Public Service Media, Sports, and Cultural Citizenship in the Age of Social Media: An Analysis of BBC Sport Agenda Diversity on Twitter


As a crucial part of their mandate, Public Service Media (PSM) has historically used sports content to build and maintain cultural citizenship (Rowe, 2018). In a landscape characterized by ‘digital plenitude’ (Hutchins & Rowe, 2009), concerns about how PSM will be able to fulfil their remits and enhance cultural citizenship through new platforms—including social media—are all the greater. These concerns are particularly significant given that PSM’s ability to foster such citizenship through linear sports broadcasting is being threatened by major challenges, including dwindling resources and growing competition from pay-TV channels and on-demand streaming services (Hesmondhalgh & Lotz, 2020; Hutchins, Li, & Rowe, 2019; Ramon & Haynes, 2019).

Sports diversity is fundamental to constructing cultural citizenship. Thus, delivering diverse content should remain a cornerstone of PSM in their myriad platforms: they should not only concentrate on major sports but also provide exposure to traditionally underrepresented disciplines and individuals, including sportswomen and athletes with disabilities (Horky & Nieland, 2013; Rowe, 2004). Following the increasing impact of mobile devices and wireless technologies (Hutchins, 2019), in the recent years, social media has remarkably altered the sports-media nexus (Pegoraro, 2014). Platforms like Twitter have offered PSM new opportunities to deliver high-quality sports content and engage with their audiences. Yet, a central question remains: is Twitter being leveraged to promote diversity or is it a platform where long-held inequalities persist?

Focusing on the British context, this study examines the agenda diversity offered by the BBC through its sports-centred Twitter account (@BBCSport). Three research questions have guided the investigation:

  • RQ1. What is the volume and frequency of content published by @BBCSport?
  • RQ2. What is the agenda of @BBCSport? What is the amount of coverage devoted to sportswomen and athletes with disabilities?
  • RQ3. Which multimedia elements are used by @BBCSport?

Individual posts were retrieved using Twitonomy, processed with Microsoft Excel, and examined through quantitative content analysis (Bryman, 2016). The codebook included the following variables: (1) date of publication, (2) sport covered, (3) gender of the sportspersons discussed, (4) disability sport or non-disability sport, and (5) multimedia elements included in each tweet.

The analysis of more than 11,100 tweets over a 3-month period shows that BBC is remarkably active on Twitter and uses a wide range of multimedia elements to capture users’ attention and provide the most complete coverage possible. That being said, their content reinforces, rather than counteracts, the long-standing diversity imbalances present in the analogue age. Following a clear pattern of continuity, social media platforms seem to perpetuate a fairly restricted and routinized agenda. The overload of football content, combined with prominent attention on other popular sports in the UK such as rugby, cricket, athletics, tennis, and motorsports, leaves little room to showcase minority disciplines. Moreover, the enduring invisibility of sportswomen and athletes with disabilities is not challenged on Twitter. In the light of the male-centred, football-driven, and able-bodied agenda displayed by @BBCSport, the paper discusses the ways in which PSM outlets should reimagine their social media strategies to adequately contribute to fostering cultural citizenship.