Twitter and Sports: The Game Has Already Changed

If you saw my tweet earlier this morning you already know how I feel about the “sports week” promotion going on with Twitter. I think it’s a bit superflous since Twitter has already changed sports in a big way, for sports media, teams and athletes, sports marketing and sports fans.

Though I may still break all this down in more detail for a long-form report, I wanted to touch on all these points now just to start the discussion. What’s amazing to me as an outside observer is how quickly Twitter has changed how we consume sports content, and how people in all parts of the sports world interact. I’m old enough to remember how ESPN and SportsCenter killed off the daily newspaper box score, but the absorbtion of Twitter has cut across multiple segments of the sports world, at something like 10 times the speed. Quickly, let’s break it down by category:

Sports Media — Twitter is the new AP Wire

Years ago when I was a daily newspaper sports writer, the most addicting thing in the world was to go to the office to read the Associated Press wires. Those (expensive!) information streams brought scores and stories to our computers from everywhere around the world, a level of information and access that you could never fit in any bundled up package of newsprint. I also remember the charge I would get when our own stories would occasionally be picked up for national or international distribution. It was this cool secret society of people who were way more in the know about sports than your average fan on the street.

Now, that world is available to anyone with Internet access and a browser, since every single media person in the world of sports users Twitter as their own personal “AP wire,” alerting fans, competitors and anyone else of their latest scoops or opinions. It’s an incredible leap in just a few years for Twitter to become an internationally approved, accepted and used third-party method embraced by all sides of the increasingly competitive sports media world. It’s also become an instant feedback loop for all kinds of sports media, to know if their stories, videos or columns are “trending.” No other technology has been accepted and used so quickly, by so many. It’s simply stunning to see how fast Twitter has become the pervasive news-wire for sports, worldwide.

Teams and Athletes — A Direct Pipe to Fans and Followers

Beyond the media’s expected embrace is the growing coolness of athletes and teams using Twitter as a direct communication mechanism, a trend that may put a lot of boring sports reporters out of business. Who needs or wants to read bland press-conference quotes when you can hear or even talk to athletes and teams directly?

While I don’t think it will really kill off the need for sports reporting the ability to teams and athletes to circumvent the media process and connect directly with their followers has changed the sports business forever, in mostly a good way. In Twitter’s short life span we’ve already gotten much closer to athletes and the lives they lead both on and off the field. It’s made things both more interesting and more complicated but unquestionably more rich and informative. And it’s only really just begun.

Sports Marketing gets a Free, Always-On way to Announce

Another field just getting started but sure to explode is the use of Twitter for sports marketing purposes. Some savvy brands, like TaylorMade golf, are already big users of Twitter to engage fans who follow athletes in the sports their products are used. Around the big golf tournaments this year TaylorMade was all over Twitter, with fan contests, links to pictures of athletes in action, interactive chats and more. No longer do brands or teams need to wait for a media outlet to stage a press event, a promotion or simply to announce something new — they can go straight to Twitter and get the message rolling.

The low-cost/no-cost barrier to entry makes Twitter available to even the smallest marketers, who no longer have to pay hundreds of bucks to get a “press release” out on “the wires.” A savvy team of social-media folks can get much more mileage out of a cool Twitter campaign, which if it goes “viral” can get coverage and attention that nobody could pay for up front. The great thing is, this channel is open to anyone with a message — which means a few developers with a sports app are on the same footing as EA Sports. That’s pretty cool and means that there will likely be more innovation in sports marketing, real real soon.

Fans Get a Powerful, Free Way to Make Their Voice Heard — And Communicate with their Heroes

Finally, Twitter has forever changed how a large group of fans will interact with their favorite sports and athletes. Not only can you easily follow the media and athletes as outlined above, but with a small amount of skill you can also directly communicate with top athletes the world over, in a much more rich way than ever before possible — and at a sort of arm’s-length distance that makes it easier and comfortable for the athletes to participate.

The best example of this is the fact that a “retweet” has become the new autograph. Instead of standing around for an hour after the game and trying to shove a picture or a program toward an athlete to sign — how meaningful — you can now try to get that athlete to retweet or respond to your tweet, an act that usually requires either some original thinking or at the very least an honest emotion. We’ve already heard multiple stories about athletes meeting up with Twitter followers for dinners or drinks, and hosted Twitter chats are becoming more popular as a great structured way for fans and players to interact.

And though sports radio call-in shows remain popular, I would bet that in the next few years the “callers” who have to wait on hold for hours will be dwarfed by opinions that are sent in to shows via Twitter — a method already used by ESPN’s SportsCenter, among others. Having your Twitter handle shown on TV is the new “Dave from Wichita” label of honor for fanatics, and it’s probably only a matter of time before the first Twitter Bill Simmons emerges. Like everything else mentioned above, I can’t wait to see it happen.


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