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Content Aggregation and Highlight Culture in Sports: The Rise of Instant Reactions

In an age of on demand data, the way that we get our sports news has changed to prioritize speed over accuracy and nuance. But is this the path that we want to follow?

If you have spent any time in the sports section of Twitter (or X as it is now known) you have likely witnessed a cacophony of voices of fans, parody accounts, reporters, and bots weighing in on the sports news of the day. What you also are probably aware of is the rising presence of content aggregator accounts that will try to deliver the news to followers as efficiently and as succinctly as possible.

These accounts often have very large followings for fans that are in need of the latest news. The phenomenon of their success mirrors the model that have made NBA and NFL insiders like Shams Charania and Adam Schefter must-follow for fans. They simply deliver the gut of the news in under 240 characters as quickly as possible, nuance be damned. And while this is effective for breaking stories in NBA free agency, there are other stories in the sports world that deserve more nuance. Content aggregation has become a part of the culture of sports, and in many ways that is not a good thing.

The Inherent Problem

It is important to understand what content aggregation is before we go further. Quite simply, content aggregation is the collection of related data from various sources and then displaying all that content in one location so that it's easy for readers to reference and view. So for a sports content aggregating account, the idea is that instead of having to watch an hour long podcast interview or read a long article for the full story, a user can simply view a tweet and get an understanding of the story.

The issue with this, of course, is that a lot of important details get lost in the shuffle. A player could be talking to a host and say something along the lines of “I would never do this but I could demand a trade”. If a listener tuned into the full quote the player is saying what they could do but that it would not happen. But an aggregator can simply say that this player said “I could demand a trade”, which sends a much different message to the viewer of the tweet. Fans then see this tweet and assume this player wants to be traded when in reality they never said anything of the sort.

Additionally, many of these accounts do not give credit to where the quote came from, whether it be a TV show, article, or podcast. In that sense, these accounts then feel like the ones breaking the news, when they are in fact just repurposing it. This is, by definition, theft of a credit when it comes to the way that we consume the news. What is even worse, is that the popularity of these accounts has led to parody’s of the aggregator. A recent notable example was a Twitter (now called X) account named “NBA Centel” which was a parody of the popular NBA aggregator account NBA Central, which has 1.2M followers. The account was frequently putting out made up quotes, and while the account lists its parody status in its bio, people simply do not read that. The end result is that NBA player Draymond Green thought a report was about him when it in fact was not the case at all.

These sort of mix-ups have simply been written off as engagement farming on social media, which contributes to the modern culture of the way that we have started to consume sports content online. Fans are now on social media and reacting to posts that are shared to them by the algorithm. And because these algorithms are trained to look for posts that will drum up engagement, typically, these posts will offer a snippet of a quote with a graphic since posts with photos are pushed to more user timelines. For content aggregators, this means taking an out of context quote from a podcast or article and attaching an athlete’s image to it with a question asking for follower reactions. This sort of posting has become commonplace for sports social media pages and also speaks to the highlight culture that we have succumbed to as a collective sports watching monolith.

The Rise of Highlight Culture

The average human’s attention span has been on the decline for years. Currently, human beings have an average attention span of 8.25 seconds. This is a 25% decline since the year 2000. What this means is that because of the bevy of information and content vying for our attention, in order for it to stick it has to resonate with the user immediately or else they will swipe away. You have probably experienced this if you are watching a YouTube or TikTok video and you swipe away to the next video if it doesn’t hook you right away.

This phenomenon explains the rise and proliferation of highlight culture with sports fans. Fans are now looking for jaw dropping plays exclusively, instead of understanding the nuances of the game or the full story of the game that the highlight is from. As an example, fans are more likely to consume a reel of dunks from Ja Morant but ignore a detailed 4-5 minute analysis of a playoff game. This has caused many younger athletes that comprise the next generation of these sports to emulate moves that go viral, instead of focusing on being proficient in the fundamentals of the game that they are playing.

Content aggregation and highlight culture are one in the same. They are two vehicles of modern media that are designed to keep eye balls tuned in for as long as possible. But the success of these channels comes at a cost. The cost is that people are being misrepresented in interviews and the stories that make us fall in love with sports to begin with. Instead they have been replaced with out of context highlights, misrepresented quotes, and other vehicles that are designed to get us talking and debating about the latest happenings in the sports world.

The real question becomes, are these entities simply a necessary evil when it comes to coverage of sports? And to that, I think the answer is yes. The fact remains that people love to debate one another about who is right and who is wrong in the world of instant reactions, and content aggregation accounts and websites provide the quickest access to this end. The true issue is that fact checking and verification of what is true and what is parody needs to be defined. We are still a long way away from that reality, and we as a collective sports viewing population need to be better and tuning out the outrage peddling that many of these accounts engage in. The sports media and reporting landscape has forever changed and we will all need to continue to adjust to this reality.

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