Rosoff and Turco Talk Global Sporting Events

By schwartzsa | September 19, 2012

This summer, as millions thumbed mobile devices to get the up-to-the-minute coverage of mega international sporting events, Drs. Nancy G. Rosoff and Douglas Michele Turco were in the stands clad in supporters’ kits—conducting research? Ah, if only every field study included the jostling camaraderie of rowdy sports fans.

Upon their return from the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship in Warsaw respectively, the two scholars fielded questions from Dr. John Noakes on the ever-growing fanfare, commercialism and legacy of these multibillion-dollar sporting spectacles.

Rosoff, an expert in the role of sports in popular culture, marveled at being able to follow matches through so many channels—radio and print, TV and Internet, computers and mobile devices. What were once hyper-exclusive events have opened up in one respect through these mediated experiences, fostering for a while a common culture. “If you didn’t want to know results of an event that was happening that wasn’t going to be broadcast till later, it was very difficult to put yourself in a bubble to avoid that—especially with the massive influx with technology and all the different ways that you can keep track of the events,” she said.

“I think not only the passion that we have for sports but the sense of community that it develops, in some senses, is a short-term thing, but in others, it’s a sustained support for a particular sport, for a particular team—even centered around a particular athlete. And it’s something to feel good about. It’s something to connect you with other people.”

Turco, a specialist in sport event consumer and tourist behavior, says the media’s leveraging of this new accessibility has the ability to change obscure competitors from faraway places into familiar faces, their personalities and stories proliferating across the airwaves and Internet. Suddenly, there’s much more at stake and even couch- and pub-bound viewers can feel a part of a mega sporting event. “[T]here is drama, theater that’s associated with it, and the media does a nice job playing up these human interest stories, or these little angles to heighten the level of drama and get more people interested consuming,” he said. “So I think that’s part of it: the tradition.”

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Interview Highlights

From Camaraderie to Alcohol-Fueled Fisticuffs

“The level of national identity is striking with European football fans—not only during the Euro Cup but during the FIFA World Cup. It’s remarkable the kits that they wear—the replica kits of their favorite teams—the flags, the adornment, the singing, chanting, the Camaraderie, that goes with that. And it’s not just fans of a particular country in isolation or with one another. There’s this mingling and this interaction, a kind of friendly jostling and joking back and forth. I don’t want to say it’s trash-talking—at least my experience has been it’s been quite civil.

“There were a couple of occasions in Warsaw in particular when you had a match between the Russian team and the Polish national team. There you have geopolitical history that’s also running through that current, and there were some fans on the Russian side that made some rather bold statements in Warsaw. So there was some considerable tensions and there was some fisticuffs, and when you fuel these young men with alcoholic beverages and the passion associated with sports, sometimes things happen. But I think for the most part, the Polish organizers were anticipating that things could get out of hand and had a full police force in place. But that’s the nature of these sport contests, at least football. Our spectator research has shown that it’s overwhelmingly male, close to 70 percent male, and a young male audience. The drinking culture that’s associated with that sometimes leads to, let’s say, poor choices, poor decisions on the part of some.”

– Dr. Douglas Michele Turco

The Impact of Title IX

“[Atlanta hosted] the first Olympics in which every nation competing had at least one woman athlete, largely through a push from the International Olympic committee. And the success of the American athletes is very much due to Title Nine in sports that have benefited from the college environment. So sports notably like basketball and soccer (football), those athletes are recruited to play at the university level and can then parlay success there into qualifying for the national team. Other sports where the training is more private, like gymnastics, wouldn’t be as direct a beneficiary because most of the athletes who are competing in the Olympics are actually pre-college age. But the atmosphere of acceptance of women’s sports, of advocacy for women’s sports is clearly a benefit of Title Nine.”

–  Dr. Nancy G. Rosoff

Female Athletes as Sex Symbols

“The media and the public at large in many ways doesn’t know what to do with athletic women. How should they be represented? How should they be perceived? And the fact that they’re getting more and more coverage makes it an issue that has to be resolved. So the easy thing to do is to find somebody whose incredible talented and incredibly gorgeous and it solves the problem. But then what do you do with women who aren’t strikingly beautiful but are incredibly talented as athletes. It’s a visual medium for the most part that’s being covered so it’s one of those growing pains, the coverage of women’s athletics is going through.”

– Dr. Nancy G. Rosoff