Social media has hit the big time. Since 2005 when MySpace really took off, more and more individuals are bypassing traditional sources of information (T.V., radio, newspapers) in favor of cutting-edge websites that radiate “hip”, “chic”, and “in”.
How else to explain the growth of YouTube, Facebook, and the latest social media darling, Twitter?
On the surface, Twitter use appears to be as harmless as its bird logos. Yet in the summer of 2009, the microblogging phenomenon has drawn the ire of officials within the august National Football League (NFL). In particular, some coaches, managers and league office types fear that one-hundred forty character “tweets” can compromise confidential game plans, injury reports, and sensitive marketing information. Certain NFL teams are even banning tweets during training camp, threatening players with fines and suspensions if they do not fall in line.
What the Controversy is really about.
Twitter’s speed and mass instant messaging capacity scares head coaches. Whereas a team can manage press conferences and dictate press releases, Twitter gives football fans unfiltered access to its gridiron heroes. It represents a transition from command-controlled media to a raw type of citizen inquiry. While professional sports journalism still has its place, modern technology (laptops, notebooks, cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs)) allows regular folks to bypass the local sportscast, ESPN, the NFL Network, and even the teams themselves to get what they want.
The NFL in a Web 2.0 World.
NFL franchises are understandably sensitive about their on-field operations, but media leaks and other breaches of confidentiality will occur with or without Twitter. In the era of 24/7 news cycles, a fragmented multimedia environment exposes professional athletes to an array of “independents” (bloggers, freelancers, paparazzi, etc.). For better or worse, the NFL office cannot prevent intrepid reporters and investigative journalists from hunting down good stories.
The NFL and other sports leagues must maintain the highest level of integrity to survive. As America’s number one spectator sport, football is particularly susceptible to issues that can compromise it image. However, instead of attacking Web 2.0, perhaps it should take a look at gambling’s increasingly presence around the game (fantasy football leagues, weekly pools, sports betting etc.) and the effect it has on society.
In Favor of Player Freedom.
In spite of some highly publicized and sensational incidents, NFL players are mostly responsible, hard-working men who represent their teams with honor and dignity. It’s difficult to believe that someone who has sacrificed so much to reach the top of his profession would knowingly jeopardize his career with inappropriate tweets. Instead, most players see Twitter as a way to connect with fans and promote themselves outside the football field without the usual input from agents, coaches, and team publicists.
Twitter as a Future Partner?
The NFL is arguably the best marketed sport in the world. Between September and February, it practically owns Sundays in the United States, and pre-game/post game hype always carries over to non-playing days. So, why the sudden Twitter paranoia? After all, weren’t team general managers gleefully tweeting their winning picks to us on Draft Day this year? Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has a Twitter account!
Like anything else in business, perhaps the NFL’s Twitterphobia comes down to money. As financially strong as it is today, the league does not yet know how to monetize Twitter. Still, it should relax – Twitter’s owners (Obvious) are also searching for a workable business model that ensures long-term viability and keeps it out of the hands of a giant media conglomerate. Perhaps the two organizations can get together to create better brand awareness and shape their respective images.
Given its reputation as a marketing genius, the NFL’s reaction to Twitter is a little bizarre. Sports leagues cannot control news flow anymore than government or the military can. Its best option may be to update it mobile technology policies, especially on game days. For its hard core Twitter-phobes, perhaps the time has come for the league to offer general Twitter guidelines that coaches, players, management, and support personnel can all live with.