Can the Mediated Experience Surpass the Authentic? A Case Study on Professional Football.
As I walked through the club concourse of FedEx Field, prior to the Washington Redskins’ home opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, I couldn’t help but notice the number of fans who were enjoying the club’s amenities. The lines for concessions were long as usual, the Hooters Restaurant inside the stadium was packed to capacity, and there were groups of people huddled around the multiple televisions placed in the concourse. While none of these occurrences are abnormal for FedEx Field on game day, it was what was being shown on the televisions that inspired me to write this blog. I noticed that the televisions were actually showing the players’ pre-game warm ups. These fans purchased tickets to view the Redskins in-person, but chose to watch the warm-ups on a television screen inside the concourse.
My initial thoughts were that fans would eventually move to their seats following warm-ups; that they were simply enjoying the amenities of the club level before the opening kickoff. However, the majority of these fans remained inside the club concourse during the game. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, after making the trip to Maryland with tickets in hand, Redskins fans had preferred to watch a mediated broadcast of their favorite team’s game, rather than receive the authentic experience.
My experience at the stadium has led me to propose two research questions which this blog will address:
- What are the specific features of a mediated football game that make the mediated experience potentially more desirable than the real experience?
- Has today’s technology changed the way we experience the real? What are the political ramifications of the way we experience the real today?
In a much-discussed moment in the Redskins game against the Jaguars, Redskins star quarterback, Robert Griffin III (RG3), injured his ankle early in the game. At the game, during the time of the injury, neither I nor anyone sitting around me knew what happened to RG3. The PA announcer only addressed the stadium to say that the backup, Kirk Cousins, was coming into the game. The fans around me began frantically using their smartphones seeking any source with information on the injury. Although, we were experiencing the event in-person, we were receiving less information than people watching the broadcast from home. Television viewers immediately knew RG3 was hurt . So while we were getting the authentic experience, we were still missing specific events in the game that the mediated viewers were receiving.
Alternatively, being at the game provides experiences that cannot be had through a mediated viewing of the game. There are many subtleties of attending a Redskins game that someone who only watches the games on television would never know existed. For example, after every touchdown the Redskins score all of the fans sing “Hail to the Redskins”. This is an important tradition for game attendees, but this aspect of the experience is cut out of broadcasts because stations immediately cut to commercial following all scores. NFL team owners are very much aware of the lessened desire for the authentic football experience. Because of this, owners have begun to create experiences that can only be enjoyed by attending the games.
Beyond the usual giveaways and promotions that are common at games, owners have started to attach more value to a game ticket. The Redskins for example, are the only professional team with a marching band that plays pre-game, at halftime, and postgame. The problem for team owners is that they are selling an experience marketed under the promise that the experience will bring them closer to the players. However, the technology used in bringing games to the household today, compromises this promise.
In 1953, sociologists Kurt and Gladys Lang published an article comparing and contrasting the MacArthur Day authentic experience with the broadcast experience. In their article the Lang’s make a very interesting, overarching claim about the broadcast experience. They claim, “Yet unlike the participant, (the viewer) was completely at the mercy of the instrument of his perceptions. He could not test his impressions–could not shove back the shover, inspect bystanders’ views, or attempt in any way to affect the ongoing activity.” While I don’t doubt that this was the case for the Lang’s in their 1953 research, new technologies have changed the way audiences participate with a televised experience.
According to Forbes, “17% of viewers are engaging with each other on the web around TV content.” So audiences can participate, and football fans can communicate and give each other virtual high-fives after every touchdown. During Sunday Night Football, NBC simulcasts its game on the web. What’s most fascinating about this, is that the online audience is able to switch through multiple camera views of the on-field play. Whereas the audience of the television broadcast is limited to whichever camera the producers want them to view at a given time, the audience viewing the stream is able to see all angles of the game. Viewers are even provided the option to switch to any camera on the field, even being provided the option to position view either team’s sideline. Still, even with increased viewing participation, Lang & Lang’s article is not completely out of touch with today’s viewing. These participation tools are still limited to online viewing, and broadcasters are still ultimately in control of the camera options.
It is because of the way both experiences work together that I do not foresee the mediated experience surpassing the live NFL experience. Realizing the mediated broadcast provides an experience in itself, owners have begun to re-define the in stadium experience. By offering both the mediated and in-person experience at the stadium, attending the game will continue to be the optimum NFL experience in the foreseeable future.
Whether or not the mediated experience is better in itself, remains dependent on personal preference. While the inherent human desire for the “authentic” will not go away any time soon, it is possible that the mediated experience could eventually surpass the in-person experience as the most authentic way to experience an event. The exponential growth of broadcast technology could potentially make the in-person experience obsolete. Until then however, Redskins fans will continue to flock to FedEx to celebrate scores with their peers, and to join the chorus of “Hail to the Redskins.”
Lang, K. & Lang, G.E. (1953). The unique perspective of television and its effect: A pilot study. American Sociological Review, 18 (1), 3-12.
 Bercovici, J. (2013). The Second-Screen Trend is Bigger Than Twitter Vs. Facebook. Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2013/10/10/the-second-screen-phenomenon-is-much-bigger-than-twitter-and-facebook/