biological rhythms, vectoralism, meshworks

The factory was, and is, a space of production in which biological rhythms are continually contested at the interface between labourer and machine apparatus. In this we are not simply describing a disciplining of the body biomechanically-speaking, but also a constraining of the body's internal rhythms in a more holistic sense, which manifests itself in a number of physiological outcomes.

Courtesy of the NBA

As mentioned earlier, professional sport occupies a unique position at the nexus of material industrial production and immaterial postindustrial production. Though in the postindustrial economy of service, information and entertainment there is no longer the fixed capital apparatus of the factory and its assembly line production, do not presume that the sporting factory of the stadium does not itself reconfigure the biological rhythms of the athletic body in similar fashion.

Take the case of professional basketball in North America. There are 30 teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA), 15 each in Eastern and Western conferences. Each team plays 82 games, an equal number of which are played at home and on the road. Generally speaking, teams play other teams within their conference 4 times and those from the other conference twice, which of course necessitates a significant amount of travel across the continent. Teams can play on back-to-back nights, but not three nights in a row. Other sundry rules about scheduling are also determined by the league.

Instead of the postindustrial attack on the collective biological rhythms of athletic flesh having an easily identifiable locus, however, the causality in the case of professional basketball is far more diffused, though no less pronounced. Zoom in on the NBA assemblage to the Toronto Raptors, who played the Utah Jazz yesterday (Sunday) afternoon at 12:30pm EST. For the professional athlete used to playing at night this is a significant disruption of normal biological rhythms.

Why not just play Sunday evening? This is not seen as desirable by the Raptors' owners, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), who would prefer opportunities for families to attend the event. Due to the historical construction of the traditional school and work week, Sunday night is not favoured.

Why not play Saturday evening? The Raptors are not the only professional sports franchise owned by MLSE, which also counts the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League (NHL), Toronto FC of Major League Soccer (MLS), Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League (AHL) and Toronto Rock of the National Lacrosse League (NLL) in its portfolio. Of these, the Maple Leafs are the crown jewel of the corporate empire, and the Saturday night slot is reserved for them. Professional hockey has a unique place in Canadian culture which has historically developed through Foster Hewitt's radio and television program, Hockey Night in Canada, broadcast coast-to-coast for more than seventy years.

So why not play late Sunday afternoon? This would have been possible earlier in the season, when the National Football League (NFL) was still playing. As professional hockey holds a special place and time in Canadian culture (Saturday evening), so American culture similarly considers Sunday afternoon its special place and time for professional football. As such, the rival NBA would not schedule its national telecasts in this time slot — there is too much overlap between the target markets of the two leagues and the NBA would be crushed in the ratings. Each individual NBA franchise has its own regional telecasts, however, and these would be allowed to run against the NFL programming.

Once the NFL season was completed and media competition diminished, the NBA began to telecast its feature Sunday afternoon doubleheader on ABC. In these games the league showcases its best teams and most popular stars, those with the highest Q scores and thus those of greatest sign value to corporate sponsors. The NBA does not want to dilute this audience and since revenues for national telecasts are shared among all franchises, the league established a blackout window for regional telecasts on Sunday afternoons.

And so the game takes place at 12:30pm EST on Sunday. But for the Western Conference Utah Jazz this is one of the road trips across the continent to the east. In terms of biological rhythms, this 12:30pm tip-off is the equivalent of a 10:30am start time. Add to that the daylight savings forward time shift and it is actually a 9:30am start to production, a major bodily difference from the average evening game. In the peculiar joint production model that is professional sport — the cooperative production structure of the game's uncertain outcome and associated data flows — this additional disruption of biological rhythm was seen to offer a competitive advantage for the hometown Raptors.

The more important lesson, however, is that the factory assembly line as the locus of biorhythmical disruption has been replaced in this particular case by a complex meshwork constituting team, league, corporate entity, television network, corporate sponsor, competitive rival, national identity and cultural history. As such, the focal point for a collective struggle of flesh becomes more difficult to pinpoint and more difficult to resist.


2 responses to biological rhythms, vectoralism, meshworks

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