Delaney, K., and Eckstein, R.  (2008) ‘Local Media Coverage of Sports Stadium Initiatives’, in Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 32 (1): 72-93.

[A rather unconvincing piece that suggests that media coverage has an impact on public opinion, and thus, in some circumstances, on decision-making, when it comes to building new sports stadia.  The authors argue that this is particularly the case where various advocacy coalitions—their term is ‘growth coalition’—take particular forms.  For example a critical media can prevent a stadium being built, when the local growth coalition is weak.  This seems to me to be circular at times, and the actual analysis of the media seems pretty loose].

A number of cities have attempted very much to build sports stadia in order to boost the city locations.  Local media have taken a range of positions on these initiatives, including various ‘hybrid’ positions, with, say, editorial support but critical reporting.

Local growth coalitions attempt to regenerate cities and thereby increase the land and estate values.  They offer tax policies and tend to favour corporations rather than local residents.  Apparently, there is an approach called ‘growth machine theory’, but the authors prefer the notion of a coalition, to indicate that alliances can vary in strength and unity.  Actual corporations and individuals and their role have been studied, but not the media.  Media may be not so important that it can sometimes be ‘a crucial and seemingly overlooked champion’ (74).  [Just a hint here of the need to extend an academic research programme as a major motive in doing this].

Lukes’ three dimensional typology of power can be a guideline.  The first dimension looks at the media’s role in ‘typical, every day political discourse’, to inform the voters and represent a range of opinion.  The second dimension suggest that the media can actually shaped by the news [set the agenda].  Here, the media comments in various ways on a stadium initiative, and attempt to persuade people such as local business people.  In the third dimension, the media operate with ‘the dominant ideology that magnifies the social importance of sports and sports stadiums’ (74).  The ideological component is that the interest of an elite are represented as the interests of the community as a whole [for Lukes, this had the effect of denying any opposition a voice at all, a view that led to all the excitement about ‘hegemony’, when the CCCS authors took it up].  There is a great deal of discussion of sport in the media, and the authors suspect ‘a cultural exaggeration of the importance and popularity of sports’ (75).  [The whole analysis here seems to parallel the famous discussion in Policing the Crisis...  about how the cherished professional independence of the media actually comes to nest conveniently with the values of the State.  The authors of this piece could probably do with more examination of the values of media personnel first, before they convict them so easily of peddling ideology].  The media sometimes explicitly and deliberately aligned themselves with local elites.

The authors have researched lots of stadium initiatives, 23 in all.  This time they engaged in ‘systematic immersion in the local media’, with an emphasis on newspapers and written media since they are easily accessible.  They claim to have detected certain similarities in the framing of stories, but also significant variations [badly needs CCCS here].  It is possible to classify local newspapers is either uncritical, critical, or hybrid.  There is a hint that sometimes these positions depend on the position of rival newspapers [rather than general ideology them?].  The authors are keen to reject the idea of balance as too simple.  The hidden determinants of media frames are the ‘relative strengths of each city’s local growth coalition [a position which implies the dominant ideology must dominate, if not through one channel then through another] and with the relative success of each city’s stadium initiative [and this is where it gets circular, since we can only tell the power of the media by the success of the initiative: successful initiatives must mean that the media has been powerful]’ (76).

Detailed case studies were also investigated, offering a more ‘sweeping’ and ‘focused’ assessment, sometimes based on ‘watershed event [S]’, such as the publication of an authoritative report.  (77).  What they did was to score each article on a 1 to 5 scale, from most critical to least critical.  Then they, or rather their research assistants, coded the content—whether the information was four or against the initiative, whether groups that were for or against were mentioned, direct quotes of proponents and opponents.  An overall score indicated the extent of ‘balance’.  The authors then assessed the research assistants’ scores, and an average was recorded.  Overall, a substantial degree of similarity between the coders was noted: any irreconcilably different cases were removed.  They think this means there analysis can be ‘easily replicated’ [but there seems to be a great deal of subjective judgement involved] (78).

As an example of an uncritical media account, an initiative in Indianapolis was greeted uncritically by the local Star, using terms that corresponded closely two the public relations handouts of the sports club.  They conclude that ‘News reporting was also clearly biased towards argument supporting the stadium initiative’ (78), since little opposition appeared and when it did it was relegated to letters to the editor.  No critical academic research was quoted [you can see why in a popular newspaper?].  A report supporting the stadium as a good investment was simply summarised and not criticised.  A few low status commentators (sports economists) was treated as ‘straw person[s]’ (79).  [There are hardly any examples of this, not surprisingly, since it is a fine judgement to decide if critics were being treated as straw persons].  The authors make a great deal about the lack of critical academic literature being made available, such as one from the Brookings Institute questioning the value from developments such as convention centres (a component of the new stadium).  The authors evidently like the Brookings Report, which they defend.  As the impact of the development spread to an adjacent suburb, the local media there were also involved, again largely supporting the ‘stadium boosters’ (80), and ignoring opponents, or treating them less seriously [another judgment].  Any critics were forced to turn to a local website [assumed to be a less effective form of marshalling public opinion—a classic bias in favour of printed media that affected CCCS studies as well].

The media in Dallas took a more critical stance, citing the work of the sports economists and other experts, and publicising a talk by an expert who was being critical.  Negative examples also appeared.  Here, ‘the more critical approach might have been arrived at independently, but more likely it reflected [the Dallas mayor’s] totally unprecedented opposition’ (81).  [No evidence is provided for this, and nor does it seem to have been systematically researched, certainly not in comparison with the content analysis].  There was also a local grassroots opposition, who received publicity from the newspaper.  ‘From these media accounts’ this seemed to be large and well organized and therefore influential, although it was much smaller than it seemed (82).

In New York, the more ‘influential…  (for elites any way)’ (82) newspapers were largely critical, and the New York Times particularly exposed contradictions among the corporations and business community, and the local political organizations.  Here the authors drew upon the ‘tone’ of the articles as well as content (82).  The campaign against the stadium grew to such an extent that the authors argue that articles ‘seemed relatively biased in presenting the views and arguments of stadium opponents…  Editorially…  [it was]…  brazenly critical of the stadium plan’ (83).  The authors think that New York is less susceptible to arguments that a new stadium would put the city on the map, because it already is a world city.  The New York Times also offered a thorough discussion of various economic impact statements, and even had challenged official reports by major accountants—nothing particularly technical, the authors suggest, but regularly presented.  Skeptical reports included the Brookings Institute report.  New York City authorities also challenged the boosterists.  Neighbourhood opposition was also well reported.

Hybrid examples include one in Cleveland, and here we get details about the local growth coalitions as well.  Apparently, ‘city leaders worked very closely with the corporate community to advocate policies centred on large, publicly subsidized projects’ (85).  The main newspaper was supportive, but the small local newspaper was consistently critical, and managed to uncover some ‘embarrassing details…  For example…  That the new basketball arena would contain an apartment for team owners’ (85).  The local paper seems to have pressurised the main newspaper into doing more investigative reporting, and eventually that newspaper became more critical too, evidence of an impact, even on ‘public and elite attitudes’ (86).  In Pittsburgh, two local newspapers took opposing sides, and ‘a libertarian think tank’ supported one of them (86).  The substantive issues emerged into public debate, and the campaign had an effect in that a local referendum led to defeat for the  proposal: ‘We would argue that this was largely because of the hybridised state of the local media’ (86).  However, the author’s note that ‘Eventually, of course, proponents got their new stadiums through a process so that did not require a public vote’ (86), so public opposition only delayed and complicated the process.

In Minnesota, the local newspaper editorials favour the proposal, but the reporting was critical.  Reporters were able to argue that they needed to preserve ‘the paper’s objectivity on the issue’ in order to avoid proprietorial intervention (86).  A series of attempts seems to have been unsuccessful in all., and corporate organizations have withdrawn from the local growth coalition.  However, here, ‘the local media has not stepped into the power vacuum’ (87).  [Why not, and what follows for the general theory?] Washington’s media have moved from uncritical to critical stance is.  The Post originally sidelined opponents, and ignored local opposition and expert testimony.  Later, however, local elections removed supporters from the local council, new critics took their place, and ‘the Post’s reporting was unable to downplay these views’ (87) [so the local coalition influenced the media, instead of the other way around?].  Persistent lobbying by some sports sociologist also had an impact in putting the item on the agenda.  In Kansas City, there were four possible developments and issues, and the Kansas City Star took different stances towards them, supporting public financing in general, but objecting to specific schemes.  Here, the authors quote a paragraph which they say shows ‘a little bit of nuance’ [code that!] (88).

Overall, the structure of the local growth coalition is important in understanding the media’s role.  If the local coalition is weak or fragmented, media coverage can have a larger impact.  Where there is a strong growth coalition and a unified corporate community, the media can only delay initiatives, and a powerful growth coalition can overcome media opposition.  [The authors use statements such as ‘we believe’ here].  Media can at least help develop ‘a climate of scepticism’, and have an impact on local referenda [are local referenda common in American city politics?] (90).  If the media are uncritical, stadium initiatives proceed more smoothly and quickly, even if there is no strong growth coalition: it is here that the local media seems to have filled the power vacuum.  [just below, the authors refer to ‘political and media components of the coalition’, again alluding to a relation between the political and the media components but not really spelling out what this might be] (90).  [The detail here means it’s almost impossible to identify or criticise any general models].  In one case, there was no filling of a power vacuum [Minneapolis], and here the authors are reduced to speculating about what might have happened had there been one!]


 back to key concepts