With the development of digital technology, large numbers of people have been able to communicate almost seamlessly, exchange opinions, and receive relevant information almost instantaneously. For example, Johnson reports that by early 2021, the active number of Web users will be 4.66 billion, meaning that approximately one in two people worldwide has access to the Internet (Johnson, 2021). This widespread use could not help but cause a global change in the organizational and communication structure of the world, which has led to changes in many aspects of life; among them, special attention should be paid to sports. Sport has always been of paramount importance in the creative activities of humanity, which is perfectly traceable through a historical vision: thus, the example of the ancient Greek Olympic Games seems to be illustrative. Sport, as a vital feature of humanity’s development, thus could not help but change under the pressure of global digitalization. The main view explored in this thesis is that social media, as one of the most striking manifestations of the Internet, has become a milestone in modern sports development and contributes to nations’ unity. Therefore, the overall goal of the thesis is to support this statement based on research of sources.
This thesis uses a methodological approach based on the abductive method of research. Specifically, a synthesis of scientific sources, statistical data, public opinion websites, and government reports is used to make a robust argument. The available information is critically compared in order to ensure the reliability and objectivity of the thesis produced. The work focuses on the study of five aspects that confirm social media’s importance in promoting modern sports. The research sheds light on distinctive patterns of connection between digitalization and sports that, at first glance, do not seem so obvious. For this reason, the thesis will be an interesting read, not only for members of the academic community but also for all readers interested in sports and technology.
A Brief History of the Question
The primary point to be made is that individuals throughout history have always tended to integrate and come together in communities to share opinions and experiences and to exchange information. In the context of today’s agenda, such communities have come to be realized through the Web, as the emergence of social media has expanded access to communication, improved communication, and catalyzed the coming together of multi-ethnic, culturally unconnected individuals. For example, the topic of sports has connected people around the world, greatly expanding the scope of discussion of sports achievements and characteristics. Through social media, people actively discuss sports and share their opinions online.
Meanwhile, social media has become an increasingly popular phenomenon globally. A reference to Figure 1 illustrates that the number of active users of social media has been steadily increasing over the past four years and is predicted to continue growing in the coming years. In other words, there is no reason to doubt the popularity of social media, including for users to use it as a platform to discuss sports news.
One of the most clear-cut connections between sports and social media is the publication of results for specific sporting events. In today’s world, there are global and national sporting events that many people worldwide take an interest in each year. These include the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the European Football Championship, Formula 1, and the U.S. National Football League games, including the Super Bowl (Trouillard, 2021). Users do not always have the ability to constantly follow matches and track results in real time, so the use of social media dramatically expands people’s ability to connect to sports news. For example, during the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2022, social networks were one of the leading platforms from which interested users could get up-to-date information about the results of the games and athletes’ records. Thus, Figure 2 shows an example where social media (Twitter) is used to publish sports news. This allows users to get relevant information after work or during their free time, to share their opinions using the built-in commenting functions, and to express their support — or not — using likes and reactions. In the same context, it should be clarified that the publication of results is often linked to analytical work and comparisons, allowing for research, comparison, and personal conclusions for each consumer of sports information.
Promoting Sports through Social Marketing
Meanwhile, social media is actively used to promote active lifestyles by encouraging people to play sports and quit bad habits. The availability of such unique opportunities could not help but be exploited by social institutions, which has generated such an effect as social sports marketing (Ennis, 2020). Moreover, academic research shows that sports marketing management has statistically valid relevance in attracting young people to sports (Almomani, 2019). Thus, through the tools of such marketing, governments and socially responsible organizations actively promote sport among users and create a culture of healthy bodies and self-acceptance. An example of such marketing is Apple’s social video advertising (Figure 3), which aims to promote its product and encourage a sporty lifestyle among people of all ages. Government agencies, also interested in improving the nation’s quality of life by intensifying sports activities, are also actively using social marketing through posters, posts, articles, and reports (CDPH, 2021). Consequently, sports are actively ingrained in the minds of users, including non-interested users of sports.
Promotion of Information
Moreover, social media is also a great platform to share opinions and get relevant information. Sports media, print publications, and news portals are actively moving to social media because they realize the amount of traffic that flows through them. Among other things, this generates the emergence of sports bloggers, individuals who inform their audience of subscribers about sports news. The phenomenon of sports bloggers who cover important sports events and offer some analysis is an illustrative example of the use of social media to promote information. Meanwhile, the information published, it should be understood, is not always reliable but often reflects the personal opinion of the author-blogger. Figure 4 illustrates an example of such a publication, in which users-subscribers receive news directly from Instagram, one of the most popular social media. This includes breaking news that has grand implications for the world of sports. The story posted on Instagram, an example of which is shown in Figure 5, is breaking news about the discussion of moving the Champions League final from Russia due to the military offensive in Ukraine. In this example, it is clear that social media empowers sports by presenting platforms for news communications — in other words, social media becomes a unique voice for sports organizations.
It is also noteworthy how social media can influence the reputational effects of specific athletes or sports teams. In fact, this phenomenon stems from the potential of social media for the world of sports information described earlier. In particular, a culture of cancellation has been actively communicated through social media, especially in recent times. A culture of cancellation should be understood as “collective strategies by activists using social pressures to achieve cultural ostracism of targets (someone or something) accused of offensive words or deeds” (Norris, 2021, p. 4). Athletes in the throes of emotional arousal, especially after significant victories or losses, tend to commit rash acts and post the results online. For example, the culture of cancellation has recently been applied to the Russian figure skater Valiyeva and American sprinter Richardson, who was accused of violating anti-doping rules, but there was no concrete evidence, as shown in Figure 6. It is also known that the online community tends to ironize athletes and sporting events, which is not tolerant enough (Bird, 2018). Such publications can demoralize athletes and influence sportsmanship. In addition, it can affect players’ reputations by inhibiting their seriousness and professionalism in the image of the athlete. At the same time, such topics in online communities promote unity among nations by discussing common themes. Reputational effects do not necessarily aim at leveling out the social importance of certain persons from the world of sports, but on the contrary, they can also increase it if an athlete is famous among social network users. In this sense, social media become a platform for managing the social and professional reputation of the athlete, bringing about significant changes in the sporting environment.
To summarize, global digitalization has actively impacted the world, including stimulating a new round of sports development. One of the primary forms of large-scale digitalization is the emergence of social media – online platforms used by billions of people around the world. Through social media, people exchange information, keep in touch and share their opinions every day. From the perspective of modern sports, the emergence of social media has given sports new opportunities and increased their importance in everyday life. For example, it has been shown that social media has become a voice of information for sports organizations, encourages involvement in sports, and informs the population about the results of sports events. In discussing political news, ethnic boundaries are blurred, as people from different countries and cultures are interested in common topics. Thus, social media has indeed become a new form of communicative expression through which sports actively develop and nations unite.
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