Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


The Sports Mall of America: Sports and the Rhetorical Construction of the Citizen-Consumer

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Michael Butterworth

Second Advisor

David Tobar (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Clayton Rosati (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Joshua Atkinson (Committee Member)


The purpose of this dissertation was to investigate from a rhetorical perspective how contemporary sports both reflect and influence a preferred definition of democracy that has been narrowly conflated with consumption in the cultural imaginary. I argue that the relationship between fans and sports has become mediated by rituals of consumption in order to affirm a particular identity, similar to the ways that citizenship in America has become defined by one's ability to consume under conditions of neoliberal capitalism. In this study, I examine how new sports stadiums are architecturally designed to attract upper income fans through the mobilization of spectacle and surveillance-based strategies such as Fan Code of Conducts. I also investigate the "sports gaming culture" that addresses advertising in sports video games and fantasy sports participation that both reinforce the burgeoning commercialism of sports while normalizing capitalism's worldview. I also explore the area of licensed merchandise which is often used to seduce fans into consuming the sports brand by speaking the terms of consumer capitalism often naturalized in fan's expectations in their engagement with sports. Finally, I address potential strategies of resistance that rely on a reassessment of the value of sports in American culture, predicated upon restoring citizens' faith in public institutions that would simultaneously reclaim control of the sporting landscape from commercial entities exploiting them for profit.