#prconf12: What do sport audiences tell us about the role of media in social life?

The Rugby World Cup had the whole of New Zealand cheering for the All Blacks whether it was at the stadium, in their living rooms or on online fan communities. But can an ‘online space’ successfully create an authentic experience like being physically present among the action?

Dr. Andy Ruddock

Dr. Andy Ruddock

Dr. Andy Ruddock (Senior Lecturer in Communications and Media Studies at Monash University, Australia) uses his recent research on soccer fan communities to throw some light on the debate of authenticity vs inclusion.

Why do you focus on soccer audiences – not rugby or cricket for example?

I should have expected that question from New Zealand! The focus on soccer stems from my interest in media audiences as cultural groups. Soccer fans often explicitly describe the things that they do in relation to traditions, histories and politics. Moreover, when they do this, it’s also common for them to talk about the role of media in globalisation.

I’m sure rugby and cricket fans do this as well; it’s just that, as far as I know, the examples I’m going to be talking about, where soccer fans have used social media to build communities, are unique examples of how fans blend digital media with social traditions.

What started the creation of fan communities online and how have they evolved since then?

Academics became interested in fan communities in the 1980s. Henry Jenkins is probably the best known writer on the topic. His argument was that in the 1960s, Star Trek was the only multicultural show on television, and people started to care passionately about it because they could imagine what it would be like to live in a world without discrimination. This was especially true for those who were discriminated against because of sexuality, race and/or gender. So, the much-maligned Star Trek convention circuit was actually an effort to build inclusive communities where everyone could belong. Online fan communities are a continuation of this project.

Is there a ‘haves and have nots’ in the soccer fan base when it comes to social media tools and technology access?

Yeah, very much so. I’m going to be talking about “Myfootballclub”, where the idea was to attract a global supporter base to buy and manage a real club. In the end, most subscribers came from the UK and the US, which did not reflect ‘global’ in its true sense.

What are some of the methods of gaining authenticity for this audience?

From a social media perspective, one of the interesting things about online soccer fans is the way they build esteem among their peers as curators and commentators of news and gossip about the game. So where authenticity used to be showing up at games, it’s also now about becoming a trusted source of information about players, tactics, finances etc.

Aside from soccer communities online what other online communities have you researched/looked at in terms of their media consumption and engagement?

I do a lot of work on young people and the media, and I’m developing an interest in how social media can be used as a teaching resource. I’ve also written on social media and alcohol marketing, political celebrity and media violence.

About Dr. Andy Ruddock

Dr. Andy Ruddock is Senior Lecturer in Communications and Media Studies at Monash University, Australia. Andy is the author of two books on researching media audiences, and is currently completing a third on youth media (all with Sage).

Andy will be presenting at the 2012 PRINZ conference to be held in Auckland on 10-11 May.

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