sportification of place,” I chart how the mediatized, mediating, and mediatizing stadium constitutes urban governance and citizenship, urban and neighborhood branding, and a white spatial imaginary. You can preview some early thinking on this project in my chapter  “‘Keep It off the Field’: The Mediatized Sports Stadium as White Space,” in White Supremacy and the American Media (edited by Sarah Nilsen and Sarah Turner), and the chapter “The Sportification of Place: Governance, Mediatization, and Place-Branding through the Stadium,” in The Routledge Companion to Media and the City (edited by Erica Stein, Germaine Halegoua, and Brendan Kredell).

Morgan Parmett, Helen. "Media, Sports, and the Stadium." Mediapolis: A Journal of Cities and Culture 9, no. 1 (April 2024)
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