Creating Culture: ESPN and Hockey’s Demise
The Situationist provides an example of what I think is the media’s potential to create or influence culture through shared consciousness. This particular case can represent a single organization – ESPN – influencing and helping to forge the consumption of culture through sports.
Here is an excerpt from written by Jason Chung, in the Situationist:
It is without hyperbole that one can argue that ESPN is killing the National Hockey League. By creating and reinforcing an expectation of failure regarding the NHL, ESPN is shaping public perception and contributing to the “death” of the NHL in the United States.
At first glance, the argument that ESPN has the power to “kill” any major sport may appear sensationalist. However, the impact of ESPN on the average American sports fan can be easily underestimated. As the first national sports television network, ESPN has developed a loyal following and widespread credibility among sports fans — so much so that it can brand itself The Worldwide Leader in Sports without appearing too self-aggrandizing or sensational. Via a combination of business savvy, competent self-promotion, and responsible coverage of major sporting events, ESPN has more than lived up to its promise and is now the first choice for sports news in over 100 million U.S. homes. The network’s commentators and personalities have become larger than life and the de facto sources of sports information and expertise.
While ESPN’s stock has been rising, there can be little debate that the NHL’s stock has been dropping on ESPN. Since the NHL made the questionable decision to abandon the cable network as its broadcast partner in favor of the fledgling Versus network, many have argued that NHL coverage on the Worldwide Leader in Sports has ranged from underwhelming to disrespectful. Even ESPN’s ombudsman, Le Anne Schreiber, felt compelled to examine hockey coverage on the network. In an article last month, she confirmed that hockey coverage has indeed diminished 28% on Sportscenter over the last three years and that hockey-oriented shows such as NHL 2Night were cut altogether since ESPN’s loss of NHL rights.
…Surely, ESPN’s attitude towards hockey influences its audience. Herbert C. Kelman of Harvard University notes that there are three source characteristics necessary to persuade others and change their attitudes: the source’s (1) expertise, (2) trustworthiness, and (3) power. Of course, ESPN scores a hat trick by (1) regularly hosting a series of experts on various sporting subjects, (2) hosting several hard-news sports programs, and (3) attracting sports’ heavy hitters to its airwaves. Thus, ESPN can exert informational and normative social influence on sports fans who, like the rest of us, seek consensus and conformity far more than we realize. As Situationist contributor Sung Hui Kim notes, this motive for conformity exists among peers and groups of many types, including otherwise adversarial lawyers.