Cinema and Media Studies Sports and Media
David Rowe
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 April 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0169


Sports and media emerged as a significant object of scholarship and research in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, when it became abundantly clear that modern professional sports was deeply dependent on its consistent, widespread mediation, and that the institution of media was deeply reliant on sports for content and audience attraction. The relationship between these institutions, both the products of modernity and its rationalization of play and communication, has been analyzed in contrasting terms as “a marriage made in heaven” and as an entrenched battle for institutional power. Sports was the more vulnerable party, with its most romantic adherents arguing that the media were now dominating sports and manipulating its forms in the service of entertainment and audience maximization. Therefore, a considerable amount of analytical attention has been paid to the shaping of sports by the media, as economic dependency (especially on revenue from the sale of broadcast sports rights) produced pressure to make sports more “telegenic” and of interest across a wider spectrum of cultural tastes. The institution of media was regarded by critical scholars as a key agent in the commercialization of sports, with some championing the values of amateurism rather than professionalism, and the notion that sports should be an area of human activity free of the demands to make large profits and lucrative careers. As the ethos of amateurism weakened—not least because of its consistent connection to social hierarchy—an increasing number of scholars became concerned about the use of sports, an apparently innocent popular cultural activity, as a vehicle for a range of oppressive ideologies through commercial media. This was not a new development—the use of amateur and professional sports as vehicles for nationalism was long established and strongly evident among commercial broadcasters (such as the National Broadcasting Company [NBC]) and not-for-profit public service broadcasters (such as the British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC]) alike. That some forms of contact sports appeared to encourage or endorse violence among in-stadium and at-home spectators created some anxiety. As the commercial media, in particular, covered sports with ever greater intensity, many media sports scholars criticized the ways in which it could be used effectively as “cover” for a range of forms of inequity, such as racism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, and social class–based discrimination. This critical strain of media sports studies has been to some degree countered by emphases on sports as a positive force for peace, harmony, and sociality, as well as a healthy, pleasurable pursuit. New developments in media technology have also been claimed to be liberating audiences from the “tyranny” of the mainstream media. The ensuing debates address foundational questions in various ways concerning the media-sports nexus and its wider social and cultural significance.


Several edited collections over the last three decades have mapped the relationship between sports and media. These have, like the field itself, tended to be dominated by Anglo-American works (the principal focus of this article). The seminal anthology by Wenner 1989 has been a consistent point of reference for the field, but the follow-up collection almost a decade later, Mediasport (Wenner 1998), took its logic even further in fusing mediation and play. As in other scholarly areas, the best anthologies combine a coherent focus on their subject with a diverse range of perspectives and cases. In their different ways, the selected sports and media anthologies range over the complex, sometimes ambivalent relationship between sports and media. Each has a concern with media ownership and control and assesses the distribution of power involving the media organizations that handle and, especially in the case of television, “buy” sports and those sports organizations that “sell” it to the media for reasons of visibility and finance. These transactions are not generally seen as just “doing business,” instead having far wider consequences for society as a whole because they create the apparatus through which sports and the meanings attached to it can be conveyed into almost every home. Bernstein and Blain 2003 is especially strong on the sports media’s representation of gender and nation, especially in Britain and continental Europe. Rowe 2004 pays more concentrated attention to the production of media sports texts than the others, while looking more closely at what has been produced in the second half of the book. All of the chosen works have content that is suitable for readers at different levels, from introductory undergraduate students through to advanced researchers. Therefore, they can be used flexibly according to specific need. These sources are also interdisciplinary in orientation and thus suitable across the humanities and social sciences for those who specialize in the study of sports and media, as well as those readers who only wish to get a sense of the field. Jeanrenaud and Késenne 2006 is also included because, although it is not close to the other works in terms of disciplinary foundation or principal concerns, it illuminates the importance of economic processes in the production, distribution, consumption, and exploitation of sports and media.

  • Bernstein, Alina, and Neil Blain, eds. Sport, Media, Culture: Global and Local Dimensions. London: Frank Cass, 2003.

    A more international collection than most, with a lesser concentration of US-based authors than is usual. Contributors include those based in Scotland, England, and Germany, as well as the United States. The Israel-based coeditor, Alina Bernstein, is the founding Convener of the Media and Sport Section of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), which is the vehicle for regular intellectual exchange at the annual conference of IAMCR.

  • Jeanrenaud, Claude, and Stefan Késenne. The Economics of Sport and the Media. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2006.

    Ten chapters on the economic dimensions of sports and media that concentrate largely on broadcast rights. The book can be used relatively easily by those who do not have a deep grounding in the discipline of economics.

  • Rowe, David, ed. Critical Readings: Sport, Culture and the Media. Maidenhead and New York: Open University Press, 2004.

    Organized around the themes of “constructing” and “deconstructing” media sports, the introduction, “Mapping the Media Sports Cultural Complex” (pp. 1–22), is much used in teaching and research as a means of establishing the coordinates of the media sports field. A companion to the second edition of Sport, Culture and the Media: The Unruly Trinity (Rowe 2004, cited under Textbooks).

  • Wenner, Lawrence A., ed. Media, Sports, and Society. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE, 1989.

    A key early US collection, the editor sets out a research agenda framed by concerns with history, production, content, and audiences. Among its contributors are influential figures, both in media sports studies and in some cases beyond, including Robert W. McChesney, Sut Jhally, Susan Tyler Eastman, Richard Gruneau, Michael R. Real, Walter Gantz, and Jennings Bryant.

  • Wenner, Lawrence A., ed. Mediasport. London: Routledge, 1998.

    Appearing almost a decade after the pioneering Media, Sports, and Society collection, this work demonstrates the rapid flowering of the media sports studies field in the 1990s in the United Kingdom and Canada. Notable for its eponymous fusing of the two institutions, its chapters remain heavily cited well over a decade after publication. Some contributors to the first anthology are present (including Real, Gantz, Bryant, and Robert V. Bellamy, Jr.), as well as other leading authors such as Toby Miller, Pamela J. Creedon, Margaret Carlisle Duncan, Michael A. Messner, and Garry Whannel.

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