This article considers the contribution of sports to the emergence of a contemporary big data culture. Why and how did media sports become so entangled with big data? How do media sports impact on the popularisation of big data as a cultural practice and as a cultural imaginary? In the first part of the article, I demonstrate how, as early as the nineteenth century, the standardisation and serialisation of sport competitions went hand in hand with a growing relevance of quantified evaluation of performances. Sports contributed to the modern ‘avalanche of numbers’ and thus became an important symbolic resource for the broader implementation of a data-based, ‘normalistic’ regulation of social practices. In the second part, I focus on the implementation of a public representation of actual big data practices in professional sports. Starting with a short overview of an initially slow-moving, but eventually comprehensive, appropriation of advanced statistical calculations and other big data practices since the 1970s, I analyse examples that illustrate the controversies around and the public legitimisation of metrics and data visualisation. My main claim is that sport, because of its historically long and close entanglement with numbers, both stimulates a naturalisation of datafied competition and fuels an ongoing debate about the quality and implications of different forms of metrics.

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Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision
Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis

Stauff, Markus. (2018). A Culture of Competition: Sport’s Historical Contribution to Datafication1. Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis, 21(2), 30–51. doi:10.18146/2213-7653.2018.365