Functional Differentiation Amid Waves of Change in Sport Media: Gen-Z, digital disruption and the printed surf magazine

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Within the sport media category, printed magazines have played a central role in building and maintaining subculture in many sports (Booth, 2008; Ford & Brown, 2005; Wheaton, 2019). However, in an era characterised by digital disruption, sport magazine closures are increasingly common, and magazines related to the sport of surfing, a quintessentially youthful pursuit, have not been excluded. Addressing a paucity of scholarly work about how youth view printed sport magazines, the aim of this study was to analyse the media choices and perceptions of Australian Generation Z (Gen-Z) surfers to identify what, if anything, functionally differentiates the printed surf magazine from its digital disruptors.
Applying a mixed methods approach, the study utilized an explanatory sequential design commencing with an online survey of 1639 participants and concluding with 17 in-depth, semi-structured interviews. Generation theory, media substitution theory and uses and gratifications (U&G) theory provided the theoretical underpinnings of the study.
The theory of generations is predicated on establishing a set of characteristics from a cohort’s shared life experiences or external events (Bolton et al., 2013) at critical developmental stages (Kupperschmidt, 2000). Each generation shares a common perspective based on their collective experiences, and as a generation matures, it develops unique characteristics that are different to previous generations (Radford & Shacklock, 2012). Media substitution theory asserts that when a new media technology, such as the Internet, is introduced, audiences redistribute the allocation of their time among available media options and as a result, new patterns of media consumption emerge (Kaye & Johnson, 2003). U&G theory recognises that individuals actively make media choices for the gratification of their needs, and that they are able to discern the reasons for making such choices (Katz et al., 1973). Thus, it focuses on what audiences do with the media, not on what the media do for audiences.
The study’s findings revealed that despite Gen-Z’s prolific and habitual social media use, this generational cohort of Australian surfers have low levels of trust in social media and high levels of trust in printed surf magazines. Surf magazines were also found to exert influence on individual and group identity, and were effective in delivering liminoid experiences for readers through their travel content. Ultimately, four factors were identified that contribute to the functional differentiation of surf magazines in the modern media landscape: trusted expertise, identity influence, travel escapism and emotional attachment.
This research also responds to Bonner and Roberts’ (2017) call for more research into the role Gen-Z could have in determining the future of print magazines in this digital age. The research findings are relevant to scholars interested in the content needs and sport media channel choices of the Gen-Z demographic cohort, particularly but not limited to adherents of lifestyle and adventure sports. There is also relevance in the findings for industry practitioners in sport media, sport governing bodies and commercial sport organisations that target and seek to connect with youth and niche sport markets.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2022
Event2022 Sport Management Association of New Zealand and Australia: Sport Innovation: connecting people and technology. - Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 30 Nov 20222 Dec 2022


Conference2022 Sport Management Association of New Zealand and Australia: Sport Innovation: connecting people and technology.
Abbreviated titleSMAANZ 2022 Conference
OtherOur theme was: Sport Innovation: connecting people and technology. The theme will be a feature of keynote presentations and provide guidance for scientific papers at the conference.
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