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How TV shows are changing the way we see sport

Sports dramas, biographical stories and the culture of the "unspoken"

How TV shows are changing the way we see sport Sports dramas, biographical stories and the culture of the unspoken

With the main professional leagues of the world stopped due to the pandemic, the phase that should have brought the sport to be told through a new communication style has undergone a sharp acceleration: in the absence of an event/match that can be conveyed through mainstream media, the sports series are the reference product in a very particular historical context.

The message came loud and clear when ESPN and Netflix decided to anticipate the release of ''The Last Dance'': at a time when traditional storytelling has no reason to exist, we might as well anticipate the times and offer the public a taste of what will be in the near future.

If on the one hand you can not agree with those who believe that traditional in-depth programs have now been overcome by that reality made of bloggers able to explain and analyze every aspect in a much more intuitive way than many professionals, on the other the future does not necessarily have to be in the story behind the scenes. Wondering if a series like "All or Nothing" will become a new form of complementary entertainment to the game is legitimate; answering yes would be misleading, especially in relation to some structural defects and shortcomings of a relatively immature product, especially as regards European culture.

Before going into the specifics, however, we need to differentiate between "The Last Dance" and any other series that closely followed the rides and/or the misadventures of the football teams: if in the first case, tell stories of personal relationships that ended badly o behaviors that are not strictly ethical would not have consequences for the various protagonist brands (Michael Jordan - Chicago Bulls - Phil Jackson); in the second we must start from the assumption that we are talking about docu-series that have been used by the companies themselves to increase their brand-credibility with the aim of not going to affect the big interests that gravitate around it, however creating a relatively final product hardly credible.

Take for example the Manchester City series created by Amazon Prime Video; at the beginning the idea of ​​innovation was substantiated in the story as a means of loyalty beyond the field: showing what happens inside the dressing room of one of the most glamorous clubs of the last decade has made sure that the fans lived in an even way more exclusive, symbiotic and totalizing the relationship with his team, making them feel an integral part of a world that, before then, had only partially lived. The rest was done by the charm and charisma exercised by the figure of Pep Guardiola, perfectly at ease in front of the camera and theatrical at the right point for what concerns expressions and movements in every single frame.

However, in the long run, the feeling that prevailed is that of the "unspoken", of the reality shown up to a certain point in favor of an exaltation that would go against the spirit of a production of this type: ''The docu-spot offers a compromise, take or leave: I take you inside, I show you the changing rooms, the players' houses, the rooms of power, the interiors of the sports center; in return you give up a complete story, uncomfortable where it needs to be, and you are content to see the things that work'', wrote Simone Torricini, highlighting the lack that unites ''All or Nothing: Manchester City'',''First Team: Juventus'' or ''Boca Juniors Confidential'': a story that ends up altering the perception of the facts to adapt to the logic of the target audience, deviating from the tracks of realism and objectivity to end up in a rhetorical dimension inherent in the blazon of certain clubs, which had to be overcome in view of the potential of the individual stories of the protagonists.

From this point of view, a significant step forward has been made with "Sunderland "Til I Die", a Netflix series that traces the 2017/2018 season of the "Black Cats" after the ruinous relegation of the previous year. What was to be a gigantic marketing operation against the background of a triumphant return to the Premier League, has become the new benchmark of football storytelling: contrary to forecasts, Sunderland has experienced a second consecutive season in the name of collective psychodrama and of the epic in reverse, downgrading to League One and forcing the production to change the perspectives and perceptions of the narrative in the race. However, the choice to show everything despite the path of self-celebration was no longer feasible, proved to be a winning card: ''Sunderland 'Til I Die'' manages to perfectly describe the raw and true nature of football, especially when it materializes in the humor of the fans and in the imponderability of the fate that conditions it.

A "hard and pure" realism that Netflix successfully replicated in "Last Chance U" - in which the vicissitudes of the players of the East Mississippi Community College are told, taking up the themes of the occasion and too high expectations of players and coaches - and from which he diverged, with mixed fortunes, in "The English Game" in which the anecdotes told through the staging dominate rather than the historical accuracy and completeness.

Waiting to understand how and how much ''The Last Dance'' will change the way of understanding and narrating sport beyond sport, the idea is that the series of this type must continue on the path of a genuine narrative without filters or distortions on the ''branded content oriented'' line, to try to bridge the distance that separates them from less innovative products but more adherent to the reality they intend to tell.