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 controversial tweeting. I will also do a form of content analysis on a random sample of athletes and the way they use their Twitter accounts.
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 Championship uses Twitter as a way to promote upcoming events, give health updates on fighters and provide fan access to fighters, as well as to address any technical issues arising from pay per view broadcasts, such as blackouts and equipment failures.• 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.• NBA player Metta World Peace (Formerly Ron Artest) used Twitter to make excuses for a flagrant 2 (ejectable intentional foul) that caused more harm than good, resulting in a longer suspension than if he had just committed the foul and not said anything.
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.
Twitter as a Distraction (cont.)• Washington Redskins Receiver Jabar Gaffney tweeted about his wife being unfaithful, and from there had a meltdown that resulted in him accusing his former friend/teammate Lito Shepherd of having an affair with his wife.• UFC Fighter Miguel Torres was released from the company following a tweet in which he made jokes about so-called “rape” vans.
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.• World Peace was suspended for 7 games (including playoff games) and fined an undisclosed amount.
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 Builds Goodwill• Metta World Peace has an image problem due to an incident when he was with Indiana in which he went into the crowd to start a brawl with fans. He has used Twitter to reinvent his image.• He offers to allow select fans to have Skype chats with him (first come, first served) and also has contests on his Twitter feed to give away his allotment of tickets to home Lakers games.• He also tries to reply to as many fans that send him tweets as he can.
Twitter Builds Goodwill• The Boston Red Sox team-run Twitter feed works in conjunction with the team promotions. Recently, the team released 100 balloons around Boston that had tickets to the 100th anniversary game, and the team Twitter posted clues to the locations of the tickets.• They also have a promotion called “Tweet Your Seat” in which the first 3 fans in attendance at a game to reply to their tweet with their section, row and seat number get a bag full of souvenirs from a team representative.
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 when there is fan or media backlash.
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.• A friend of mine won a $400 video game system for answering a trivia question asked by the MLB Fan Cave Twitter, proving that real people can win these contests.
Survey of Sports Fans on Twitter• I circulated 3 simple questions on Facebook and Twitter, with a request that Twitter users who follow Athletes, Teams or Leagues respond to the survey.• First Question: Why do you follow Twitter feeds associated with professional sports?• Second Question: What are your thoughts on the positive aspects of Twitter and Professional Sports?• Third Question: What are your thoughts on the negative uses of Twitter in Professional Sports?
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 [Portland] 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.”• Scott Mason, Senior Data Entry Clerk at Bank of New York Mellon- “I’ve seen a mostly positive showing from athletes on Twitter.” He cited Chad OchoCinco’s invitation to any of his followers to come out and have dinner with him in Harlem as an example. The turn out was around 200 for that giveaway. Mason said that the only negative experience he has had with athletes on Twitter is that he missed out on the opportunity to join Chad’s dinner party.• Jasmine Bucinski Colorado Housewife–”I know [Chad]Ochocinco says some pretty inspiring stuff in a lot of his tweets. Thats why I follow him. They dont seem like theyre necessarily for teammates, more for anyone whos paying attention.” She lists her favorite OchoCinco tweet(s) as “Some people say the grass is always greener on the other side. I say be the gardener. Water it. Feed it. Make your own grass grow. I make the grass greener wherever I am. Im the gardener.”
Experience of Others(cont)• Dan Pacini, Broadcaster with Curtis Media Group, Boone, North Carolina- “ Jabar Gaffney had some pretty interesting tweets regarding Lito Sheppard and his "soon to be ex wife.“ Pacini is referring to an incident in which Gaffney started tweeting a string of obscenity filled rants about his wife cheating on him and Lito Sheppard (a former friend and teammate) being “Lame” and someone he doesn’t [deal] with anymore. Gaffney also went on to make vague threats that he wouldn’t respect anyone’s relationship if he saw a woman he wanted. Some media outlets have described I as a “meltdown.” This occurred on April 12th, and Gaffney has shut down his Twitter account in the meantime.• Matt Werenczac, Syracuse University Grad School- “ I thought it was cool when Kevin Love circumvented the news process and broke the news that McHale was getting fired/let go. Anything that ruins the "sacred" bond that the media has is a good thing in my mind. The journalists have a monopoly on access to sports and athletes, this helps break it down and gives a new forum for fans to avoid all the bias/elitism inherent in the status quo.” Matt clearly sees Twitter, even in its controversy, to be an important tool in the way news is reported.• Matt also listed these examples of Twitter as a positive media tool- “There are both negatives and positives to this forums/access, such as we hate our athletes who are corporate and focused about their brand (LeBron/Tiger),conversely we also hate our athletes who speak their minds (when we dont agree with it) such as Mendenhall’s tweet revealing himself as a 9/11 Truther. However, Twitter has revolutionized the news cycle despite being a relatively simply idea. Basically a public text message. Some notable instances of Twitter with athletes: How about the rumors Dwight Howard signed an extension (or waived his right to opt-out) based on feedback he was getting from his Twitter fans? What about during the lockout (football and b[asket]ball) both sides posturing to gain public support without having to use their worms in the media (a positive for the establishment -- can maintain some semblance of objectivity of some issues) and go straight to the fans. What about [Kevin]Durant tweeting during the lockout to random locales showing up and playing b[asket]ball/handing out bookbags to people. Twitter is awesome in lay terms.”
Conclusions Based on Fan Survey• 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.• Most fans typically only see or pay attention to the positive messages that their favorite athletes convey, whether by selective consumption or by the sheer fact that a controversial tweet goes unnoticed or isn’t controversial without being made into a bigger deal by the mainstream media. At least one respondent thinks that Twitter is a solution to the problems plaguing mainstream media. Matt mentioned that some sports reporters may withhold information due to the type of rapport they have built with some athletes, whereas Twitter is direct from the source, as though the fans are being allowed into the locker room, essentially.
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 of Controversial Tweets (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 Controversial Tweets (cont.)• Jabar Gaffney’s Tweet(s) were filled with obscenities and sent after discovering that his wife was having an affair.• The referential function of this series of tweets is that Gaffney was emotionally distraught at betrayal from two people he felt very close to and needed an outlet. The emotive function was anger, loss of trust and confusion.• Ethos: As a professional athlete, he has a wide audience. Pathos: Used profanity and vague descriptive language to evoke a sense of empathy from followers while trying to cultivate hatred towards his wife and his former teammate. Logos: This alleged affair coincided with a feud with a former teammate, possibly the events are linked. Aim: After a high negative emotion, he was using Twitter to vent, not unlike most users.• Thus far, there has been no public resolution to this controvery, but Gaffney’s Twitter feed has been disabled.
Rhetorical Analysis of Controversial Tweets (cont.)• Torres’ Tweet stated that "If a rape van was called a surprise van more women wouldnt mind going for rides in them.“He deleted the tweet and replaced it with "If a windowless van was called a surprise van more people wouldnt mind going for rides in them. Everyone likes surprises.“• UFC President Dana White’s reaction: "Theres no explanation for that. Theres absolutely nothing I could say to make any sense of that. And the fact that he even thinks thats funny or thats a joke, it disturbs me. It bothers me.”• The referential function of the tweet is that Torres was trying to be funny. The emotive function was to be shockingly outrageous.• Ethos: As a well respected and successful fighter (40-4 career record) he was influential in the MMA world. Pathos: Tried to make a joke by saying something outrageous and shocking, hoping that the extremity of the language would convey the joking intention. Logos: I see no logic in this tweet, and according to his apology, in which he said “I am very sorry for upsetting my bosses at the UFC, and also to my fans and everyone else who was upset by the language in my tweets. I understand it was wrong, and I meant no harm or disrespect,” apparently he saw no logic, either. Aim: To create controversy and get people talking about him/following him. UFC offers incentives to their fighters based on gains in Twitter followers.
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.
Rhetorical Analysis of Positive Tweet• The first Metta World Peace ticket giveaway tweet I saw was specific to couples who had been married for at least 12 years to commemorate his 12th season in the NBA.• For a referential function, he is a former trouble maker in the league trying to re-invent himself as an ambassador of the game. For an emotive function, He is trying to express his gratitude to his fans to show that he appreciates the support he has received since going to Los Angeles.• Ethos: Uses his celebrity status to promote his team/image. Pathos: Motivated by reinvention of his image. Logos: Offered an incentive to loyal fans who could prove they were loyal to their significant other as well as their team. Aim: Reward his fans while showing that he had shed his bad boy ways.
Rhetorical Analysis of a Positive Tweet• The Boston Red Sox “Tweet Your Seat” promotion gives fans another reason to attend games and follow them on Twitter.• For a referential function, the team is playing on their “The Greatest Fans in Baseball” business mindset to reward loyal fans.• Ethos: The Red Sox have one of the most loyal and widespread fan bases in baseball. Pathos: Fans that feel like they are part of something will continue supporting it. Logos: Rewarding loyalty will allow for continued loyalty. Aim: Gain marketing insight while cultivating a relationship with the fan base.
Content Analysis• For this content analysis, I randomly selected 8 athletes that I currently follow. 4 of them are from Boston teams (My favorite teams), 1 plays at the International level, 2 are from out of market teams and 1 is a retired athlete. There are 3 baseball players, 2 basketball players, a hockey player, a football player and a soccer player. 7 are men, 1 is a woman.• The purpose of the content analysis was to determine how a typical athlete uses Twitter. I only looked at the 30 most recent tweets on each timeline, and categorized any theme that occurred more than 3 times within the 30 tweets.• As I have stated throughout this presentation, I believe that promotion and team updates are the primary use of Twitter for athletes, so this analysis will help me determine if that is accurate.
Content Analysis (cont.)• Alex Morgan- Forward for the US Women’s Soccer Team. 1,582 Total Tweets, consisting mostly of updates on her personal life, interaction with her teammates, interaction with fans and updates on Team USA news.• Brandon Spikes- Linebacker for the New England Patriots. 12,437 tweets consisting of interaction with teammates and fans (usually in humorous ways, sometimes smart alec responses to people who make rude comments to him, but not over the top like some of the controversial tweets from earlier).• Paul Pierce- Power Forward for the Boston Celtics. 717 tweets consisting mostly of life updates, interaction with teammates and promotion of charitable causes.• Tyler Seguin, Forward for the Boston Bruins. 175 Tweets consisting of life updates, fan interaction and promotion of charitable causes.
Content Analysis (cont.)• Mike Aviles- Shortstop for the Boston Red Sox. 146 Tweets consisting of life updates and interactions with teammates and fans.• Kevin Durant- Power Forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder. 20,700 Tweets consisting of interaction with teammates and fans, life updates, promotion of charitable causes and promotion of his sponsors.• CC Sabathia- Pitcher for the New York Yankees. 784 Tweets consisting of fan and teammate interactions, life updates and the promotion of charitable causes and his sponsors.• Jose Canseco- Retired Major League Outfielder. 3,383 Tweets consisting almost entirely of fan interaction and what you might call life updates, though that is a loose interpretation of his Tweets because he seems to be a little off his rocker, in my not so professional psychological opinion.
Potential Issues with Content Analysis• The Content Analysis takes only a small sample of the total Tweets sent.• The selection of athletes, while somewhat diverse, only includes 1 female, 5 sports, and is not a statistically significant representative sample of all athletes on Twitter.• All of the athletes are at the Major League level, which completely ignores players from the developmental leagues, which in spite of popular belief are still professional athletes.
Response to the Potential Issues• Given the fact that 7 out of the 8 athletes I chose use Twitter to interact with fans, 6 out of the 7 current athletes interact with teammates, 7 out of 8 provide life updates and 4 of the 8 promote charity, I think its safe to say that other athletes would use Twitter for similar reasons.• Going further with the 6 out of 7 active players that interact with teammates, that means that the teammates of 6 of my sample athletes interact with teammates.• Further on the fan interaction, I’ve mentioned several situations in which fan interaction from teams and athletes have led to goodwill and/or controversy. I also mentioned UFC’s approach to Twitter, in which all employees (including the 340 fighters on their roster) are encouraged to interact with fans.• In regard to minor league athletes, survey respondent Joe Dunbar mentioned his own experience with the local AHL team the Portland Pirates and how they try to respond to all of their fans.
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• Aviles, Mike. Twitter Handle @TheMikeAviles• Bucinski, Jasmine. Twitter Handle @ThatGirlFromCO Answered Survey.• Canseco, Jose. Twitter Handle @JoseCanseco• Dunbar, Joe. Twitter Handle @JBarPortland. Answered Survey.• Durant, Kevin. Twitter Handle @KDTrey5• 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• Mason, Scott. Twitter Handle @TheEmperor129 Answered Survey.• Mermelstein, Scott. Twitter Handle @Shmermel. Answered Survey.• McNeill, Franklin. UFC Fires Miguel Torres For Tweet. http://espn.go.com/mma/story/_/id/7334939/ufc-releases-miguel-torres-rape-van-twitter-post• Morgan, Alex. Twitter Handle @AlexMorgan13• 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/dwight-howard-twitter/
Sources (cont.)• 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/• Pacini, Dan. Twitter Handle @DPIceMan Answered Survey.• Pierce, Paul. Twitter Handle @PaulPierce34• 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/• Sabathia, CC. Twitter Handle @CC_Sabathia• Seguin, Tyler. Twitter Handle @TylerSeguin92• Spikes, Brandon. Twitter Handle @BrandonSpikes55• 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/• Werenczac, Matt. Twitter Handle @Real_Matt_Dubya Answered Survey.• Wilson, Aaron. Rashard Mendenhall Issues Clarification. http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/Rashard-Mendenhall-issues-clarification.html