Academics from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the University of Sorbonne Paris III and the University of Southern California have analysed the role of sport in the creation and dissemination of the image of cities. The symposium Sport, Space and City: Barcelona, Paris, Los Angeles was held on 17 and 18 October at the UAB Faculty of Communication Sciences and has been led by the Olympic Studies Centre at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, CEO-UAB.
The Symposium Sport, Space and City: Barcelona, Paris, Los Angeles has analysed from the perspective of communication, history and sport marketing how global major events or sporting clubs in Barcelona, Los Angeles and Paris contribute to create a positive image of a city by making it attractive as tourist destination and business centre. The three cities have been at least once Olympic cities and host clubs with a global reach. The contribution of scholars and representatives from key sports organizations has allowed the exchange of American and European views on the role of sport in city branding.
Sport as a key element in city branding
The opening lecture of the Symposium has been given by Dr. Miquel de Moragas, Professor in communication and founder of CEO-UAB. Dr. Moragas has contextualised the role of stadiums, major sport spaces, within the sport communication complex. The CEO-UAB founder has highlighted the role of buildings in the process of creating city images and provided an insight into the evolution of stadiums from meeting points in the 40s, to stadiums as television studios, to the current tendencies of stadiums as thematic parks and as new iconic elements for starchitects, referring as an example to the Olympic proposal of Tokyo 2020 which defines as a smart stadium.
The first session continued with the conference of the Dean of the UAB Faculty of Communication Sciences, Dr. Josep Maria Catal à, who talked on the audio-visual construction of sport. As an expert in audio-visual studies, Dr. Català took us back to the segment devoted to the industrial revolution during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games to reflect on the creation of mythical spaces, and how they turn into virtual spaces with television comes into scene. Dr. Catal à also highlighted how the re-instauration of the modern Olympic Games at the Sorbonne allowed recovering an ancient myth, the ancient Olympic Games, where athletes performance emulated the one from God, and how this fact should be seen as the conversion of a myth into an element of modern society.
Dr. Jordi de San Eugenio, Vice-dean at the Faculty of Business and Communication at the University of Vic also contributed to the session. Dr. San Eugenio introduced the concept of city branding analysing how sport contributes to the three vertebrate axes of the process – events, teams and spaces – and highlighted the how cities moved from marketing to branding as a strategy to project those values associated to the city. The speaker also reflected on how city promotion, marketing and branding are nowadays an objective for urban policies, referring mainly to the city of Barcelona.
Sport space and its influence on popular culture
The second session of the Symposium was devoted to sport and popular culture and included three contributions to reflect on the significant presence of sport in our culture and how it contributes to its configuration. The first speaker, Dr. Daniel T. Durbin, clinical professor and director of the Institute for Sports, Media and Society at the University of Southern California (USC) brought the experience of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a stadium build in the 20s which has hosted two Olympiads, Los Angeles 1932 and 1984. The Coliseum, in addition to host the USC football team, should be considered as a stadium for international sport, an entry point of international sport into North-American sport culture.
The close relationship amongst stadium, football and fans was the focus of the conference by Dr. Christian Bromberger, professor at the University of Provence. Dr. Bromberger offered an excellent introduction to the stadium as sporting encounter for football ethnological research.
The session concluded with the conference by the PhD student Francesca Marie Smith from the University of Southern California, who introduced adapted sport into the debate. Francesca analysed adapted sport as a meeting point for space, moment and sport, and highlighted how sport narrative has contributed through history in the social integration processes of disabled people, focusing mainly in the London 1948 Olympic Games as case study.
The power of sport spaces in defining the city
The second day of the Symposium started with a session devoted to sport spaces. Dr. Francesc Muñoz, CEO-UAB collaborator and Director of the UAB Urban Landscape Observatory was in charge of opening the session. Dr. Muñoz talked, providing many examples, on space branding and alerted on the risk for urban replica as a result of globalisation, identifying city branding as an opportunity to avoid these processes and add value to the intangible heritage of spaces.
He was followed by the PhD student and lecturer at the University Paris III, Yann Descamps, who contributed with a compared vision of street ball practice, a way of playing basketball integrated into the hip-hop culture and played in playgrounds in the cities of New York, Los Angeles and Paris. Yann highlighted the role of these practices in the culture and heritage of cities.The session continued with two conferences on the historical evolution of stadiums. Firstly, the sport historian and researchers at CEO-UAB, Dr. Juan Antonio Simon, told us the story of the Barcelona Olympic Stadium, built on the occasion of the 1929 International Exhibition and that through history, has hosted many events. Dr. Simon concluded that while the city has influenced the stadium, the stadium has also influenced the city of Barcelona.
The second contribution was by Dr. Vincent Brook, Professor at the Annenberg School of Communication, who presented the story of the Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, a baseball stadium build in the late 50s in land initially planned for public housing, and the currently is the biggest stadium in United States. Dodgers were constituted in 1883 in Brooklyn, New York, adopted the name Brooklyn Dodgers in 1932 and moved in 1958 to Los Angeles adopting a new name, Los Angeles Dodgers.
Challenges for the interaction between fans, audiences and sport clubs
The fourth session was devoted to fans, audiences and sport. Speakers analysed the interaction between clubs, fans and audiences and created a debate on the challenges and opportunities posed by social media to the interaction between sport clubs and fans. The first speaker was the UAB Professor on audio-visual communication, Dr. Emili Prado, who focused on the tendencies in television audiences, rights and advertising in sport. His contribution highlighted the risk coming from the scale economy generated due to the transformation of athletes in media stars and the following challenges posed by television companies to continue affording the rights for sport contents.
Dr. Emilio Fernández Peña, CEO-UAB Director, introduced to the debate the new challenges posed by social media to the communication policies of sport organisation, focusing mainly in the case of the Olympic Games. Dr. Fernández Peña labelled websites as sanctuaries and social media as a party, a place to meet people with a capacity to increase audiences in other communication channels. Social networks, according to the CEO-UAB Director, require a new communication register, more direct, more flexible, more honest seeking the complexity of followers to turn them into main advocates for the organisation.
FC Barcelona, great example of a club going beyond sport
The Simposium closed with the conference of the FC Barcelona Vice-Chairman, Mr. Carles Vilarrubí, who share with the audience the model that has turned FC Barcelona in something “more than a club”, referring to the close link between club and Catalan identity and the set of values behind this successful mode, referring to the word of the FC Barcelona former President Suñol who defined the club as “sport and citizenship”?.
The Symposium Sport, Space and City: Barcelona, Paris i Los Angeles, was co-organized by the Olympic Studies Centre at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (CEO-UAB), the Universit Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3 and the Southern California University, with the support of the Faculty of Communication Sciences, the Department of Audio-visual Communication and Advertising and the Máster en Relaciones Públicas y Gabinetes de Comunicación UAB.