Sport’s Transformation in the Social media era

Posted in 2020 The Gnovis Blog  |  Tagged , , , ,

By Randall Harris

Traditional sports media has long held an instrumental role in the consciousness of fans in our society.  However, the emergence of social media has led to substantial changes within traditional sports journalism today. The process of institutionalization that helped traditional sports journalism thrive for so many decades in our society is now taking hold in social media related sports news and content. This shift in sports news has impacted the stability of traditional sports media in the digital age     

Institutionalization in social media sports 

Institutionalization is a process that happens when there is a “reciprocal typification of habitualized actions by types of actors”(Berger & Luckmann, 1966, p. 72). The “habitualization” prerequisite is needed to achieve institutionalization, which is important because habits are involved in “all human activity” (Berger & Luckmann, p. 70, 1966). Humans in a given society collectively agree upon a set of norms and these habits become so ingrained that we unconsciously practice them. For example, there is a loose network of social media users called “NBA Twitter” (Neely-Cohen, 2016). This group of social media fans helped to popularize terms like “the Woj bomb,” which is used to signify a particular piece of important NBA news (Dunphy, 2018). Over time, “the Woj bomb” reached the general sports world after being habitualized by social media users. News analysts and even players use “Woj bomb,” and this phrase is now part of the basketball lexicon. A Woj bomb is when NBA insider, Adrian Wojornowski breaks major news with a tweet. Writer Maxwell Neely-Cohen said that Twitter is the center of basketball fandom and it operates like “a central nervous system” (Neely-Cohen, 2016). 

Social media users can create socially constructed communities by habitually engaging with each other over some time. They can access a favored social media app with a tap of the screen and find the news there. The habit-forming process related to institutionalization is essential because it relieves people from making too many decisions (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). Ultimately, the woj bomb’s constant usage on Twitter is an example of the social media sports community becoming an institution.

Social media is also institutionalized because of its emergence as a relevant medium to get news content, especially in sports. Social media is effective because according to writer Mark Griffiths, social media is most commonly accessed by smartphones and its accessibility leads to excessive checking habits (Griffiths, 2018). Social media institutionalization is also emerging because social media platforms allows fans to follow their favorite athletes, teams, fan accounts, and other enthusiasts on a single platform. These personalizing qualities help keep people on social media platforms, thus institutionalizing social media networks as the primary hub of sports news. The convenience of social media is highlighted further because of data gathering practices that social media companies engage in. Users can see a specific type of sports news on their app based on the type of content they engage with. For example, if Twitter sees that a user engages with an NFL team and the league in general enough, NFL content will be prominently displayed on that user’s timeline. Technically, Twitter’s algorithm accounts for tweets, retweets, favorites and other factors that are related to engagement (Agrawal, 2019). Boston University writer Jessica Swarm noted that a platform like Twitter allows players, fans, and teams to share content with ease (Swarm, 2018). Swarm also noted that engagement amongst fans on social media can give them a sense of community (Swarm, 2018). Institutions need social interactions related to communities to thrive in any society.

Impact of institutionalization of social media on traditional sports journalism 

. In the past, traditional media organizations were the only institution because they had widespread control over the production and dissemination of sports news. Institutions are well established organizations who partake in a particular field and have cultivated these practices over a period of time. Social media’s growing influence on society has impacted the established institution of media. Social media’s growing influence on society has impacted the established institution of media.Fans do not have to wait until the morning paper is available or even the evening news to get updates about their favorite players or teams. Moreover, fans can gain direct access to the accounts of athletes themselves (Swarm, 2018). 

Traditional media companies have responded to social media pressures in many ways. According to the Washington Post, Sports Illustrated laid off nearly half of its editorial staff (Bogage & Strauss, 2019). The Sports Illustrated media operation is planning to replace journalists with freelancers and bloggers (Bogage & Strauss, 2019). This is important to note because it is an indication that traditional media organizations are morphing into social media-like entities. The wall of entry into certain industries have fallen because of the internet. No longer do well established media companies have the only means to create and disseminate news to the masses. 

Some journalists resisted their autonomy in news production being challenged (Carlson, 2017). Traditional media believe that they are the gatekeepers in news creation (Vos & Ryan, 2018). Traditional journalists would denounce emerging UGC’s and question their tactics (McNair). According to Brian McNair, some traditional journalists believe that collaboration with UGC’s was necessary to survive (McNair, 2013). Traditional sports media outlets and UGC’s creators conduct shows, podcasts, interviews, and various other content. For example, the House of Highlights page owner decided to collaborate with sports media giant Turner Sports (Connolly, 2019). Turner Sports itself is a great example of media giants responding to social media because they own Bleacher sports. Bleacher sports is one of the most popular platforms today (Rogers, 2014). Overall, the traditional media is aware of the new digital era and many organizations have responded to the rise of social media. However, traditional journalism’s position as a leading institution in sports is still up in the air.  


The habitualization of social media has allowed this platform to emerge as an institution for sports fans in the digital age. Social media has allowed fans to create online communities and easily engage with each other. Fans collectively engage with each other, forming norms and practices that define institutionalization and create online communities. Social media convenience helps to increase its popularity with fans. As a result, traditional media sports journalism organizations are being challenged as the leading institution in this sphere. Some journalists in traditional media outlets have proclaimed that they should be the leaders in news production (Carlson, 2017). Other journalists have responded by joining popular social media platforms to reach the masses. Times are changing and established media companies now have to decide how to respond in order to keep their seats at the table. 


Agrawa, H. (2019). How the Twitter Algorithm Really Works (2019 Onwards) – Circleboom Blog. Circleboom Blog. Retrieved 4 December 2019, from 

Bogage, J., & Strauss, B. (2019, October 3). sports illustrated shaken by major layoffs and massive reorganization. Retrieved from 

Carlson, M. (2017). Professionalism as Privilege and Distance. In Journalistic Authority: Legitimating News in the Digital Era (pp. 29-49). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Connolly, E. (2019). ‘Just worry about the content?: Omar Raja on building the House of Highlights. Retrieved from 

Dunphy, M. (2019, June 30). How to build a ‘Woj bomb’, from the man himself. Retrieved from 

Griffiths, M. (2018, May 7). Addicted to Social Media? Retrieved from 

McNair, B. (2013). Trust, Truth and Objectivity: sustaining quality journalism in the era of content-generating user. In C. Peters & M. Broersma (Eds.), Rethinking Journalism : Trust and Participation in a Transformed News Landscape (pp. 75-88).

Neely-Cohen, M. (2016, January 8). NBA Twitter is Changing the Way We Watch Sports. Retrieved from 

Rogers, D. (2014, May 15). Bleacher Report is now the second most popular sports site in America. Retrieved from 

Swarm, J. (2018, October 29). The Impact of Social Media on the Sports Industry. Retrieved from 

Terrell, K. (2019). A Complete History of Social Media: From Friendster Forwards. Retrieved from 

Thompson, D. (2017, November 29). Why So Many Media Companies Are on the Brink of Disaster. Retrieved from 

Vos, T. P., & Thomas, R. J. (2018). The discursive construction of journalistic authority in a post-truth age. Journalism studies. Retrieved from doi=10.1080/1461670X.2018.1492879 

Young, D. (2019). The Sports Illustrated layoffs are disgraceful. Retrieved from