Building the Narrative: Transmedia storytelling in professional sports
August 23, 2012 4 Comments
Within any form of entertainment lies numerous narratives, designed to engage the audience. Television shows, books and films are all examples of entertainment that utilize plot development and characters to develop a storyline and convey some sort of message to the audience. Traditionally, storytelling came across a single medium, like a book, or an orator. But now the technology available has altered the way these narratives are distributed to audiences. For example, movies not only have their stories distributed across screens, but also across other platforms such as websites, video games and comic books. This is referred to as transmedia storytelling and can be described as:
“…..a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.” (Jenkins, 2007)
Numerous examples of transmedia storytelling exist in professional sports. Through television, radio and web, the NHL uses the individuals within the game of hockey to tell continuous storylines. Some are short term tales such as single games, a fight, player comebacks or trade speculation. Others are drawn out over a longer period such as a players career, the Stanley Cup playoffs, or the never ending “rebuild” efforts of mediocre teams. Regardless, narratives are built and shared using transmedia storytelling.
The current environment surrounding the game has provided anyone with access to devices and an internet connection with the ability to participate in the storytelling. It’s easy to talk about how ubiquitous social media is, but taking a step back and assessing not only the tool, but also the environment, its participants and possibilities, we see an interconnected web of narratives dispersed over numerous channels. This is great for the professional sports industry as its success relies on fan engagement. But, as is the case with any tool, there are significant ramifications that need to be addressed.
Having multiple parts of a story surrounding the game of hockey being dispersed across various mediums can results in an overabundance of information. Without the right processing tools in place, the excess information can play into our biases and preconceived notions, potentially resulting in poor judgment. Sports fans are typically biased towards their own teams, and, as found by Broad Street Hockey blog, tend to feel their teams are treated unfairly compared to other teams. The additional information that comes out from transmedia storytelling can be used to confirm our biases and muddle our perception of issues that we may not agree with.
But amid the issue of excessive information caused by transmedia storytelling, there are various facets of the concept that make being a fan in 2012 much more enjoyable.
“Transmedia storytelling weaves together individual strands of a story into a larger and richer interactive fabric and offers the audience multiple ways to participate, through content production, collaboration, and interaction. When the story has authenticity, coherence, and integrity, it provides a common language that unleashes vast amounts of creativity and invites maximum engagement through audience participation.” (Rutledge, 2011)
Transmedia storytelling allows fans to apply their creativity and energy to the game, and take control of the content available. Their drive to be more than consumers of professional sports has generated unique cultural artifacts on the web, creating new networks to participate within and share cultural experiences.
An example of this would be photoshopping images to alter the intended message or parody Twitter accounts that mimic professional hockey players. More than just finding humor in the game, these examples allow fans to create new fictional storylines inspired by actual, current events. Fans can also develop the history of players or teams on Wikipedia, which relies on voluntary participation. Wikipedia has the correct environment and tools in place to foster productive contributions to construct an informative history of professional athletes (Ferriter, 2009).
It’s far too common to read about “the power of social media” and the negative stories that surround mobile and social technology. Current examples include fake hockey insider Twitter accounts that create baseless rumors or mobile technology being used to monitor hockey players in their private lives (Sanderson, 2009). Seeing past the tool and understanding the actual content being spread over a massive social network can give us a better understanding of the individuals involved, their relationship to the game of hockey, as well as their production capabilities.
Detweller, G. (2012, August 2). The Bias Survey: Scientific proof that we’re all gigantic homers. Retrieved from http://www.broadstreethockey.com/2012/8/2/3215732/nhl-bias-survey
Ferriter, M.M. (2009). “Arguably the greatest“: Sports fans and communities at work on Wikipedia. Sociology of Sport Journal, 26(1), p. 127-154.
Jenkins, H. (2007, March 22). Transmedia storytelling 101. Retrieved from http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html
Rutledge, P. (2011, January 7). Transmedia Storytelling: The reemergence of fundamentals. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/positively-media/201101/transmedia-storytelling-the-reemergence-fundamentals
Sanderson, J. (2009). Professional athletes‘ shrinking privacy boundaries: Fans, information and communication technologies, and athlete monitoring. International Journal of Sport Communication, 2(1), p. 240-256.