For many people, Twitter is little more than just another social network that was added after the Facebook frenzy. This is why more than a quarter of the 500 millions users possess inactive accounts. However, as this article demonstrates, sportsmen of all kind capitalised on the opportunities Twitter provides. Far from being a hindrance, the ability to only use 140 characters actually suits sportsmen, as it replicates the standard answer given in a post match interview. It was initially sold to them as an excellent way to promote their career and strengthen their relationship with their fan base, and by adding pictures of themselves in their daily lives, it allowed fans to relate to these figures that were, in many ways, just like them. Here lies one of the numerous twitter paradoxes: in a world where sportsmen are more protected than ever before, Twitter provides a way of infiltrating their star life.
There is also a negative side to the technology however, and Twitter has also provided a clear demonstration that athletes should think twice before ‘shooting from the hip’. and writing what they think. The number of headlines created by sportsmen’s tweets are already hard to count, one thing is certain: for some football players, the microblogging website is a way to shout out loud what they are thinking at any time of the day.
Football’s two most famous examples are Joey Barton and Rio Ferdinand.
There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
The impact on the franchise’s public relation :
Given the professionalisation of sport franchises, football club’s internal policies are regularly breached by their players’ emotional tweets and their communication strategies are severely compromised. A recent example is the football player Djibril Cissé who got offended by the reamark from one of his supporters suggesting that he couldn’t hit “a cow’s a** with a banjo.” Cissé then tweeted the exact address of his club’s training ground and invited the supporter to: “come and have a little chat.” This is a story which resembles the scandal involving Wayne Rooney, who threatened to silence, permanently, a Liverpool supporter who insulted him via his Twitter account.
‘I will put u asleep within 10 seconds hope u turn up if u don’t gonna tell everyone ur scared u little nit. I’ll be waiting.’
Though the majority of these tweets are uninteresting, some of them have put entire national federations into trouble. The most recent episode was the clash between John Terry and Anton Ferdinand; the story started with the accusation of Rio’s brother Anton that the Chelsea defender had racially abused him.
The story became so big that Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand were soon implicated. The first intervened in support of John Terry but his testimony was deemed untrustworthy by the English Federation. Angered by the decision of the FA, Ashley Cole tweeted : “Oh yeaaaah that’s right I lied.. Bunch of t****”. Although he and his club presented their apologies almost immediately, Cole was condemned to pay a £130,000 fine. In the meantime, infuriated by Cole’s testimony, Rio Ferdinand labelled him a “Choc Ice”, a slang term denoting a black man with ‘white’ sympathies. Many London newspapers talked about the story for weeks and to say that it didn’t look good is an understatement. In Switzerland there was a similar affair during the Olympics, when a Swiss national player in the bitterness of a loss against South Korea lost his sense and tweeted :
“I want to beat up all South Koreans ! Bunch of mentally handicapped retards ! ”
Immediately after the outburst, the player’s account was closed and he was banned from the national team.
The use of companies to maintain ghost accounts :
The increasing influence of sportsmen leads to an expansion in their marketing potential, not slow to envisage the effect Twitter could have, sponsors soon realised the potential lying behind specific accounts, and the vast swathes of population they could interact with. With 14 million followers, Cristiano Ronaldo is among the highest profile football tweeters.Not surprisingly, Cristiano Ronaldo is regularly advertising Nike products directly on Twitter, complete with pictures and comments for his fans.
The most recent one shows him playing all kind of instruments and wearing different football kits. The use of social network as a commercial tool is increasing and its should come as no surprise. In the case of Cristiano Ronaldo we can talk of the use of a ‘ghost writer’ for his account. One of the reasons behind this statement is that his tweets are mostly advertising, and not very frequent Furthermore, the use of perfect English makes it hard to believe that it is entirely the work of Cristiano himself. Doubt becomes certainty when we read a disclaimer added on his profile saying that: Digital Artist entertainment inc. is in charge of the content of the account, but also that they can use the personal data of his followers and sell them to other companies. This company is one of the many that proposes to ‘take care’ of an individual’s Twitter account for a certain prize, and also to post a certain number of tweets every week depending on the agreement.
The Twitter paradox :
Here we can see the controversial character of athletes’ use of Twitter : on one hand we have the impossible task for the major club’s PR to limit the damage created by their players’ outbursts. On the other hand, however, the use of Twitter as a new tool of advertisement is hard to deny. Whilst the fan is informed on a daily basis of what his idol thinks, simultaneously, under the cover of a fake bond, diverse companies are trying to promote their merchandise. These are the two extremes that you can find on the microblogging website. In a way we could argue that the outbursts of athletes are true to real life conversations, and therefore that they are the ultimate proof that we are dealing with real human beings that possess feelings and are not afraid to express them. In fact, without this, would Twitter just be a boring ensemble of diverse hidden advertisement pages? The real fans would then see no interest in the social network as it would fulfil the same kind of role as a fan page on Facebook.
Twitter also allows us to learn things about players that they would never be revealed in a formal interview. It is interesting to speculate on the future of the sport’s own response to Twitter. Will it be to restrict the player’s access to social networks? Or rather to give them communication courses on what can and can’t be said on the web? When we see the PR manager of Liverpool Jen Chang being sacked because he threatened a fan to cancel his season ticket it does raises some questions. One thing is clear to this writer however, between the politically incorrect account of Joey Barton and the incredibly boring account of Cristiano Ronaldo my choice is quickly made and I hope yours is too.
1 Ben Dir’s Blog on BBC Website : http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bendirs/2011/01/twitter_blog.html