The 2012 London Olympics was a phenomenal media event, with the BBC reporting that 90% of the UK population tuned in to watch at least fifteen minutes of the television coverage. Televised sport regularly boasts impressive viewing figures, but the Olympic Games generally entices the public more than most, with people all over the world encapsulated by the international contests. On Saturday 11th August 2012, Mo Farah won the Olympic gold medal for the men’s 5000m race to secure a historic double triumph, and Britain erupted with pride. According to many theorists (Gantz 1981, Gantz and Wenner 1995 etc.), entertainment is the main reason why people watch sport, and the nature of the commentary which accompanies such occasions significantly assists spectators in achieving this goal. In this essay, I will analyse the commentary of Mo Farah’s victory, and ask the question: ‘How do commentators add to the levels of excitement and drama?’
The importance of sports commentary was highlighted in the study by Comisky, Bryant and Zillmann (1977), where they found that viewers were more excited and entertained when the hockey pundits used dramatic language. When comparing test groups with and without access to commentary, those with the audio reported far more thrilling and intense experiences than their counterparts, showing the impact narrations can have on people watching.
Gan, Tuggle, Mitrook, Coussement and Zillmann (1997) wrote how excitement amongst spectators is at its greatest when the sporting contest is close, and that commentators can highlight this uncertainty to dramatize an event. These claims built on the study by Bryant, Rockwell and Owens (1994) which focussed on the suspense present in most sport competitions, and argued that commentators can utilise this to generate spectator excitement. By referencing the competitive battle for victory, commentators can fuel the exhilaration felt by viewers, as their anxiety naturally rises when it is unclear who will ultimately prevail.
The Affective Disposition Theory (earliest version - Zillmann and Cantor 1972) is sometimes cited to explain the strong emotions felt when watching sport, and holds that enjoyment of media content is a result of our affiliations with the protagonists and their stories. In relation to sport, it could be argued that allegiances to certain sportspeople/teams are the reason why many watch and enjoy it its coverage (Zillmann, Bryant and Sapolsky 1989, and Raney 2006b). This application was later renamed the ‘Disposition Theory of Sports Spectatorship’ in Zillman and Paulus (1993).
Finally, while commentators are normally restricted to objective, neutral reporting, when broadcasting an event involving a national team/figure to the country they represent, this practice may be temporarily abandoned. Theodoropolou (2008) has labelled this ‘Triumphalese’, and is clearly relevant to the Mo Farah commentary, where the BBC speaker is undoubtedly...