all the worlds a stage…

Trying to add some academic elements to the issues that surround the Stadium debate, I stumbled across this little gem.

If You Build It, We Won’t Leave: Turner’s social drama in newspaper coverage of stadium construction controversies.
Drexel University, USA

Journalism Studies, Volume2, Number 3, 2001, pp. 373–392

ABSTRACT Controversy over the construction of new professional sports stadiums has occurred with such regularity that it now amounts to a “ritual”, using the definition developed by anthropologist Victor Turner. The process that begins with a team expressing its desire for a new stadium and concludes with the construction of that stadium has all the markings of a “social drama”. Playing a key role in this social drama are print journalists working in cities where stadium controversies unfold. Using a case study approach, I explore the social drama of stadium construction in Philadelphia, New York, and New England. News coverage in these markets reveals the four stages of social drama: breach, crisis, redressive action, and reintegration.

Team owners manufacture the breach, with the help of government officials who do not want to see franchises move elsewhere. Crisis emerges out of negative reactions to plans for a new stadium. Team and governmental officials then use very public means to try to bring the crisis to an end. Often, they fail in this attempt, and the parties are once again enveloped in crisis. New alliances, often built on cooperation between former opponents, emerge as the parties try to end the crisis. My analysis reveals that journalists in these cities have acted as agents of reintegration. They move from criticizing to endorsing these stadium projects. The narrative that emerges gives the impression that everyone agrees on the need for the new facility, and that construction, though it may be delayed while the parties come together, is inevitable. My findings can help journalists to take a critical look at their coverage of stadium controversies, and to explore the impact of the coverage on their relationship with the communities they serve.

With respect to both Stadium NZ and the new Carisbrook, there has definitely been a narative for their respective stories. Admittidly, the Stadium NZ debate seemed to be a Shakespearian farce on speed, this article provides interesting insight to how the media and other actors behave in telling these stories.

I’m going to do my best to paraphrase this article.

Coverage of stadium controversies revolves around the four stages of social drama discussed by Turner (1974, pp. 38–42): breach, crisis, action, and reintegration.

A breach occurs when a person or group of persons engages in a “deliberate nonfullment of some crucial norm regulating the intercourse of the parties” (p. 38). Here, team officials convince residents that anyone who questions the need for a new stadium is preventing a city from fulfilling an implied promise to fans to keep its professional teams happy and playing in their city. Turner claims “to out such a norm is one obvious symbol of dissidence” (p. 38). Violating this norm represents “a symbolic trigger of confrontation or encounter” (p. 38). The person committing the breach feels that he or she is acting on behalf “of other parties, whether they are aware of it or not” (p. 38). Activists who take issue with stadium plans believe they are protecting the interests of residents, but their actions receive sporadic attention from journalists early in the controversy. Later, they play more prominent roles in the social drama.

Following the breach, a crisis ensues. Relationships among the parties deteriorate. Unless it is quickly remedied, the breach worsens “until it becomes coextensive with some dominant cleavage in the widest set of relevant social relations to which the conficting or antagonistic parties belong” (p. 38). The crisis in stadium controversies is largely manufactured. City and team officials contend that a new stadium means economic growth for all. Controversy about a stadium project is framed by city officials and journalists as threatening a city’s social fabric…

To end the crisis, leaders take redressive action. They do everything from informal mediation to engaging in public ritual to achieve consensus. Their methods vary, depending on the “depth and shared social significance of the breach, the social inclusiveness of the crisis, the nature of the social group within which the breach took place, and the degree of autonomy with reference to wider or external systems of social relations” (p. 39). Since a stadium crises unfolds publicly, the methods used to end them will also be quite public…

If the redressive actions are effective, reintegration of the social group may occur. The parties embroiled in the crisis may realize that the gap between them is irreparable. Inevitably, the relations between groups will have changed. “Oppositions may be found to have become alliances, and vice versa,” Turner notes (p. 42). “Some parts will no longer belong to the field, others will have entered it.” New rules, generated to end the crisis, replace old rules. “The distribution of the factors of legitimacy will have changed, as also the techniques used by leaders to gain compliance,” Turner argues (p. 42). In short, it is a time for leaders (and researchers) to “take stock,” to “compare what is with what was” (p. 42). The nature of the relationships among parties will have changed.

the full text of this article can be found at;

Although American and Kiwi media organistations are very different beasts, playing to different audiences, this article provides valuable insight into how journalism uses a story like the Stadium.


Filed under Media

4 responses to “all the worlds a stage…

  1. Alex Gilks

    Nice Paul. Interesting content, and blog looking nice.

    Cultural optimism – we feel the spur of this old value and aren’t sure to what extent we want to put our money where our mouth is. New stadium will most definitely lose huge money (‘lose’ as in the ratepayers + community will not recoup the great costs) of which won’t be there to spent on, well, ME, in other city projects. But I’m ambivalent. Look around we have seemingly higher standard of living than ever before. Yet we’re too afraid to get into visionary projects.

    Interesting article below too – in the way that a visualisation can somehow grate. Architects want to convey form and style, and maybe human context. I want to see some … cars! Maybe I’m one of those people who can’t enjoy a movie if it ain’t realistic enough. Though many are going to want to be hearing more about money (and design!) for pedestrian and other transport. Since on the surface it doesn’t make sense, hiding a stadium in a corner of town, surrounded by roads and harbour with enough parking for maybe only a few hundred cars within a 10 minute walk. Like, there isn’t much land (incl. streets and footpaths etc.) in some directions. Compare to Carisbrook, many many blocks of South Dunedin for not only parking and access, but the ground is situated in grassroots densely populated Dunedin. The People’s Stadium, if you like. People live there, which is good. The university end of town is a pretty lonely place from November to end of Feb. You step out of a concert or a cricket game (remember those?) or an early Super 23 game, and you see cars, a quarry over the road, and … darkness for about 6 blocks.

    Sorry, I digress. Hey what about some populist stuff too?
    An online survey would be great, who knows, could reach more than the council one we just filled out. To get a good picture, it’s all about the questions being asked …

  2. Peter Entwisle

    Does media coverage of stadium proposals always follow this form? Somehow I doubt it.

    Whether it does or not it doesn’t follow that “redressive action” and “reintegration” always take the form of the public getting behind a new facility.

    Look at New York and the proposed public funded stadium for the Jets in Manhattan. The New York Times reacted and the result was a private redevelopment beside the old ground in Meadowlands New Jersey.

    What does that tell you about the proposed Awatea Street stadium in Dunedin? That the abstract form of media coverage tells you nothing about the outcome of the train of events being covered.

    I think you’re trying to read tealeaves here.

  3. Peter with respect to the US examples, as much as I’ve tried to avoid them, they do hold little relevance here. Public/Private partnerships in stadia over there is a very delicate subject. If a city was to spend money, there is still nothing to stop a team from upping and moving, as they have done in the past. The entire history of North American professional sport has been about evolution and relocation. A team was on one town, moved and changed it’s name and eventually found it’s way back to the original city, all at the whims of the owners. There actually has been a backlash of public money for stadiums, as the people and civic leaders are sick of being held ransom by the fickle owners. It’s a very different story here.

    I’ve just tried to include this literature as, somewhere I’m sure it adds to the discourse of what we are going through.

  4. Peter Entwisle

    I agree the US situation is different in that the public funding of stadia there has often revolved around trying to retain various teams. But the effects of spending money on stadia in terms of urban redevelopment, for example, are probably instructive for us.

    At the Sport in the City symposium last year I spoke with a guy from Chicago who had studied many of the American cases. (His last name is Costas.) He said none of them had had the effect of regenerating a whole city – which the CST has claimed Awatea Street will do for Dunedin. But these developments can sometimes regenerate particular neighbourhoods, notably old, run down ones like South Dunedin. He thought it was bordering on crazy to build Awatea Street adjacent to the city’s most thriving inner area – the north end – at the expense of South Dunedin which is obviously depressed.

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