Twitter and Professional Sports How Athletes, Teams and Leagues use Twitter to Promote the Game or Stir Controversy
Purpose and Methods• It is my goal to analyze the way professional sports leagues, teams and players use Twitter.• I will look at the general use of the social network, the business aspects of it, the goodwill that can be generated among fans and the controversies that arise from an instant form of communication with millions of users.• To do this, I will review news articles, ask Twitter users for feedback, discuss my own experience with Twitter and athletes/teams/leagues, and do a rhetorical analysis of some of the players that have been involved in goodwill building or controvery.
The League• The NBA uses Twitter to give score updates, statistics, player updates and to advertise upcoming games.• The NFL uses Twitter to promote league rivalries and provide updates on player and team news.• The NFL also has a Twitter feed for NFL Network to promote their programming lineup
The League (cont.)• MLB uses Twitter to update fans on games, team news and stories about how fans interact with teams.• MLB also has a Fan Cave Twitter feed to promote their new studio show and attraction with giveaways and updates on upcoming guests.• The NHL uses Twitter to provide statistics and game schedules as well as news from around the league.
The League (cont.)• Ultimate Fighting uses Twitter as a way to promote upcoming events, give health updates on fighters and provide fan access to fighters.• The MLS uses Twitter to provide player and team stories as well as updating scores and schedules from around the league.
Twitter as a Business Application• Dana White, President of Ultimate Fighting Championship offers a Twitter bonus to the fighter who gains the most new followers during a UFC event.• Professional Sports Teams can get ahead of stories to promote their side of an issue or break news on player transactions, promotions and giveaways.
Twitter as a Distraction• Pittsburgh Steelers Running Back Rashard Mendenhall tweeted some controversial tweets in the wake of the death of Osama Bin Laden, stating that hatred of him was unfounded and that 9/11 was a Government Conspiracy.• Kansas City Chiefs Running Back Larry Johnson drew fire for using racial slurs on Twitter.
Twitter as a Distraction (cont.)• Bernard Berrian, Wide Receiver for the Minnesota Vikings tweeted some controversial replies to criticism received after a poor performance in the 2011 NFL season, including a reply to Minnesota Representative John Kriesel, telling him to sit down and shut up. Kriesel lost parts of both legs in Iraq, and is confined to a wheel chair. He was also instrumental in trying to get the Vikings a new stadium. The new stadium bill has not been passed as of 4/18/2012.
Damage Control• The Pittsburgh Steelers had to distance themselves from Mendenhall’s comments and affirm their support of the US Military. Champion, one of Mendenhall’s sponsors, dropped him.• Berrian invited Kriesel to come to the Vikings facility to watch game tapes so they could both talk through their dispute and see things from the other point of view.• Johnson was initially suspended for 1 game by the Chiefs, forfeiting $213,000 in salary. He was released from the team 3 weeks later due to public backlash.
Twitter can Build Goodwill Between Fans and Athletes• Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic offered to fly the 1 millionth person to follow him on Twitter to Orlando and provide tickets to the season opening game in 2009.• Howard also tweeted secret locations during the off season and provided rewards such as lunch with him and video games.• NFL Player Chad OchoCinco has treated his Twitter followers to expensive dinners and tickets to games.• Shaquille O’Neal, former NBA Superstar has also used Twitter to give fans prizes as well as the occasional phone call just to chat.
Twitter As a Marketing Tool• Dana White, UFC President, says that Twitter is the greatest marketing tool in the world. And it’s free.• Loves it because he can talk directly to the fans.• Loves that instead of tricking people into signing up, people opt in to following on Twitter.• He promotes the events leading up to their start.• He can resolve problems with ticketing, cable outages and other issues that can arise in real time.• He emphasizes that you still need to use common sense, because even if something is a joke, you don’t get to explain yourself.
Personal Experience• I follow several athletes and teams.• Players will give health updates when injured.• Some players will reply to messages from fans. Brandon Spikes of the Patriots, Metta World Peace of the Lakers and Rick Fox, retired NBA star stand out in this department.• Real time statistics and scores from games allow me to stay up to date on out of market teams/players.
Experience of Others• Scott Mermelstein, Indiana University Student on the good side of sports and Twitter- “I love the way the St Louis Blues and LA Kings operate their Twitter. They are fan friendly, and the Kings “troll” all of the other teams on Twitter.”• Joe Dunbar, Portland Social Media Icon on both sides of sports and Twitter- “Unfortunately there are instances when athletes dont think before they tweet...and cause controversy. It seems like they forget how words you say, even online can be taken out of context or come back to bite you” and “I think a lot of them do it for a way to connect with fans. I think the social media is a big outlet for them. The Pirates try to respond to fans as much as they can, and even follow some of them (like myself). I also think some athletes just use it to try and build a fan base, more than solely using it to connect with fans, etc.”• Judging by fan response to my inquiries, even after emphasizing the NFL controversies from earlier, I would say that more often than not its the media, not the fans that follow athletes, that turn a tweet into a controversy. The exception is the Johnson case, as the media coverage turned the fans against him. While the Berrian case is directly centered around an athlete and his Twitter followers, I don’t think that the controversy really had a negative impact outside of that personally felt by Rep. Kriesel.
Rhetorical Analysis of Controversial Tweets• Mendenhall’s Tweet, “What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side…” came via social media. For context, Mendenhall quotes Ezekiel 33:11 from the Christian Bible, citing the line “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!...”• Using this as his justification for his tweet shows that his referential and emotive function was to preach the word of Christianity as it relates to the celebration of Bin Laden’s death. The comments led to outrage among fans and US citizens, and led to the team distancing themselves from Mendenhall’s comments. His apology and explanation seemed sincere enough, and most fans have forgiven him.• Ethos: As a pro athlete, he has a wide audience, therefore wide influence. Pathos: His tweet spoke to an issue that several Americans are highly emotional about. Logos: His initial tweet had no logic or reasoning, but his explanation did. Aim: His tweet was intended to spark conversation about a morality issue.
Rhetorical Analysis (cont.)• Larry Johnson’s tweet, in which he referred to someone as a “fag” was sent via Twitter in reply to an insult about his playing career and criminal record from a non-athlete Twitter user.• Johnson issued a formal apology, stating that the words were used in anger and he regrets his choice of words. The referential function of this message was a player who had just had a poor performance in a game, and the emotive function was anger. The slurs enraged fans and civil rights activists, and eventually led to Johnson losing his job.• Ethos: As a Pro Athlete, Has a wide audience/sphere of influence. Pathos: He was angry and trying to project his anger onto the intended recipient. He forgot that while it was directed at one person, it was viewable by everyone on Twitter. Logos: He had no proof, just his own frustrated projection. Aim: To emasculate his intended target.
Rhetorical Analysis of Positive Tweet• Dwight Howard’s invitation to fly his millionth follower to Orlando for the opening game and the “Find Dwight” tweets were intended to be fun and exciting rewards to his fans.• For a referential function, he has embraced his role as a fan favorite and used Twitter to further this goodwill with the fans. He is a regular on the NBA Cares circuit for charity work. From an emotive standpoint, he is always looking for fun ways to engage his fans and promote his team.• Ethos: Positive Face of The Orlando Magic/The NBA. Pathos: Tried to give fans an incentive while allowing them to break down the fourth wall, so to speak. Logos: Issued reward based challenge to fans. Aim: To show to his fans that he appreciates them as much as they appreciate him.
Conclusions• Twitter can be used to provide fans with access to a player off the field/court.• Twitter can be used to promote the game, the player, and goodwill among the leagues and the communities they are in.• Twitter can reward fans for their loyalty.• Twitter can be used to interact with fans.• Twitter can be used for players to share their opinions on current events.• These activities can be used for positive promotion, as seen with the way the leagues run their own feeds as well as certain players, like Dwight Howard, Shaquille ONeal and Chad OchoCinco.• They can also portray a player in a negative light, as is the case with Rashard Mendenhall, Larry Johnson and Bernard Berrian.• Teams and Players could avoid controversies by hiring PR people to oversee how they use Twitter and try to put a stop to negative or controversial tweets before they are posted.
Sources• Dunbar, Joe. Twitter Handle @JBarPortland. Answered Survey.• Fittipaldo, Ray. Social Media and Sports a Growing Dilemma. http://old.post- gazette.com/pg/11136/1146848-66-0.stm• Holmes, Baxter. When Athletes Post on Twitter, Controversy can Follow. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/may/15/sports/la-sp-0516-athletes-twitter-20110516• Mermelstein, Scott. Twitter Handle @Shmermel. Answered Survey.• Ostrow, Adam. The Cost of Larry Johnson’s Gay Slur on Twitter: $213,000. http://mashable.com/2009/10/28/larry-johnson-gay-slur-twitter/• Ostrow, Adam. Dwight Howard Flies One Millionth Twitter Follower to Orlando Magic Game.• http://mashable.com/2009/10/28/larry-johnson-gay-slur-twitter/• Ostrow, Adam. How a Tweet Led to a Phone Call From Shaq. http://mashable.com/2008/11/21/shaq- twitter/• Ostrow, Adam. NFL Star Rashard Mendenhall’s Osama Bin Laden Tweet Sparks Controversy. http://mashable.com/2011/05/03/rashard-mendenhall-twitter/• Puapolo, Joe. UFC’s Dana White: “Twitter is the Greatest Marketing Tool in the History of the World.” http://techcrunch.com/2011/12/10/ufc-dana-white-twitter/• Van Grove, Jennifer. Larry Johnson’s Twitter Slur Targets Coach and Heckling Fan. http://mashable.com/2009/10/28/larry-johnson-gay-slur-twitter/• Wente, Scott. Minnesota Viking to Rep. Kriesel of Cottage Grove: “Sit Down and Shut Up.” http://www.swcbulletin.com/event/article/id/19144/• Wilson, Aaron. Rashard Mendenhall Issues Clarification. http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/Rashard- Mendenhall-issues-clarification.html