The Football and Society Podcast

You'll never watch alone: The culture of the sports bar

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Episode notes

In the midst of the Covid pandemic, we have clearly been missing that familiar pilgrimage to the stadium on a Saturday afternoon. Equally, many of us have been impatiently awaiting the chance to meet our friends to watch the game over drinks at a pub or bar, rubbing shoulders with supporters of all persuasions.

Dr Daniel Buffington has studied the social dynamics of an American sports bar. His ethnographic study of supporters watching the 2006 Men's World Cup explored the social interactions that took place among the patrons of the bar while they watched televised broadcasts of the tournament taking place in Germany. 

Influenced by the work of Robert Putnam, sociologists have underlined concerns at the loss of community in the face of increasing mediatisation; combined with other changes in society, they argue that Americans’ growing love affair with television has reduced participation in civil activities that generate much-needed social capital. 

In his research, however, Buffington found that the spectators in the sports bar constituted a type of community in themselves. 

He noticed a hierarchy implicit in the race to obtain prime seats before the match, and described the ways in which spectators used visual icons to signal their allegiances; sometimes, this led to tension and confrontations, as well as opportunities for bonding and joint celebrations. Equal importance was therefore given to watching the televised games and interacting with fellow patrons: the act of individually consuming the broadcast was intertwined with the social experience surrounding its consumption.

  • Does the coming together of football fans to watch matches remotely disprove the notion that a sense of community is in decline in the 21st century?
  • To what extent are the 'rules' of the sports bar universally understood, and are they fixed or might they change over time?
  • How has the rise of social media changed the remote-viewing experience?

...all this and more in the 17th episode of the Football and Society podcast.


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Each week, Ash, Chris and Norman explore societal issues through the lens of the beautiful game.

From the ethics of gambling sponsorship to what a stadium move means for fans, we’ll be covering it all each week with expert guests from the worlds of sports journalism and sociology.