When the home team is not featured: Comparison of two television network commentaries during broadcasts of the 2006 FIFA World Football Cup

This is an excerpt from an article that I co-wrote with my master of sport management supervisors and was published in Sport Management Review in February 2012.

The authors are:

Olan Kees Martin Scott – University of Ballarat
Brad Hill & Dwight H. Zakus – Griffith University

I have only included the abstract, introduction, and implications.

A link to the full publication is available from SMR and http://tiny.cc/47brcw

The full reference in APA format is:

Scott, O. K. M., Hill, B., & Zakus, D. (2012). When the home team is not featured: Comparison of commentary between two television networks’ broadcast of the 2006 FIFA World Football Cup. Sport Management Review, 15(1), 23-32. doi: 10.1016/j.smr.2011.05.003

Abstract:

Broadcast commentary of sport contests is often seen as biased or ‘‘one-eyed’’ for the ‘‘home team’’. This study sought to determine if this labelling was correct. Two different broadcasts of the national Dutch team’s games during the 2006 Federation Internationale de Football Association’s (FIFA) World Cup in Germany were compared. Both the Dutch Nederlandse Omroep Stichting (NOS) and Australian Special Broadcast Services (SBS) networks each televised this team’s matches, together providing eight matches for analysis. First, the framing strategies used by each broadcaster were identified through a fourteen category thematic scale derived from the data. Secondly, a Chi-square analysis of the results revealed significant associations for the types of themes employed by the home network (NOS) and those of a neutral broadcaster (SBS). Results also revealed associations for the use of nationalistic themes in the commentary. These results have salience for sport management and sport media studies as audience size and therefore revenue generation is of import.

Introduction:

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the sport media relationship has constantly evolved. From simple printed game reports to the current interactive, on-demand electronic formats sport and media have become dependent on one another for success; what Jhally (2006) labelled the sport-media complex. The symbiotic relationship between these two institutions generates a large portion of the revenues necessary for each aspect of the complex to survive financially (Rowe, 1996, 2008), among other ways, as revenues are predominantly achieved through audience creation and through sponsorship. Interwoven within this relationship, however, was the media’s ability to effect cultures and societies through the mediation of the audiences’ consciousness. It is through the use of intentionally scripted ‘‘frames’’ (Eastman, Brown, & Kovatch, 1996) that this occurs. Moments of televised sport, such as the ‘‘black power’’ protest salute by American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, are regarded as ‘‘a moment that would have heavy consequences for all it chose to represent’’ (Bass, 1999, p. 3).

The ability of commentators to culturally influence perceptions of television audiences is related to embedding of framed themes into network broadcasts scripts that often include topics that appeal and seek to maintain viewer interest. A key theme typically employed by networks was the ideological use of nationalism (Guo, Cheong, & Chen, 2007; L’Etang, 2006). The use of nationalism in media broadcasts allowed networks to connect with audiences through dialogue that promotes a viewer’s home nation. The use of scripted dialogue in commentary of mega-events using nationalism to capture television audiences was logical as networks typically focus broadcasts on aspects of an event that involved their home country (Larson & Rivenburgh, 1991). Through their participation in the Olympic Games numerous countries obtained abundant ‘‘home country’’ content that is used to align sport competitions to their respective national audiences.

Yet, as a global media mega-event, the format of the FIFA World Football Cup is limited in terms of the number of participating nations; only 32 nations compete in this event. As a result, many networks holding national broadcast  rights do not have home country content to telecast. Even so, these networks still have to generate television audiences to obtain revenues to cover costs of their broadcast fees, production, and to enhance their own investments.

Such restrictions on ‘‘home team’’ content demands that many networks have to differently frame their broadcasts to generate audiences. This study sought to understand how two national television networks framed their broadcasts of the Netherlands’ 2006 World Cup matches to their respective home audiences; particularly, in this case, when one network’s broadcasts did not involve their own national team. While understanding how broadcast content is scripted is worthy of study in its own right, this study included a focus on: how broadcasts not including a ‘‘home team’’, thereby reducing the use of nationalistic themes, were scripted; how thematic cross-cultural mapping occurs; and whether or not scripts served a purpose in such broadcasts. This study examined all of the games of the 2006 World Cup that the Netherlands played, cataloguing and contrasting the discourses used by two television networks broadcasting these same matches to their respective nations. Differences in discourse by Netherlands’ NOS and Australia’s SBS television networks allowed nationalistic biases to be identified. In addition, quantitative comparisons were made both within and between broadcasters, allowing for cross-cultural and linguistic differences to be revealed.

Implications

Even though it was expected that networks broadcasting home country content such as NOS would use nationalistic themes, what was not expected was the use of nationalistic themes from countries competing in that broadcast by the SBS network. Typically, broadcasters rely on the use of home country content from sport events to connect to their home audiences. This finding that SBS used nationalistic themes of Dutch history and Dutch fans ritualistic celebration in commentary significantly more than NOS network to connect to their Australian audiences was surprising. In fact, these findings are counterintuitive as it is expected that Dutch commentary would favour the use of their history and their fans’ ritualistic celebration and not SBS. Dutch fan support at matches, with their flag waving and wearing of the Dutch colour orange, should be an important theme to promote in capturing, building, and maintaining Dutch television audiences. Yet, SBS commentary focused on the use of theses themes significantly more than NOS.

Inspection of language in themes of Dutch history and ritualistic celebration used in SBS commentary reveals Dutch history is educational, while ritualistic celebration appears as educational, descriptive, and emotive in nature. Most SBS commentary was additional to the actual visual imagery of ritualistic celebration being pointed out and focussed on by the commentators at various moments in the broadcast. This style of commentary broadens the scope of material broadcast in attempts to appeal to multiple viewers and maintain audience reach. Providing educational, descriptive, and emotive material that is additional to the visual imagery of the football match allows the commentary to cater for audiences who may not be interested in the game itself, but are attracted by the content about the countries, spectators, and other non-game related elements.

Reference to Dutch crowd support in SBS commentary, even though not promoting nationalism toward Australia, may elicit just such an emotional attachment between spectators and viewers, increasing entertainment value and enabling SBS to better capture and maintain audience interest. Tzanelli (2006) indicated that displays of ritualistic celebration broadcast at major sport events were attempts to stimulate passion and emotion in viewers connecting them to broadcasts and to sports. Highlighting the passionate support Dutch fans displayed toward their country and making reference to their ritualistic celebration within SBS commentary might also have been an attempt to assist in the enculturation process of football/soccer in Australia. Focusing on the ritualistic celebration of Dutch fans in SBS commentary might have been a tactic to positively influence the knowledge, belief, and value structure of Australian sport consumers to aid their adoption of football/soccer.

Billings and Tambosi (2004) noted that commentators have the ability to ‘‘culturally influence perceptions’’ (p. 163) of television audiences. The focus on ritualistic celebration by SBS broadcasts suggests that this may have been the case. SBS commentators might have taken the opportunity for not being able to broadcast home country content to influence cultural perceptions of viewers about football/soccer in Australia as stereotypes or beliefs held within these viewers’ minds would be limited with respect to the Dutch and their opposition teams. In this way SBS broadcasts promoted areas of interest they felt would better connect audiences to their broadcast content and at the same time advertise the entertaining and exciting elements of this sport encouraging viewers to increase their involvement.

When little if any home country content is available for networks to broadcast, it appears they use telecasts as a promotional platform for other regular prime-time programming which, is consistent with findings from Billings, Eastman, and Newton (1998). In attempts by SBS to both build and maintain audiences for the month in which the World Cup was shown, references to Australia and its football team the Socceroos were made during commentator discourse of broadcasts.

With a heightened focus on football in Australia and higher viewer numbers watching, SBS was provided an opportunity to also increase ratings for its other programs that it more regularly airs, along with the football programs. However, what was not expected was the limited frequency of use of this theme and the manner in which it was employed. Inspection of dialogue revealed that SBS used this theme primarily to promote upcoming matches involving the Australian team. No comparisons were made within commentary for the Australian Socceroos football team and Dutch team being shown, which limited the possibility for any discussion of a nationalistic nature. Even more interesting is the lack of reference to the Australian team’s coach during the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Guus Hiddink, who is Dutch. Thus, SBS did not frame telecasts involving the Dutch team and their opponents with analysis of the Australian football team. Telecasts of sport events are more than sight and sound with themes used in scripting and framing the ‘‘glue’’ that provides entertaining theatre keeping audiences watching no matter their interest level in that sport. Understanding that media commentator’s use various key themes in their broadcasts dependant upon their audience can assist sport managers to develop or maintain relationships with networks. Sport managers can assist networks to identify these various relevant themes for their market ensuring networks are continually provided with content that will create large audience size and revenue generation.

The full article is available from SMR and http://tiny.cc/47brcw

NASSM presentation

This is a copy of the abstract that forms the presentation that I will be doing on 4 June 2011 at the North American Society for Sport Management Conference in London, Canada.

It is also available from NASSM’s website

2011 North American Society for Sport Management Conference (NASSM 2011)
London, ON June 1 – 4, 2011. Page 11-12
Scripting the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals: An Analysis of Announcer Discourse and the Portrayal of Race
Olan Scott, University of Ballarat
Dwight Zakus, Griffith University
Brad Hill, Griffith University

Communication Saturday, June 4, 2011 20-minute oral presentation

Abstract 2011-216 4:05 PM (Room 9)

During sporting broadcasts, the media use frames to create discourse. Through embedding messages, the media are able to create a scripted telecast that ensures that only selected aspects of a communication message are salient to viewers. The media select aspects of its communication or discourse and enhance the salience of these messages (Entman, 1993). Through framing a telecast, the media build, capture and maintain audience numbers by ensuring that its communication is salient to the greatest number of viewers. Rowe (2004) notes that it is insufficient for a media company to focus solely on the sight and sound of a sporting event. Thus, framing allows a television network to create a broadcast that embeds multiple storylines into the coverage. To uncover how an event is framed by the media, the 2008 NBA Finals was analysed to uncover the framing function of the
media.

The NBA Finals series features the winners of the Eastern Conference taking on the Western Conference champion in a best-of-seven-games format. This series takes place each June. This study compared announcer discourse surrounding the 2008 NBA finals based on the race of the player: black or other. This study builds and adds to the existing body of knowledge regarding media bias during sporting events (e.g., Alabarces, Tomlinson, & Young, 2001; Billings & Eastman, 2002; Larson amp; Rivenburgh, 1991; Tudor, 1992). While a wide body of literature around race and sport exists, this study looks at a discrete event not often studied, a National Basketball Association Finals series, to analyze and evaluate the frames employed when commenting on the racial origins of the competing players. This study sought to uncover how the concept of race was portrayed by commentators during the broadcast of the finals.

The theoretical framework that this study employs is agenda-setting. McCombs and Shaw (1972) noted that the media play an important role in the “shaping of … reality” (p. 176). Entman (1993) comments that the amount of coverage an issue receives is indicative of its importance, which aligns with Cohen’s (1963) maxim that the press “may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers [and viewers] what to think about [original emphasis]” (p. 13). Through framing and scripting the coverage of an event, the media are able to set an agenda that its announcers will follow to ensure that its encoded discourse is correctly identified and decoded by viewers. This study seeks to uncover how the portrayals of race are framed by the American Broadcasting Corporation during the 2008 NBA Finals, which will uncover the agenda-setting function of the media.

In particular, this study breaks ground in analysing a finals-series based around the concept of ethnicity. Often, global events, such as the Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, and various sporting world cups are featured in media analyses focusing on bias of race, nationality, and gender. However, annual events, such as league finals or various sporting world cups are less often the site for analysis. Furthermore, the mediation of an audience and cultural influence of viewers may be more salient as these events are on television more often than an Olympic Games or world cups, such football/soccer. Thus, there might be a more sustained and continued mediation of viewers through broadcast discourse.

All six of the 2008 NBA Finals games featuring the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics were included in the sample for investigation. A content analysis was conducted based on the ABC’s live telecasts of the series. Only ABC employee discourse was included in the study. Analyzing a finals series allowed for the study of frames and the change that scripts may undergo as there is at lease one day between each game. Thus, the ABC can alter its series frame to cater for any changes in the series. In this study, each game was transcribed verbatim. Then, the transcription sheets were coded using a fourteen category taxonomy, which was used to record (a) the announcer uttering the phrase, (b) the race of the player, and (c) the resultant descriptor code. In addition, 20% of each game was coded by a second trained researcher to ensure inter-coder reliability, which was conducted using Holsti’s (1969) coefficient of reliability. Inter-coder reliability exceeded 86% for each game, indicating a good level of reliability among the two trained coders. The fourteen categories were: (a) athleticism, (b) appearance/looks, (c) background, (d) motivation, (e) skill, (f) history, (g) work ethos, (h) leadership, (i) mentality/composure, (j) creativity, (k) speed, (l) experience, (m) negative descriptors, and (n) positive descriptors.

Overall, there were 1519 total comments in this analysis. Of this total, 1288 or 84.79% were about black players, while the remaining 231 or 15.21% were discussing players of other races. These data were analysed using two expected scores: overall game commentary and player percentage. Thus, in the overall game commentary, the expected scores were 84.79% and 15.21%. In the third analysis, the expected scores were 73.33% and 26.67%, as 22 of the 30 players were black.

In the analysis at the overall percentage of commentary, which was 84.79% for black players and 15.21% for other ethnicities, there were two significant chi-square results. These were: leadership (df = 1, n = 80) = 11.00, p < .001 and negative descriptors (df = 1, n = 135) = 82.55, p < .001. In the second analysis of the 2008 NBA finals based on ethnicity, player participation ratios were used. These ratios represented the overall participation of this series, as 22 of the 30 players were black. At these expected scores, there were eight significant chi-square results, which were: background (df = 1, n = 214) = 17.51, p < .001; motivation (df = 1, n = 51) = 11.27, p < .001; skill (df = 1, n = 208) = 30.93, p < .001; history (df = 1, n = 246) = 32.61, p < .001; leadership (df = 1, n = 80) = 26.43, p < .001; mentality (df = 1, n = 157) = 8.21, p < .001; negative descriptors (df = 1, n = 35) = 15.143, p < .001; and positive descriptors (df = 1, n = 336) = 16.18, p < .001.

This study was successful in uncovering that announcer discourse overwhelmingly favored black players. The ratio of commentary between black and other players was 5.6:1. Thus, the coverage of the NBA Finals was framed by the ABC to feature black players more in the commentary. In addition, black players received an unequal distribution of comments as this group represented 73.33% of all players but received 84.79% of commentary. Therefore, the ABC set its broadcast agenda to favor black players and set an agenda through the framing of its telecast to ensure the audience decoded broadcast discourse in the manner intended (Hall, 1973; McCombs & Shaw, 1972).

Furthermore, black players were significantly portrayed as more effective leaders. In addition, more negative comments were provided to this group. Thus, players of other races were characterised less negatively. The results of this study underscore the fact that black athletes received far more comments than expected, based on commentary percentage, but it was found that this group was described more negatively. Thus, viewers may have been provided with a skewed view of this group, which aligns with Billings and Tambosi’s (2004) notion that television networks have the ability to “culturally influence perceptions” of reality.