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The Covid-19 pandemic has, undeniably, exerted a tremendous, diverse, and long-term impact on societies, politics, and economies throughout the globe. In this regard, sports have become one of the most stricken sectors since numerous main sporting events at international, national, and local levels, including games, marathons, tournaments, and championships, have been postponed or even canceled. Moreover, under the influence of lockdowns, the interaction between fans and others involved in sports activities is experiencing unprecedented changes. Therefore, the paper aims to examine the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on sports, primarily the fans’ behaviors and their communication, based on socio-psychological concepts, recent research, and stories for my findings.
Millions of people, especially fans, relish watching games in various venues, such as stadiums, sports bars, and hubs, workplaces, or homes. In particular, individuals can obtain intense social experience in public places since fans have an excellent opportunity to share their thoughts and discuss ongoing events in their sporting communities, thereby confirming their dedication to an individual team.
In the last decade, due to technological achievements, including Web 2.0 and high-speed Internet overall, this public viewing has considerably expanded to online platforms, mainly Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and teams’ websites. Sports fans can now be involved in games from any location via online TV services (for example, Major League Baseball TV) and, simultaneously, communicate with others through chat facilities, which delivers an unforgeable watching experience.
Change of Perspective
From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries’ governments introduced the policy of total lockdown and social distance limitation, which eventually made public places, including stadiums and sports bars, empty. Furthermore, many large-scale sports events, such as the European Football Championships, the Tokyo Olympics, Six Nations Rugby, and others, have been deferred to the next year. Despite divided public attitudes toward such measures, they were evidently dictated by the urgent need to curb the virus spread and safeguard sportsmen and others engaged in sports-related activities from the pendant danger.
Nevertheless, the disappearance of all main sports exited disappointment and anxiety among passionate fans missing the competition, the socialization, the emotional outlet, and joy. Due to these reasons and also considerable efforts of sports organizations, clubs, and sponsors, the audience’s focus has notably shifted to social media, broadcast, and other services bringing sports directly into their homes. For example, according to Zoomph, 51% of all hashtags on Twitter were directly linked to sports and entertainment, which provides apparent behavioral testimony of this fan passion (Wakefield, 2020).
Herewith, Wakefield (2020) notes that tweeters on the pandemic usually follow Esports and mainstream US sports, including NFL, MLB, MLS. From my findings, the respondents also stated that they are most interested in watching baseball, basketball, and other popular American sports. For example, Johnson said, “I mainly watch basketball and baseball,” whereas Michael prefers to watch basketball and football. Overall, this research illustrates the changes in fans’ conduct and that their interest in sports events remains vivid.
In addition to governments’ internal and external restrictions, another aspect influences fans’ behavior. Specifically, despite the absence of damage to infrastructure or property, the current pandemic can be defined as a disaster since it has caused severe disruption in society’s functioning by threatening lives and livelihoods’ supply (Das, 2020). For instance, because of massive layoffs, in April, the US unemployment rate reached its hit, 14.7 percent, gradually reducing and sticking to the mark of over 8 percent, as of September 2020 (“News release,” 2020). This circumstance has induced falling incomes of the population and its purchasing power.
In such an unfavorable situation, many people economize by prioritizing essential goods necessary for their wellbeing and refuse others, including costly entertainment, or seek cheaper means, namely, online platforms. Besides, as a disaster, COVID-19 has created widespread panic and hysteria, which also has conditioned the reduced public viewing of sports events. In current conditions, most people fear contracting the infection because it can entail a significant risk of death, health deterioration, or considerable expenditures on treatment procedures.
This paragraph will consider the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on fans’ behavior from a functionalism view. According to the functionalist perspective, society is regarded as a complicated system of institutions, regulations, norms, traditions, and customs that are interrelated and brought together to secure socioeconomic stability and solidarity (“Sociological perspectives,” n.d.). In addition, functional prerequisites include basic needs, that is, food, clothing, shelter, money, and the factors that promote maintaining social order, such as gender inequalities. For example, the government provides affordable education or healthcare for the families that, in turn, pay taxes that a particular state uses to run and develop. In times of crisis, such as a financial recession, different parts of society have to adapt to sustain stability and productivity.
Due to the pandemic, the United States is experiencing a similar situation since, according to advance estimates, the US GDP growth contracted by nearly 33 percent in the second quarter (Cepal, 2020). Furthermore, despite the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Acts that provide over $2 trillion in economic support, severe unemployment still harms purchasing power and macroeconomic stability (“The CARES Act,” n.d.).
Thus, along with the total lockdown, these issues made the entire US society, especially fans, sports managers, and sportspersons, adapt to new rules and conditions, which provoked the transformation to online or broadcast viewing. In this regard, respondent Michael noted, “I think it’s very interesting how teams are coming up with ideas to make sure athletes are playing with all this pandemic going on.” Furthermore, many people facing the pandemic’s consequences are more concerned about current problems rather than entertainment.
Nevertheless, it should be admitted that sport fulfills useful social purposes, one of which is integrative function implying that sport creates the conducive integration of individuals and groups from diverse affiliations. Particularly, it promotes the public understanding and acceptance of various cultural beliefs and patterns by collecting persons of different nationalities and values in a single team around a single aim, namely, gaining a win. Presently, it can be frequently observed that white, black, or Hispanic individuals play in one football or basketball club with the same respect and attitude.
Moreover, sport favors collectivity by unifying masses to support a favorite club or athletes that can also be from diverse origins. For example, the respondent Jennifer said, “I watch softball, baseball, and sometimes football. It is easy for me to sit through a game. Especially when I am watching it with my friends.” It is worth noting that this role is tightly connected with the Conflict theory viewing society as a prevalent inequality based on race, social class, and other factors. The concept indicates that effective solutions to these issues should involve extensive changes in society’s structure, which sport facilitates.
The second valuable function of sport is socialization suggesting the cultivation of cultural ethics and values and the upbringing of desirable citizen traits. In this regard, sports can socialize by promoting the acquisition of such positive personal qualities as cooperation, a collective orientation, leadership, zeal for achievement, tenacity, self-control, respect for rules and opponents, and rejection of racism. The inculcation of cultural beliefs occurs primarily through two interdependent ideas, namely, reinforcement and modeling. The former relates to the operant conditioning theory stating that approved behaviors should be awarded, while unacceptable acts should be punished. It is assumed that sports possess an integral sanctioning system that praises players for excellent actions and reproaches them for undesirable.
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Modeling implies that participants receive specific examples of conduct that are usually set by a group or community leader. In sports, the victorious athletes, typically regarded as a role model, should demonstrate desired behaviors to attain anticipated outcomes. It is worth noting that this idea is supported by symbolic interactionism indicating that individuals build their reality and attitudes based on situations they encounter and by learning behavioral models from others.
The socio-emotional function concerns the maintenance of persons’ socio-psychological stability, that is, their psychological adjustment to social circumstances. The role consists of the three main aspects, including the management of conflict and tension, the reassurance of ritualism, and the production of feelings of solidarity and comradeship. The first can be described as the cathartic release or emotional outlet. In this regard, sports allow participants to safely relieve strain, feelings of depression, frustration, and aggression, thereby preventing their expression in social settings, such as family or work.
Moreover, sports can productively treat chronic depression, significantly improve self-esteem, and deliver much joy and inspiration, especially when a person has a serious attitude toward sporting exercises. Overall, such an opportunity to release intense emotions can protect people from harming themselves and others.
The second aspect states that sport can contain ritualism elements perceived as the reassertion of adherence to a particular social structure and cultural values and as a root of confidence in their continuous stability. In essence, sporting activities have definite regularity and predetermined nature formed by established rules and norms, which can ultimately create a sense of certainty and permanence. The emotions caused by sports games and their intensity bear considerable similarity with those expressed in religions.
Finally, the last aspect specifies that sports can promotes diminishing social distancing by exerting a strong feeling of fellowship and unity among teammates and even between opponents. The sense of camaraderie directly derives from the friendship that gradually is being formed due to active and close interactions between players. The behavioral nature of sport requires participants to cooperate, develop a shared strategy, and reach the core objective jointly. Furthermore, when many people gather together to support a fan club, it is an excellent opportunity to communicate and exchange ideas and impressions.
In conclusion, the paper has examined the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on sports, primarily the fans’ behaviors and their relationships, based on socio-psychological concepts, recent research, and stories for my findings. In particular, due to the total lockdown and social distance limitation, the fans’ focus has significantly shifted to social media, broadcast, and other services bringing sports directly into their homes. Besides, from the sociological perspective, the current pandemic can be regarded as a disaster since it has caused severe disruption in society’s functioning, making many people economize by prioritizing essential goods and services.
However, sport fulfills useful social purposes, including integrative function, socialization, and socio-emotional function. For instance, socialization furthers the acquisition of such valuable personal qualities as cooperation, leadership, zeal for achievement, respect for rules and opponents, and rejection of racism.
Cepal, N. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 on the United States economy and the policy response. United Nations. Web.
Das, M. (2020). Understanding COVID-19 as a ‘disaster’: A sociological perspective. The Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict (SSPC). Web.
News release (2020). US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Web.
Sociological perspectives (n.d.). Lumen Learning. Web.
The CARES Act works for all Americans. (n.d.). US Department of the Treasury. Web.
Wakefield, K. (2020). Evidence from the Internet: How The pandemic sparks sports fans on Twitter. Forbes. Web.