Major league sports teams as storytellers : a communication infrastructure perspective




Curry, Alexander L., 1979-

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Scholars have argued that a major league sports team’s main benefit to a city is not the team’s economic impact, but the team’s ability to unify residents and affect how people feel about their city. Such intangible benefits, scholars have lamented, are nearly impossible to quantify. This dissertation, which quantifies a team’s intangible benefits, argues that major league teams act as the source and subject of stories that affect residents’ beliefs about and behaviors within their city. Using communication infrastructure theory, I test the supposition that major league sports teams act as city-wide (macro-level) storytelling organizations, and that their presence is tied to residents’ sense of belonging, collective efficacy, participation in civic activities, and connectedness to local storytelling networks. My investigation considers how residents are affected by (a) the presence or absence of teams in their city, (b) the strength of residents’ fandom, and (c) the success of the local team(s). Gender is also explored as a moderating variable in the relationships between residents and teams. A variety of data sets and methods were used. An original survey was administered to residents of 56 U.S. cities to test hypotheses related to the effects mentioned above. In addition, twelve years of data (2004 to 2015) from the U.S. Current Population Survey and from publicly available tax documents from local chapters of the United Way were analyzed to uncover relationships between team success and volunteerism/charitable giving. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to examine quantitative data, and a thematic content analysis was done to code residents’ open-ended survey responses. Results reveal that local fandom has positive relationships with sense of belonging, civic participation, and connectedness to the storytelling network, and team success has a positive association with collective efficacy. In some of these cases, however, gender is a significant moderator, and team success also was shown to have a negative association with volunteerism. Furthermore, results from the thematic content analysis suggest that major league teams play an important role in creating a sense of connectedness to others and place. The conclusion is that major league teams act as city-wide storytellers.


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