“The Time of the Game”: Locating the Place(lessness) of Mediated Sport Spectatorship

Cristina Cajulis


During the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, ESPN released a 60-second commercial titled “Time Zones” that depicts football fans from ten cities all over the world gathering together to watch the beautiful game. The final scene of the ad shows the Maracanã Stadium illuminated brilliantly against the night sky of Rio de Janeiro, a backdrop to the crescendo of voices as fans sing the Brazilian national anthem well after the musical accompaniment fades. It ends with a line of text that proclaims, “Every 4 years the world has one time zone,” which concisely delineates two major factors affecting global sport spectatorship: space and time.

The stadium, in particular, stands as an emblem of the foundations (and limitations) of sport spectatorship rooted in the specificity of geography and temporality, with fans historically only being able to watch a match by being physically present in the stadium. This physical “placefulness” is part of the landscape of football that John Bale conceptualizes, the first of three examples of three views of the 1992 European Championship Final between Denmark and Germany (274). Bale designates “place” as a distinctive area in opposition to “space” or “placelessness” as an area that is non-specific due to standardization (267-8). He situates the landscape as exhibiting a tension between “place and space in an activity where placelessness would seem to be logically paramount” because of the conflation of space’s standardization with impartiality, as one might hope for in order to achieve an objectively fair match (272). Placelessness is activated in the regulation of pitch size and codification of its rules and fair play, but, according to Bale, this is always in tension with spectator-fans that are able to create a place through their disruption of the space, interferences that contribute to the notion of “home field advantage” or the supporters as their team’s important twelfth man through cheering and chanting. Therefore spectators become an integral part to the identity of a team in their ability to “creat[e] a place out of nothing” (271).

As sport media evolved into the “media sports cultural complex,” which describes the multiple interconnected processes by which sport and media as institutions exert significant influence on one another in society (e.g. through globalization, commercialization, mediatization, etc.), geographic location is no longer the primary determiner in being able to watch a game. While the statement “Every 4 years the world has one time zone” may seem hyperbolic, it gestures toward a collapse of spatiotemporal difference that is made possible through the combination of technological advancements accelerating the creation and global dissemination of digital content, and the highly mediated reception of live sport events. “Time Zones” shows that when audiences tune into the World Cup on television, geographic boundaries are effaced and all viewers, whether watching remotely or on-site, become engaged in a single temporality, the “one time zone” that is dependent on an assumption of televisual liveness. This distanced viewing constitutes a second place of football through the (re)play of the match in the domestic sphere via television. Whereas “the crowd transformed [the stadium] into a place of power, passion and of national significance” spectatorship mediated by television does not present the same transformative potential for the spectator who can no longer directly influence the game (Bale 275).

The final shot of “Time Zones” (2014)

However, this represents only a few of the ways in which viewers watched the 2014 World Cup as a projected 280 million viewers tuned in via online streaming and mobile apps, though this is a fraction of the recorded 3.2 billion who watched at least one minute of coverage on their tv’s (8-9). Despite limited methods for aggregating non-television consumption at the time, this estimate points to a growing number of people who are engaging with the World Cup through new media platforms. Unlike the first two views of the game that Bale describes as shaping the contemporary landscape of football, the third, of the Fælled, is more metaphorical, located “conceptually (and geographically) some way between the stadium and the home” (275). The open common space of the Fælled, which historically was grazing land, became an impromptu viewing space with the installation of a large screen to show the final. Bale describes the scene as the “optimal sporting experience for late modernity–thousands watching in open spaces without being able to influence the game, but standing in opposition to the panopticised confinement which the modern stadium enforces” (275). The Fælled exemplifies the tension at the boundary between place and space, between a desire for rational standardization and the subversion of predictability through the spectator-fans’ presence and use. As a metaphor, it bears similarities to web 2.0, through which the users are able to subvert the expected use of a platform that is programmed to function in a controlled way.

Teju Cole’s “The Time of The Game” is an interactive web-based art piece that explores both the tensions of Bale’s topology of football and the concepts of mediated football spectatorship in the “Time Zones” advertisement. Yet, the piece also expands upon such ideas through its interactivity, which further emphasizes the role of the spectator-fan in the shift towards an even more deeply mediated experience, and visualizes the condensation of time and space in its layered aesthetic.

Teju Cole’s initial tweet inviting Twitter users to contribute to a visualization of the semifinal match between Brazil and Germany which was formalized for the final match as “The Time of the Game.”

“The Time of the Game” aggregates crowdsourced images of where people were watching the 2014 World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina, captioned with the location and the minute of the game represented. The instructions for submissions, solicited to Cole’s 263,000 followers, demonstrate the role of social media in another mode of spectatorship by which spectators become prosumers in constructing and consuming knowledge of the match independent of “formal media organizations to describe the world to those who inhabit it” (Rowe 755). The diffusion of screens coupled with the networked connectivity of social media allows spectator-fans to create this information for others regardless of their proximity to the live event, no longer being produced solely for those who are not in the stadium, but for others who may also be watching the match as a screen event. As such, the process involved may be described as a case of “double mediated vision,” in which spectators “enter a new altered visual world in which the vision of the eye is conjoined with the visualization of the lens” (Cairns 748). The images are the traces of mediation of the live event by the screen mediated again by the camera recording the mediated live experience.

The two thousand submissions were first collected in a more linear Twitter timeline before being integrated and transformed into an interactive piece. The interactive version arranges the thousands of submissions chronologically on a manipulable timeline from minute-zero to the 120th minute of extra time, but re-presents them in an animated collage of overlapping, transparent pictures that are taken at the same minute of the match. The images are distorted and skewed perspectivally to match the constant in each one: the frame of the screen.

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The view of the game from Berlin.

The frame of the screen–whether a television, computer, projection–becomes the site that echoes the tension between place and placelessness: for as much as there is an attempt to achieve homogenization across the images within the online framework by aligning the embedded screens, the uniqueness of each place bleeds through, whether the place is public or private. A bedroom room in Bangalore, the exterior of a building in an outdoor screening in Berlin, the darkened main room of a pub in Toronto, and numerous other cities all become superimposed on one another, visually subsuming geographic distance into the shared temporality of the two hours of the match. The varying opacity also lends a spectral quality to the images, especially as bodies are also photographed in the submitted images.

Viewsers, or viewer-users, are able to filter their own view of the 2014 World Cup Final by selecting a timeframe to re-present or a city from the navigation on the right of the window. Its interactivity is two-fold: one, on the part of the fan as prosumer actively creating and contributing to the project; two, on the part of the viewser, who can choose to “see” the final through the spatial or temporal location, as city and the minute of the game. Here, interactivity is located primarily in the viewser’s experience, as an example of “a perceptual variable that involves communication mediated by technology” (Bucy 377). By doing so, the interactive aspects of the piece compound the prosumer role that is taken up by spectator-fans whose role is instrumental in working through the tension of place(lessness) as football spectatorship is increasingly mediated.

“The Time of the Game” is a meditation on the mediation of the live sport event through its proposition of an alternative landscape of football spectatorship. This landscape is one composed of multiple places, or uniquely identifiable locations, that are engaged in the shared space of networked media platforms. Thus, once the match starts, physical location and temporal disjunction are no longer the primary access points for viewing the match, but instead become the traces of a globally connected spectatorial experience.

1511 words

Works Cited

“2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Television Audience Report.” Prepared for FIFA by Kantar Media. 2015.

Bale, John. “Virtual Fandoms: Futurescapes of Football.” In Fanatics: Power, Identity and Fandom in Football, ed. Adam Brown. 2002. 265-277

Bucy, Erik. P. “Interactivity in Society: Locating an Elusive Concept.” 2004.

Cairns, Graham. “The hybridization of sight in the hybrid architecture of sport: the effects of television on stadia and spectatorship.” In Sport and Society, 18 (6). 2015. 734-749.

Cole, Teju. 8 July 2014. Twitter.

—. Brazil vs. Germany FIFA World Cup Semifinal Timeline on 8 July 2014. Twitter.

—. Germany vs. Argentina FIFA World Cup Final Timeline on 13 July 2014. Twitter.

—. “The Time of the Game.” 2014.

Rowe, David. “New Screen Action and Its Memories: The ‘Live’ Performance of Mediated Sport Fandom.” In Television and New Media, 15 (8). 2014. 752-759.

—. “The Sport/Media Complex: Formation, Flowering, and Future.” In A Companion to Sport, eds. David L. Andrews and Ben Carrington. 2013. 61-77.
“Time Zones.” ESPN. 2014.

Williams, Mark. “History in a Flash: Notes on the Myth of TV ‘Liveness.’” In Collecting Visible Evidence, eds. Jane M. Gaines and Michael Renov. 1999. 292-312.