The Skin of Entertainment?

Imagine the uniforms of your favourite team glowing when they are making a dramatic late-game comeback, or displaying the advertising for a Major Brand Name when they score a touchdown.

Such a scenario could be a reality in the not-so-distant future. Scientists in France have developed a fabric woven with fibre optic cables that can glow with various colours and images (thanks to AIlog for the link).

Provided they are durable, comfortable and breathable, glowing uniforms are a natural fit for the sport entertainment world (not to mention related art forms, such as Cirque du Soleil). The applications are endless: perhaps the person with the ball glows as they streak down the court, just like in a videogame; perhaps the corporate sponsors will fight over whose ad gets displayed on the star athlete's jersey during the post-game interview; perhaps the kids who currently kill each other for a pair of Nike shoes will kill each other for an authentic Champion glow uniform that can beam commercials to them far more easily than ever possible with television.

Makes you kind of pine for the good old ancient Greek days of nude wrestling, doesn't it?

Live and Feverish

NFL Fever 2003 will be on the roster for Microsoft's new venture, Xbox Live, an ambitious attempt to create a broadband, plug-and-play, global gaming network.

Data (Under)Mining

"Hello, I'm the NBA. Please undermine my product, Microsoft, okay?"

Is This Oral Culture?

The Boston Globe reports that MIT has developed technology that allows video to be created which can place words in the mouth of a subject that the subject never said.

Ethical questions aside, what applications might this have for the sportocracy?

I suggest that a simulation of professional sport is a possibility, combining the best features of the major sports leagues, the WWF and massively multiplayer role-playing games. The league could use technology such as MIT has developed to string the overall narrative together, while the gamers/consumers would assume the identity of these characters for big games. (And anyone who doesn't believe that professional leagues don't have a narrative need only follow the Allen Iverson saga: when the Sixers were winning he was a hero, and when they lost this year, he reverted to being a 'thug', nevermind that Iverson himself hadn't really changed much.)

Such a simulation, if it ever became popular enough, would certainly undermine the advertising-based economic model of the NBA, NFL and the like, as the interactive nature of the medium would attract more mindshare than any of these leagues could.

ESPN+Sega

ESPN signs a deal with Sega.

Post-Literate Sport

In recent years, professional athletes have joined musicians and actors at the top of the entertainment talent pyramid, and now earn salaries in the millions, as any casual fan of pro sport is wont to know. The media-entertainment complex of western culture is based upon the star system, which results in star athletes becoming extremely marketable commodities for the sportocracy. Consumers — particularly young ones — want to identify with the star and thus will purchase the products that these athletes endorse, or so the theory goes. The theory has merit: global sport sponsorship revenues in 2001 totaled in the billions.

As we move into an era of interactive media entertainment, however, the consumer-star relationship takes on new meaning, since the consumer can truly identify with the star for a period of time by assuming their identity. Have a look at kids today: are they watching more television or playing more videogames? I would bet on the latter. The participatory nature of videogames is ideal for a generation of multi-sensory children that is almost completely divorced from the print-oriented culture of their forebears only scant decades earlier.

Marshall McLuhan (1964) caused a stir in the sixties when he suggested that we are once again becoming a tribal culture. The notion that modern civilization communicated in much the same fashion as "primitive" tribes seemed radical, to say the least. He theorized that societies are the products of the media technologies they use, and that every technology requires a certain balance of the consumer's five senses. While pre-literate cultures communicated in a highly multi-sensory fashion, the advent of the phonetic alphabet and the Gutenberg printing press led to a communication style dominated by eye-oriented individualism, as books circulated to disseminate important knowledge.

McLuhan argued that the rise of electric media technologies, from the telegraph, through radio and television, to the Internet, have caused us to become highly multi-sensory once again, "retribalizing" us in the process. With the sportocracy's heavy dependence on the media, the nature of the sport-media relationship vis-a-vis the nature of the technology is of grave importance to those involved. What does it mean for sport media to become "retribalized"? What does it mean for sport, in general?

References

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media. New York: New American Library.