Authors: Brian E Menaker, R. Dale Sheptak Jr, Amanda K Curtis

Corresponding Author:
R. Dale Sheptak Jr.
Baldwin Wallace University
275 Eastland Road
Berea, Ohio 44017

Brian E. Menaker, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Sport Business in the Department of Health and Kinesiology at Texas A&M University – Kingsville in Kingsville, Texas.
R. Dale Sheptak, Jr., DSSc is an Associate Professor of Sport Management in the School of Health Sport Sciences at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea Ohio.
Amanda K. Curtis, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management in the School of Business at Lake Erie College in Painesville Ohio.

Revelry or Riot? An Exploratory Study of Internet Media Coverage of Sport Championship Celebrations

The media shapes the narrative of mass gatherings of people flooding the streets of major cities as celebration, demonstration, protest, riot, or in other ways. Sport championships can often evoke these spontaneous gatherings. This study explores internet news coverage of spontaneous celebrations of sport championships to determine whether media frames these occurrences as revelry or riot. A content analysis of articles detailing the post-championship reactions of communities involved in the game after NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, college football, and basketball was conducted. The findings showed a difference between how news and sports websites cover unruly behavior surrounding sporting championships. Only MLB articles significantly predicted the presence of riot references. The model for revelry references was not significant. Approximately a third of the articles did not mention the word revelry or riot in the text. The results confirm previous literature’s assertion of underreporting these events as riots.

Keywords: sport media, sport celebration, riots, internet sports coverage, championships

Sport offers an opportunity for communities to celebrate, especially after a championship. Celebrations may occur in the communities that host victorious teams which includes people congregating in public city squares to engage in the celebratory behaviors of singing, jumping up and down, embracing, and other non-threatening activities. Yet, violent acts of flipping over cars, vandalism, and setting fires are often seen as methods of celebration, when in other cases are seen as purely violent. Media coverage of these celebrations influences the social interpretation of what occurred. This exploratory study analyzes the use of language in media coverage of sport celebrations in major cities where violence and arrests by law enforcement were reported following championship games.

Most news stories focus on the results of the game, but the responses of fans to a championship is often of interest to media outlets. This occurs whether a community has been starved for a championship or if the community has teams experiencing repeated success. Much of the research involving fan behavior falls into an examination of fan superstitions, fan engagement, and fan violence and hooliganism. Overall, literature has covered public civil unrest, however, little research has been devoted to the print media coverage of the particular actions of fans following a celebration.

The link between sport and fan violence is widely documented and some of the major theorists in psychology and sociology have discussed the nature of fan violence in response to the sport experience. Bandura (1) suggests that sport is a cause of aggression for spectators of sport. Elias and Dunning (2) suggest that in advanced societies, where the propensity to display overt excitement in public has diminished as part of the civilizing process, sporting events provide a viable outlet to the otherwise reserved behavior of everyday life. In what Elias and Dunning classify as a mimetic activity, individuals can abandon a sense of real-life and experience the highs and lows of the event without the restraints of real life. However, even though the event itself may be an escape from reality, the emotions experienced at the event are similar to those experienced in real life. Elias and Dunning (2, p. 80) state that “in serious, non-mimetic excitement people are liable to lose control over themselves and to become a threat, both to themselves and to others.” Mimetic excitement is considered non-dangerous behavior which is socially and personally acceptable having a cathartic effect for the actor. However, mimetic behavior can transform into the more serious non-mimetic behavior. Elias and Dunning go on to use the example of an out of control football crowd, but the application of this idea can reach beyond violent behavior or hooliganism. Often the emotions experienced within the confines of a sporting event spill over into society on individual levels. People unable to control the joy of victory, the anger of defeat, the energy of being part of a large crowd, or the consumption of alcohol engage in activities that would otherwise be out of character.

As these celebrations or riots occur, media outlets are given the opportunity to shape the message and narrative of these events. The media may often diminish the severity of the event (Russell, 3), characterize a seemingly harmless gathering as a riot (Millward, 4) or help law enforcement in shaping the narrative of the event (Rizza, Pereira, & Curvelo, 5). Therefore, this study explored media coverage of championship celebrations in cities where the local team won a major sports championship. A brief treatment of literature on media coverage of sport riots and riots in general follows.

Sport Riot Coverage
Few studies have considered sport riots specifically and often not in the context of newspaper coverage. One investigation of the riots in Chicago after the Chicago Bulls 1992 championship was carried out in “Celebration, Politics, Selective Looting and Riots” (Rosenfeld,6). While this article is concerned with sports rioting, Rosenfeld is more interested in the actual cause of the riots rather than the coverage of it in the media. He argues that the riots were only in small part a celebration of the Bulls NBA title and argues that they were also a political response to significant welfare cuts in Illinois and to the Los Angeles riots in the same year. Millward (4) also examines a riot stemming from a sporting event in “Glasgow Rangers supporters in the city of Manchester: The Degeneration of a ‘Fan Party’ into a ‘Hooligan Riot’”. Based on participant observation, Millward challenges the newspaper coverage that blamed the riot on the Glasgow Rangers’ fans. He gives an alternative account of the events covered by two major newspapers but does not investigate newspaper coverage per se, explaining the ‘hooligan’ behavior was caused at least in part by organizational issues and extreme policing measures rather than typical fan behavior. This article shows how the media may portray a fan celebration as a riot, and frame occurrences in ways that may differ from how participants frame the events.

Scholars have also examined the intersection of societal riots, sport, and media coverage. In “Peace building? The coverage of Arab football players in the Hebrew sports media during the October 2000 riots” Chen Kertcher (7) analyzes the coverage in Israeli Hebrew language media of Arab football players. This included an examination of the reporting on sport and footballers during a time of rioting to see if the coverage served as a peace-building measure during this time of unrest. Football coverage generally did not tie in the riots and the coverage tried to underscore the professionalism of coaches and players for not discussing the riots, suggesting that sports were not affected by the riots even if players might be disturbed by the events.

As social media has emerged, different ways of communicating and framing sport riots have also developed. Media coverage of the 2011 Vancouver riots, as the Vancouver Canucks were losing the Stanley Cup final to the Boston Bruins, and how social media was used to frame a narrative of justice and police action is the focus of Rizza, Pereira, & Curvelo (5). In fact, Vancouver police (VPD) used social media in order to find suspects in potential criminal activity, before finding out if they actually had committed a crime. The media narrative showed the problems that arose with the authorities’ use of social media and actually got in the way of VPD’s investigation. Pictures and videos from social media can be misinterpreted and police must first confirm legitimacy of these sources before using them in investigations (Rizza, Pereira, & Curvelo, 5). This shows the potential for social media to be used by mass media and law enforcement as another means of creating a narrative about sport riots. Furthermore, it also highlights the problems of using social media to crowd-source policing at a sport riot (Schneider & Trottier, 8).

General Riot Coverage
The discussion of how different media outlets frame the celebratory activity of a parade was considered in Ferman’s (9) analysis of two major Irish newspapers, the Irish News and the News Letter to analyze the Catholic/nationalist and Protestant/loyalist coverage, respectively, throughout the marching season in Northern Ireland in “A Parade or a Riot.” Using discourse analysis and examining media frames, Ferman reveals the differing narratives used by each paper to portray the parades as either a peaceful event promoting good relations or as a source of riots, crime and civil unrest.

How the media frames perceived societal disturbances as riots is covered in an analysis of Australian print media in “Riotous or Righteous Behavior? Representations of Subaltern Resistance in the Australian Mainstream Media” and how the Australian domestic and international mainstream media covered the subaltern resistance to police brutality (Porter, 10). She compares the coverage of the riots in Palm Island, Queensland, Australia and in Ferguson, Missouri, United States testing the concept of ‘moral panic’ (Cohen, 11) in Australian media coverage of the two events. Porter uncovers a different type of coverage when the subject is Indigenous resistance as opposed to other groups. When framing the Ferguson riots of 2014, the Australian media considered the reactions by protesters as righteous while the 2004 Palm Island rioters were characterized as being on violent rampages, threatening the police and media, and described the environment as a war zone (Porter, 10). It is clear that two similar social disturbances, that could be characterized as riots, were portrayed quite differently due to media perspectives.

Also comparing foreign print media coverage with American coverage, Kone (12) considers the ways in which American newspaper coverage differed from Chinese newspaper coverage of the Urumqui riot. The author compares the narratives and frames of the three major U.S. newspapers to three major Chinese newspapers with a particular emphasis on the language used in the headlines. The findings suggested that generally western newspapers used more episodic coverage while the Chinese reports engaged in more thematic coverage of the riot.

There is sparse treatment of sport riots and media coverage in scholarly literature, the main launching point to consider about sport riots is offered by Russell (3). While he suggests that the number of sport-related riots were increasing, it seemed that they were becoming less severe as compared with historical record. “Media and other official estimates of spectator violence tend to underreport the frequency of crowd disturbances.” (Russell, 3) Also, it is the media and law enforcement who often decide what should be reported as a riot, and what goes unreported. (Russell, 3)

Overall, the media outlet is often a major factor in how a celebration is categorized as a revelry or riot. Russell (3) and Dunning (13), respectively, have suggested that the type of sport has a major impact on whether rioting and/or violent activities occur surrounding sports. Thus we consider how the media portrays spontaneous post-championship celebrations and revelry, riot, or neither.

Significance of Study
The previous literature highlights how the media often focuses on negative side of sports. Much of the related research has not focused on how the media covers sport celebrations. This exploratory study seeks to consider how the media covers and portrays spontaneous post-championship celebrations. Overall, do newspapers cover the spontaneous celebrations that occur it the city of championship clinching team differently depending on sport? The specific questions to be tested are: Does the type of sport impact the reference to riot? Does the type of sport impact the reference to revelry? Also, do the references to revelry or riot change depending on whether the source is local or national?

This study employed a content analysis of news and sport news websites. Website article coverage of post-championship celebrations were coded, compared, and analyzed using media content analysis. In order to determine the prevalence of celebratory and violent terms used in sports news articles, we chose articles detailing the post-championship reactions of communities involved in the game. The time frame of study was 2009 through 2015 and covered only major sport championships in the United States. All available articles focusing on public gatherings after a major sport championship event were chosen for the sample. 81 articles were chosen for analysis covering celebrations after major sports championships from news and sports websites featuring AP and Reuters reports or local correspondent coverage.

Three coders took part in the content analysis coding. Coders conducted a pilot study consisting of 5 articles from before 2009 to settle on terms for usage. The subsequent coding scheme and coding manual (Bryman 14) ensured that all coders understood definitions of terms and proper coding procedures. After the pilot study the coders settled on 21 categories chosen for analysis and the definitions of each term for selection. The coders focused on frequency of terms.

Categories for coding were as follows: Article type (Local v. National – AP/Reuters); date article was published; year in which event took place; sport (Women’s Soccer = 1; NHL = 2; NBA = 3; NCAAB= 4; NFL = 5; College FB = 6; MLB = 7); use of the term riot in noun, verb, or adjective form; celebration which included: celebrate, celebration, celebrant, or celebrating; champion which was the frequency of the words: champion, champions, champs, or championship; aggression which included the use of the words aggression, aggressor or aggressive; excitement which included the inclusion of the words excited, excitement, or exciting; law enforcement consisted of the words officer, officers, cops, police, or law enforcement; property damage was all allusions to property damage as interpreted by coders; injury was the count of the words injury, injured, injuries, injuring, or hurt; death/fatality was the frequency of words death, died, fatality, murder, or suicide; arrest: included the frequency of the words arrest, arrests, arrested, or arresting; control referred to the frequency of the usage of control, controlling, or controlled; the frequency of the usage of the word mob; crowd was the number of times crowd(s) was included; fans was the frequency of inclusion of the word fan(s) in an article; revelry referred to the terms revel, revelry, revelers, or reveling.

Once coders analyzed the 81 articles, data was analyzed and the results tested for inter-rater reliability using ICC via R version 3.0.21. Included in the sample were 81 web articles from news sources that covered spontaneous celebrations after the conclusion of championship events. These events included two men’s collegiate sports, NCAA Division I basketball and football, and four professional sports, NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB. A multinomial logistic regression was run to determine whether the article source and type of sport (independent variables) had an impact on the use of the terms riot and revelry (dependent variables) or their corresponding verb or adjective forms. The focus was whether the terms revelry and riot were included in an article. Thus any frequency of riot or revelry was coded 1, respectively, while absence of the term was coded with a 0. Two multinomial logistic regression models were run, one for riot and one for revelry. NBA championships were chosen as the reference variable, since NBA coverage appeared most frequently during the time period.

Allusions to revelry appeared in 38 (46.9%) articles, while riot appeared in 39 (48.1%) articles. Occurrences of rivalry and riot together totaled 22 (27.1%). Articles that did not have mentions of revelry or riot totaled 25 (30.9%) The frequency of articles for each sport is listed in Table 1. The intra-class correlation coefficient for the categories were as follows (Reliabilities over .7 are acceptable, .8 are good, and .9 are excellent): Article Type = .971; Sport. = .999; Riot = .865; and Revelry = .997. All variables were considered excellent, with riot as the exception but still garnering good reliability. Thus, all variables were considered acceptable for further analysis to proceed.

Table 1

The logistic regression analysis was conducted to predict the presence of riot references in 81 on-line articles about NHL, NFL, MLB, college football, and college basketball celebration articles, along with the sources categorized as local or national as predictors. A test of the full model against a constant only model was statistically significant, χ2 (6, N = 81) = 13.959, p = .030. Parameter estimates are shown in Table 2. Whether the article was a national article or local article was not significant. Only one of the sports had a significantly different impact on the use of the term riot, the MLB articles, as compared to the comparison variable NBA. MLB was significant (p =.01) with a log-odds of 2.41 meaning a odds of an article referring to rioting after an MLB celebration increased 11.09 times more likely than a NBA article. Articles about championship celebrations featuring the sports of college football, NHL, college basketball, and NFL were not significantly different from NBA-related articles. The test of the full model of predictor variable against a constant only model for revelry as dependent variable was not statistically significant χ2 (6, N = 81) = .937, p = .988.

Table 2

These findings showed differences between how news and sports websites covered violent behavior surrounding sporting events. Overall, approximately a third of the articles did not mention the word revelry or riot in the text. It is interesting to note while both terms were present in nearly the same number of articles, neither the source nor the sport that produced the celebratory behavior were significant predictors of the presence of the word revelry. However, a coverage of celebration of MLB championships was a significant predictor of difference in riot coverage when compared to the other sports. (It is worth noting that we did not consider whether a riot actually occurred, rather we analyzed the article’s use of the word.) Specifically, the celebrations in San Francisco (3 MLB champions over the 6 years of study), were highlighted by coverage of violent behavior, and 9 of the 13 MLB articles had allusions to rioting. We cannot say with much certainty that newspapers cover the spontaneous celebrations that occur in the city of championship clinching teams differently depending on sport because of how they frame baseball celebrations.

Analysis of articles describing revelry behavior after championship celebrations showed that the articles did not differ significantly in the tone of coverage. There is little research that studies how celebrations are characterized by the media. While there is literature on media framing of protests, riots, and other violent actions, both related and unrelated to sport, no literature was found focusing on sport celebration coverage in the media. Thus it would be prudent for more studies to be undertaken by future researchers.

Previous literature has shown that newspapers and law enforcement generally downplay mass public disturbances and do not characterize them as riots (Russell, 13). Since less than half of the sampled articles in the study made references to riots (whether it was to call the celebration activity a riot or to report that the event being reported was not a riot) it seems that the results confirms previous literature’s assertion of underreporting these events as riots.

There are a number of limitations to this study. Primarily this study focuses on the media coverage of spontaneous post-championship celebrations with the intention to observe how each sampled media source framed celebrations. There was no coverage of planned parades. Some celebrations did not include rioting. Some articles included reactions of losing teams’ fans and cities. There was no focus on gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status or other sociocultural demographics in our coding categories. In addition, websites are often very busy with animated links, videos, and other unrelated content in addition to print media. Sometimes it was difficult to tell if a term is part of the article relevant to study or not.

Future study
There is a need for future study with regard to the coverage of post-championship celebrations in communities since this study represents an exploratory look at the phenomenon. More analysis of the other categories beyond riot and revelry are needed. Textual analysis to unpack the deeper meaning of articles would provide a more in-depth analysis of the sampled articles and provide more insight into how coverage of these articles differed. It is the authors’ intention to continue to build a larger database of sport celebrations in order to continue to consider how the media covers these post-celebration events.

1. Bandura, A. (1973). Aggression: A social learning analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

2. Elias, N. and Dunning, E. (1986). The Quest for Excitement: Sport and Leisure in the Civilizing Process. Oxford: Blackwell

3. Russell, G. W. (2004). Sport riots: A social–psychological review. Aggression and violent behavior, 9(4), 353-378.

4. Millward, P. (2009). Glasgow Rangers supporters in the city of Manchester: The Degeneration of a ‘Fan Party’ into a ‘Hooligan Riot’. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 44, 381-398.

5. Rizza, C., Pereira, Â. G., & Curvelo, P. (2014). “Do-it-yourself justice”: considerations of social media use in a crisis situation: the case of the 2011 Vancouver riots. International Journal of Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management, 6(4), 42-59.

6. Rosenfeld, M. J. (1997). Celebration, Politics, Selective Looting and Riots: A Micro Level Study of the Bulls Riot of 1992 in Chicago. Social Problems, 44(4), 483-502.

7. Kertcher, C. (2012). Peace building? The coverage of Arab football players in the Hebrew sports media during the October 2000 riots. Soccer & Society, 13(5-6), 777-788.

8. Schneider, C. J., & Trottier, D. (2012). The 2011 Vancouver riot and the role of Facebook in crowd-sourced policing. BC Studies, (175), 57.

9. Ferman, D. (2013). A Parade or a Riot: A Discourse Analysis of Two Ethnic Newspapers on the 2011 Marching Season in Northern Ireland. Journal of Media and Religion, 12(2), 55 70.

10. Porter, A. (2015) Riotous or righteous behaviour? Representations of subaltern resistance in the Australian mainstream media. Current Issues in Criminal Justice, 26(3), 289-304.

11. Cohen, S. (1972). Folk devils and moral panics: The creation of the mods and rockers. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

12. Kone, K. (2009) Controversial Issues in Media: A Comparative Analysis of American and Chinese Newspapers Coverage on the Urumqi Riot. The International Journal of the Book. 7(1), 139-154.

13. Dunning, E. (2000). Towards a sociological understanding of football hooliganism as a world phenomenon. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 8(2), 141-162.

14. Bryman, A. (2012). Social research methods (4th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email