The relationships between sports fans and professional athletes has traditionally existed only at the para-social level; that is, fans watch their heroes perform on the field and identify with their successes - internalizing a player's and/or team's success as a personal one. Of course, any felt relationship between the fan and athlete is typically an imagined one, and usually of much greater importance to the fan. However, as more athletes take to social media to express their opinions on a broad spectrum of topics - both sports and non-sports related - this relationship has the potential to be both more intimate for the fan and more meaningful for the athlete. Recent evidence of this is use of social media by NFL players to plead their side of the labor dispute directly to the fans, circumventing both traditional media and team management in an effort to rally fan support from their followers. Yet, it is this circumvention that places a potential strain on team owners and other sports management executives, whose management role often includes maintaining the public image of the team as well as ensuring it's financial health (not mutually exclusive roles). As players continue to publish their raw thoughts and personalities via social media, concerns about how these players represent themselves and their franchises is at the forefront of sports management issues. If teams censor their athletes they run the risk of alienating fans, but if teams allow them to publish unfiltered, their overall brand might suffer. This presentation will highlight the current state of affairs by analyzing the role of social media in connecting fans to athletes, and the potential benefits and pitfalls of this relationship for sports management executives.
Dr. Bowman (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at WVU, where he researches and teaches courses on media psychology and the role of new media in human communication. A former athlete and sports writer, he has applied both of these areas of interest to focus on how fans use and are influenced by sports media. He has published work in leading communication research journals, including Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, New Media & Society, and Journal of Communication, and he has authored a recent chapter on fantasy sports research for a Sports Fandom Anthology due out later this year.