To Tweet In-Game Or Not To Tweet

I recently struck a nerve on Twitter and in my classroom, when I suggested that athletes should engage in social media while the game is in progress. This quickly created opposing sides of debate, with folks leaning toward notions of, “You are crazy” and “It will ruin sports.” Many believe that tweeting and posting on Facebook would distract the players and take the focus off of what really matters: winning the game. I believe that is a very myopic way of thinking, because there should be a way to accomplish in-game engagement with fans by the players, while not affecting performance on the field.

Most times, when a new concept or technology enters the playing field, the sports purists backlash and scream foul. I remember not long ago that the instant replay rule was the “ruination of football,” and the cry of “just let them play” was being screamed from the stands and the living room. Now, virtually every sport is looking for appropriate ways to adopt instant replay rules to enhance their specific sport. Over the course of time, many forms of advancement and fan engagement have been scoffed at, but they have entered sports and made the experience better. Social media engagement is just the latest of these, and should be embraced by teams and leagues for the betterment of the experience and to increase fan avidity. Many say that winning takes care of that, but considering that only one team ultimately wins in each league every year, it is not a great plan to rely on winning.

The opponents to social media engagement during game time are quick to interject, “How would you like that distraction if you were a manager or coach?” If I held either position, it would not make me happy and I would be against it. But, if owners only made business decisions on how to increase consumers based on the thoughts of a coach or a manager, many teams would go bankrupt. The fact is that managers and coaches only have one agenda: winning. By the way, that’s what their agenda should be ~ unfortunately, only one in each league actually becomes a winner each season. As an owner of the team, although winning is the number one priority, it is also a business, and fan engagement is a huge part of it. Remember, without fans there is no business of sports. Ownership has to balance helping build relationships with fans and generating revenue without hurting winning on the field. Just because a coach doesn’t like something, doesn’t mean it will prevent the team from winning.

I have a little experience with just that. When I was CMO of the New England Patriots, I wanted to take up to fifty current and potential customers on the team plane for every away game to entertain and do business. I will tell you that Coach Belichick was not thrilled with this concept, and if given the choice, he would have preferred to have no one other than players, coaches, and “essential staff” on the team flight. I had my agenda, he had his; neither of us was wrong. Ownership weighed the pros and cons, and determined that having guests on the plane would not hinder the team from performing at the highest level. There were rules of engagement in place, and because we all stuck to the plan, we not only coexisted, the team actually won three Super Bowls while our clients flew on the team plane.  It proved that Bill was such a great coach that he could make the proper adjustments to allow us to do our job, yet still be champions.

So, I’m a bit spoiled in my thinking, and because of my experience, I believe athletes, under set guidelines and rules, can engage in social media during game action. I think some sports would be more difficult than others, and I would assume Coach Belichick would be against players tweeting on the sideline. But, I also believe if he was told it had to be done, he would find a solution to make sure it didn’t negatively affect the performance on the field. In fact, knowing how much coaches like an edge, he would probably find it useful when a player tweeted to the crowd ~ “GET LOUD.”

But let’s get off the sideline and into the dugout for a minute. Baseball was made for social engagement. The speed of the game lends itself to talking in between pitches, looking at batting averages, keeping score, and a myriad of other activities ancillary to the game. Baseball and social engagement are like baseball and hot dogs. They fit perfectly. Picture this: one of the pitchers in the starting rotation, pitched the night before and will definitely not be ready to go for his next turn in the lineup. That said pitcher could provide great inside stuff for fans to draw them closer to the game and increase avidity. Three or four tweets during a nine inning game by this player does not have to affect the performance on the field, assuming proper measures have been taken. Guess what? There are even direct revenue benefits ~ let’s say that pitcher takes a photo from the dugout of a new cap hitting retail that day and states that if you stop by the pro shop and pick yours up before leaving the park, you can purchase the hat at a special offer, driving traffic and sales with just a 140 character tweet.

The fact is that a player engaging in social media and winning do not have to be mutually exclusive. With a well-thought-out plan, there is no reason both can’t coexist and actually build stronger relationships with fans. The key is having a solid plan that takes into consideration all aspects of the game and its surroundings. So, to all leagues and teams: it’s time to think about evolving in the social media space. Major League Baseball tweets from the dugout are a natural. Time to get working on your 2012 in-game social media plan; there are opportunities currently being missed.


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  1. You makes a good argument, Lou. Managers/coaches already do in-game interviews. What’s the difference between TV/radio and social media? There isn’t. And I’d argue fans on Twitter and Facebook are much more engaged (i.e. spend more money on tickets, merchandise, etc.) than those watching TV or listening to radio broadcasts.

    1. Lou Imbriano says:

      Thanks Tom.

      I believe great leaders can adapt to make most things possible. This is easy and a great way to engage with fans and build avidity. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

      my best,

  2. Hi Lou – Great to see you thriving online.

    I agree, I think “in-game” social media from players can have a place in professional sports.The key here is the *professional* aspect. It is a business, fans would embrace the concept. But players have to maintain a level of professionalism. They have to be professional enough to not let it be a distraction to winning.

    I think it is only a matter of time before this happens.
    Hopefully the focus will be on engaging fans, not sell hats.

    I can see it now – Manny tweeting from left field between plays!

    1. Lou Imbriano says:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for your note, I hope all is well. I am a strong believer that if the right protocols are in place ~ social media can be part of the game at all levels; Owners, Executives and even athletes during games. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by.

      My best,

  3. I love this and everyone is right they do in-game interviews and I don’t see a problem with them tweeting as long as they have a strategy of how to handle things and protocols for it. I think an educated athlete is an asset and with the education internally you can build your brand and have a wider audience. Love it.

    1. Lou Imbriano says:

      Hi Jamie,

      Thanks you for the comment. Any obstacle can be overcome with planning and protocols. I can’t imagine a champion allowing a tweet or two to effect their performance. The excuse makers will always find a reason why they are not champs.

      Hope you are well,

  4. I both agree and disagree with your post. I agree that there needs to be in-game social media but I am one of those people who question the players from doing so. Look at baseball. The players aren’t allowed to tweet/update their status update during or immediately after the game, but I do love the in-game updates from mmembers of the media, such as Brodie Brazil with the San Jose Sharks/CSN California. He’ll post in-game updates but my favorite and fastest in-game is with the Philadelphia Flyers.

    I wouldn’t be against the athletes tweeting during a game…who knows…it might give all of us armchair quarterbacks a say in the game. 🙂

    1. Lou Imbriano says:

      Hi Eileen,

      I know two things to be true in sports. 1) If you practice diligently you can make anything happen and overcome any obstacle. 2) If you don’t give it your all and miss the mark, there will always be an excuse to latch on to. Tweeting, if done the right way, should only enrich the experience, not take away from it.

      My best,

  5. Mike Lieberman says:

    Just got a chance to read this after last night’s #smsportschat. Intriguing idea. Aside from the usual concerns – distracting, we want players focused – I wonder how much benefit the tweets would be. The guidelines would be rather strict to ensure the athletes don’t “over-share” or spark controversy, which could result in rather vanilla content. And an athlete tweeting promotions is just a mouthpiece for the organization. It’s not terribly organic, which makes for the best content.

    On the other hand, I can see some significant benefit in individual sports, like golf. Imagine a golfer providing insight on a shot between holes in a round, promoting a sponsor, or inviting input. That can make for awfully compelling content. Imagine commentators trying to explain the rationale for a shot while the player’s twitter followers already know it – because the golfer told them… directly.

    1. Lou Imbriano says:

      Hi Mike,

      Tweeting in game should follow the guidelines teams have established for press conferences. If there are guidelines in place and forethought put into what will be posted ~ it should enhance the game, the brand and revenues and not take away from it.

      Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

      My best,

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