Digital Technologies and the Intensification of Economic and Organisational Mechanisms in Commercial Sport

Digital Technologies and the Intensification of Economic and Organisational Mechanisms in Commercial Sport

John J.H. Forster (Griffith University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-406-4.ch001


One of the major forces shaping modern sport is the application of digital technology. This is transforming the mass consumption, distribution, production, and organisation of sport. A set of frameworks, theories and models for understanding these forces and transformations is presented. Nonetheless, digitisation did not create modern sport. Instead it follows a series of forces and adoptions that have already occurred. Consequently, its impacts can be regarded as evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Three associated aspects of modern sport are examined in this chapter. These are: the phenomenon of superstars; the consumption of sport entertainment in the household; and the competition for the attention of consumers. The events that preceded digitisation are described and analysed, especially in the area of home entertainment, but also in the structures of sports competition, such as leagues and tournaments.
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Introduction And Scope Of The Chapter

This chapter considers the role of computer technologies in the distribution and consumption of commercial sport. It considers the economic forces that have promoted and guided these changes. Equally importantly from both methodological and applied viewpoints, it considers the economic forces that these changes have, in turn, unleashed. The more indirect relationships of the technology with some major organisational forms of competition are also placed in context. A primary interest of this chapter lies in determining whether or not the impact of digitisation has been revolutionary or evolutionary.

The concern of many of the chapters in this volume is with the impact of digitisation on the enhanced production of sports, but how does sport come to be digitised and how does that digitisation operate? The schematic shown in Figure 1 is adopted in the present analysis. It shows the central concerns and something of the methodology, which is not biased towards economic and technological mechanisms, but considers social and cultural issues.

Figure 1.

The major mechanisms in the rewards to sport digitisation


In the first instance, the creation of computer technologies and electronic networks is not dependent upon sport. Thus in Figure 1, the block “Digital Technologies and Frameworks”, recognises that the development of computer technologies is dependent not only upon purely technological and scientific frameworks, but that these operate within, and are crucially influenced by, societal and economic forces. Within this block are an enormous number of forces and relationships. Sport may be regarded as part of these, but on its own has little influence. This was especially the case in the earlier days of computer technology where the interaction with sport was close to zero. Given these considerations, digitisation is shown in Figure 1 as if it was a deus ex machina.

The middle block of this framework shows the areas of present interest. The examination concentrates on the most easily recognised relationship: that of computers and especially computer networks to the distribution of sport. This emphasis allows a very important evolutionary point to be made. The establishment of these networks is not the fruit of digital technologies, but is overlain on models developed in the analogue TV period, and before that, in the days of radio broadcasting of sport. This is in line with the argument that digital technologies have been evolutionary in their impacts rather than revolutionary. They followed in the forms and tracks laid by analogue technologies, especially in sight.

The last and absolutely crucial part of the framework in Figure 1 is the feedback mechanism, that is, market feedback. This works mainly through the price mechanism, as successes (and failures) in the application of digital technologies and related business models are rewarded. This feedback creates incentives for the application of generic digital technologies to the sports industry. It also provides incentives for the development of more specific digital technologies to sport. These operate as both long-term and short-term.


The Interaction Of Household Technologies And Sports Consumption

Rather than immediately and directly consider contemporary sport in the context of digitisation, it is necessary to take an historical viewpoint, and first consider how and in what ways households produce and consume entertainment. In this way, it is possible to more clearly show how sport has not only changed in relation to digitisation, but to indicate all of the other elements that preceded, and have been associated with, that change. Essentially we can then see how sport came to be distributed and consumed in households.

Home entertainment over the last three centuries has undergone a remarkable set of changes and that sport has become part of those changes. The implication is that digitisation has helped a massive change in the viewing of sport, from an external (to the home) and even active participant in the drama, to an internal and largely passive one.

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