Thursday, September 8, 2011

Effect of the internet on the perception of Sports Stars

Many years ago, fans, who were unable to watch a game live, would huddle around a small radio, listening to the game unfold whilst closing their eyes and imagining the game with the words of the commentator. Then came the television. Suddenly, children could watch their sporting heroes every game they played.

Slowly, exposure to sport increased more and more. As the television industry boomed, so did the sports world. In came shows like SportsCentre, shows to bring all the latest news of sport around the world to your television screens. Life was good. Sportsmen were nearly Gods. Their pay rose astronomically. However, this came to a screeching when team owners and administrators discovered the wonders of public relations.

Press releases were always in existence. But, their nature changed completely. Suddenly the rich owners and administrators realised that they could wield great power over their players. The media would be their weapon of choice. The biggest example of this realisation came in 1998-99, when the owners of the NBA locked out their players to demand a strong defined wage structure with a salary cap to ensure franchises could hold on to their star players. The owners painted the players as black-hearted mercenaries who were paid way too much and lived too much. Cleverly, they diverted the anger at the lockout toward the players.

Today, 12 years on, we are in the age of the internet and again, we are suffering through a lockout. But something is different this time. Yes, the players are more prepared. Yes, the owners still put out their press releases criticizing the players. So what’s changed? The internet.

With the internet, has come an army of bloggers and the ever popular social media networks. Why have they worked for the players? Simple. Connection to the people. Before the days of twitter, all we saw was overpaid stars whining about a million here and there. With twitter, we see them as people like us, earning big bucks for being great at their sports.

Along with this, bloggers bring in a sense of honesty. Their affiliation is (usually) with nobody.Yes, they might have some personal biases, but they remain largely unaffected by large corporations, of which a lot are indeed owned by the owners. Why? A newspaper/magazine/television channel relies on money from these very corporations to stay afloat, whereas a blog could be written by you and me. Suddenly the balance was restored. While the owners could use the media, the players could use the internet. Players started their own PR to counter the corporate PR.

Hence we have come to a situation where the owner feed news (proved later to be untrue) that the players are unwilling to negotiate, and the player association can later clarify that the commissioner of the NBA, David Stern was on a holiday. This represents a visible change from even the ‘90s, where lockouts were met with a completely anti-player response among fans. The same lockout today has a mixed response from the public. But players, suddenly, are no longer alone.

This whole piece is but a mere example of the effect of the internet on how fans perceive their players. There are so many more examples of change inspired by the net. Joey Barton, for example was only known as a thug jailed for violence. Now we look at him as an intelligent man with an issue with anger. Big change in perception isn’t it?

The point I'm trying to make is that with the advent of the internet, fans no longer depend on the news fed to them to form their opinions. We are now able to judge sportspersons for themselves. What eventually happens is that a lot of the time, we realise we agree with the player on a lot of things. Suddenly, we look at institutes and associations and criticize them. An interesting shift isn't it?

Any other interesting such changes that you can think of? Do share in the comments!