Television and Sport
when the medium becomes the stadium
A The relationship between television and sports is not widely thought of as problematic. For many people, television is a simple medium through which sports can be played, replayed, slowed down, and of course conveniently transmitted live to homes across the planet. What is often overlooked, however, is how television networks have reshaped the very foundations of an industry that they claim only to document. Major television stations immediately seized the revenue-generating prospects of televising sports and this has changed everything, from how they are played to who has a chance to watch them.
B Before television, for example, live matches could only be viewed in person. For the majority of fans, who were unable to afford tickets to the top-flight matches, or to travel the long distances required to see them, the only option was to attend a local game instead, where the stakes were much lower. As a result, thriving social networks and sporting communities formed around the efforts of teams in the third and fourth divisions and below. With the advent of live TV, however, premier matches suddenly became affordable and accessible to hundreds of millions of new viewers. This shift in viewing patterns vacuumed out the support base of local clubs, many of which ultimately folded.
C For those on the more prosperous side of this shift in viewing behaviour, however, the financial rewards are substantial. Television assisted in derailing long-held concerns in many sports about whether athletes should remain amateurs or ‘go pro’, and replaced this system with a new paradigm where nearly all athletes are free to pursue stardom and to make money from their sporting prowess. For the last few decades, top-level sports men and women have signed lucrative endorsement deals and sponsorship contracts, turning many into multi-millionaires and also allowing them to focus full-time on what really drives them. That they can do all this without harming their prospects at the Olympic Games and other major competitions is a significant benefit for these athletes.
D The effects of television extend further, however, and in many instances have led to changes in sporting codes themselves. Prior to televised coverage of the Winter Olympics, for example, figure skating involved a component in which skaters drew ‘figures’ in the ice, which were later evaluated for the precision of their shapes. This component translated poorly to the small screen, as viewers found the whole procedure, including the judging of minute scratches on ice, to be monotonous and dull. Ultimately, figures were scrapped in favour of a short programme featuring more telegenic twists and jumps. Other sports are awash with similar regulatory shifts – passing the ball back to the goalkeeper was banned in football after gameplay at the 1990 World Cup was deemed overly defensive by television viewers.
E In addition to insinuating changes into sporting regulation, television also tends to favour some individual sports over others. Some events, such as the Tour de France, appear to benefit: on television it can be viewed in its entirety, whereas on-site enthusiasts will only witness a tiny part of the spectacle. Wrestling, perhaps due to an image problem that repelled younger (and highly prized) television viewers, was scheduled for removal from the 2020 Olympic Games despite being a founding sport and a fixture of the Olympics since 708 BC. Only after a fervent outcry from supporters was that decision overturned.
F Another change in the sporting landscape that television has triggered is the framing of sports not merely in terms of the level of skill and athleticism involved, but as personal narratives of triumph, shame and redemption on the part of individual competitors. This is made easier and more convincing through the power of close-up camera shots, profiles and commentary shown during extended build-ups to live events. It also attracts television audiences – particularly women – who may be less interested in the intricacies of the sport than they are in broader ‘human interest’ stories. As a result, many viewers are now more familiar with the private agonies of famous athletes than with their record scores or matchday tactics.
G And what about the effects of male television viewership? Certainly, men have always been willing to watch male athletes at the top of their game, but female athletes participating in the same sports have typically attracted far less interest and, as a result, have suffered greatly reduced exposure on television. Those sports where women can draw the crowds – beach volleyball, for example – are often those where female participants are encouraged to dress and behave in ways oriented specifically toward a male demographic.
H Does all this suggest the influence of television on sports has been overwhelmingly negative? The answer will almost certainly depend on who among the various stakeholders is asked. For all those who have lost out – lower-league teams, athletes whose sports lack a certain visual appeal – there are numerous others who have benefitted enormously from the partnership between television and sports, and whose livelihoods now depend on it.
Reading Passage 3 has eight paragraphs, A–H.
Choose the correct heading for paragraphs A–H from the list of headings below.
Write the correct number, i–xi, in boxes 27–33 on your answer sheet.
List of Headings
i Gender bias in televised sport
ii More money-making opportunities
iii Mixed views on TV’s role in sports
iv Tickets to top matches too expensive
v A common misperception
vi Personal stories become the focus
vii Sports people become stars
viii Rules changed to please viewers
ix Lower-level teams lose out
x Skill levels improve
xi TV appeal influences sports’ success
27 Paragraph B
28 Paragraph C
29 Paragraph D
30 Paragraph E
31 Paragraph F
32 Paragraph G
33 Paragraph H
Do the following statements agree with the claims of the writer in Reading Passage 3?
In boxes 34–37 on your answer sheet, write
YES if the statement agrees with the claims of the writer
NO if the statement contradicts the claims of the writer
NOT GIVEN if it is impossible to say what the writer thinks about this
34 Television networks were slow to recognise opportunities to make money from televised sport.
35 The average sports fan travelled a long way to watch matches before live television broadcasts.
36 Television has reduced the significance of an athlete’s amateur status.
37 The best athletes are now more interested in financial success rather than sporting achievement.
Complete the notes below.
Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer.
Write your answers in boxes 38–40 on your answer sheet.
Effect of television on individual sports
• Ice skating – viewers find ‘figures’ boring so they are replaced with a 38 ………………..
• Back-passing banned in football.
• Tour de France great for TV, but wrestling initially dropped from Olympic Games due to 39 ………………..
• Beach volleyball aimed at 40 ………………..
37 NOT GIVEN
38 short programme/program
39 image problem
40 male demographic/men