Sport in the Digital Age

Today, the microblogging website, Twitter, allows athletes and clubs to interact directly with supporters.

Today, the microblogging website, Twitter, allows athletes and clubs to interact directly with supporters.


"We're going to stick with the tennis and go to Nelspruit when it's over." That was the latest in a constant series of updates from my BBC Five Live Sports Extra producer on a warm June evening in 2010.

It was one of those typical summer occasions when there was more live sport to cover than places on which to host the coverage.

I was due to anchor commentary of Australia versus Serbia in the Football World Cup on Sports Extra while over on BBC Five Live, there was simultaneous commentary on the other match in that group, between Germany and Ghana.

All pretty straight forward, were it not for the fact that at Wimbledon, two, hitherto little known players were playing out the longest match in the history of tennis.

In the end, Nicolas Mahut and John Isna took their match into a third day, meaning that I didn't utter a single word on air that evening and there was no commentary on Australia's 2-1 win.

That editorial conflict highlighted how sports coverage has changed with the so-called 'Digital Revolution'.

A proliferation of extra channels, pioneered by Sky with Sky Sports two, three and four, means that more sport and sports is covered than ever before, and in superb technical quality – inspiring buzz phrases like “multi platform approach”.

For example, you can look forward to a couple of live matches from the national netball league being shown every week on Sky Sports Four this year.

Believe it or not, the evening I've just mentioned wasn't EVEN the busiest time for BBC Sport that summer.

A commitment to cover Wimbledon, the World Cup and international cricket meant that commentaries were given a sleeping bag and told to make themselves comfortable on the seldom-used Radio 4 Long Wave channel on DAB radio and the BBC Sport website.

But digital tv and radio have almost become passee as social media have swept into town.

Today, the microblogging website, Twitter, allows athletes and clubs to interact directly with supporters.

No longer must a fan wait for a sports bulletin to find out if their club will sign that 20-million-pound player or not. Simply following their club on Twitter gives them access to the club's statement almost as soon as journalists get it. And if the journalist gets a scoop, they can put it on Twitter before it is broadcast or appears in print, albeit risking a slapped wrist for doing so.

The accessibility of digital media has also caused football authorities to rethink the way in which they allow content to be published.

The current English football season began in chaos as many media organisations were not given accreditation for matches because they wouldn’t sign a temporary extension of the existing rights deal with the Premier and Football Leagues, who run professional club football in England.

The issue centred on clauses in the rights contract about "delay and volume windows" which control the amount of text and pictures that can be published online and when they are allowed to appear.

It is understood that the football bodies were aiming to insert a new clause that would not allow a journalist who is reporting live from a match to interact with readers or have elements such as comments enabled.

However, the media coalition of newspapers and agencies argued that in a digital age with new media tools such as blogs, Twitter and Flickr available to any member of the public, the idea of limiting newspapers and news agencies coverage is not realistic.

In the end, while reporting of some football league matches was disrupted - with newspapers not mentioning sponsors or providing any reports at all of some matches - the Premier League season started, a week later, with calm after an eleventh-hour agreement.

With mobile phone coverage becoming an increasingly important and valuable component of rights negotiations, and with Youtube users in a constant battle with football authorities over putting up privately-captured footage of the world’s biggest tournaments, more disagreements and an adaptation – in some cases painful - to the rapidly-changing times look set to continue.

Mani Djazmi has been a freelance broadcast journalist for ten years, specialising in sport. He has presented on BBC Radio 4 and 5 Live and is now a reporter for the World Football programme on BBC World Service.

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