Social Media: The Game Changer in Sports

ImageCurrent estimates of the world’s population are in the neighborhood of just over 7 billion people.  With a number like that, anyone that continues to doubt the impact of social media in today’s world is in denial.  For perspective, Facebook announced in the first quarter of 2013 that they are at 1.11 billion users; that’s roughly 1 out of every 7 people throughout the world.  YouTube isn’t too far behind with 1 billion users, but each user apparently watches an average of 4 videos daily because they guesstimate 4 billion views per day.  What is a bit of a surprise is the distance created thereafter with Twitter falling in third at 500 million users and the 343 million users of Google+.

With the staggering numbers that it brings to the table, it’s been amazing to witness social media’s impact and effect on our world at a global scale.  More specifically though, think about the impact that social media has had on the world of sports.  The NCAA has had to modify policies in order to make room for social media.  For instance, the University of Southern California acknowledges that, “Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites have increased in popularity globally, and are used by the majority of student-athletes here at USC in one form or another.”  USC’s Social Media & Policy Guidelines for Student-Athletes also provides examples of why students should be cognizant of the information they share and explains what content is deemed to be inappropriate in accordance with university policies.  While many NCAA institutions have individuals within their athletic department to monitor compliance, Arkansas has become the 6th state to take a slightly different approach by becoming “the latest state to enact legislation that bans schools from deploying social media monitoring firms to track their students’ personal digital accounts.”  The ultimate purpose of these laws is to save collegiate institutions around the country hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance costs, legal fees, monitoring and compliance.

What is a bit surprising is the NCAA’s Social Media & Blogging Policy.  The NCAA states that, “A credentialed media member may blog or provide updates via social media during any NCAA championship event, provided that such posts do not produce in any form a “real-time” description of the event as determined by the NCAA in its sole discretion.  If the NCAA deems that the credentialed media member is producing real-time description of the contest, the NCAA reserves all actions against the credentialed media member, including but not limited to the revocation of the credential.”  The NCAA’s leniency is significant because it is nothing more than a slap on the wrist, and almost unheard of, when compared to professional sports.  The NBA, for instance, states that, “The Holder agrees not to transmit, distribute, or sell (or aid in transmitting, distributing, or selling), in any media now or hereafter existing, any description, account, picture, video, audio or other form of reproduction of the event or any surround activities (in whole or in part) for which this ticket is issued (the “Event”).”  Surprisingly, many fans probably don’t realize that these terms and conditions are made very clear on the back of their ticket as they sit in the crowd uploading photos, video, and updates to their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts; among others.  While he wouldn’t say it, we also know Mike D’Antoni wasn’t thrilled with Kobe tweeting from his couch.  That said, it could actually be good for professional sports to embrace the actions of guys like Kobe Bryant tweeting in-game tips and suggestions.  The NBA has to remember that this was a good thing, because it engaged even more fans while providing them unique access to a world they wouldn’t normally get a glimpse of.  Plus, it’s not as though this is a real distraction for the players in the middle of the game while they’re following the game; not checking their Twitter accounts – hopefully.  Even Major League Baseball recognized the power of social media during the 2011 MLB Home Run Derby – and that league is about as old-school as you’re going to get in American professional sports.

Fortunately, the likelihood of our professional leagues cracking down on fans for sharing this information in the social space is unlikely because it’s actually a good marketing tool for the league; nor is it hurting the league from a profit standpoint.  Not to mention reality has shown us finding a wireless or WiFi signal when surrounded by thousands of fans trying to do the same thing is challenging in and of itself.  Fans uploading real-time information to the social media space really should be the least of league concerns at a sporting event.  However, that priority may change once stadiums and arenas have really perfected WiFi access for all in attendance.  Until then, it makes more sense for sports to wait till they get to that bridge before deciding whether or not to cross it.  Regardless of what the future holds though, you’re naïve if you don’t think social media is the way of the future for public relations in the sports realm.

The Waiting Game

ImageDo you ever pause and think about what happens to athletes when their careers are over?  Where do they go?  What do they do?  How will they be remembered?  It becomes quite the debate when we discuss the pro’s and con’s of kids staying in school longer.  The most common arguments tend to focus on monetary opportunities and the advantages that they’ll have.  I don’t know why this varies from sport to sport, because last time I checked, 19 and 20-year-olds that play basketball, football, baseball and all of the other sports out there may be different in respect to the game they play, but they’re still just kids when you take away the component of sports.  I don’t disagree that the kid who came from nothing shouldn’t have an opportunity to compete at the highest level.  What bothers me is when precedence has been set and we as a society feel that it’s okay for these kids to become professionals after only one year of school.  I will be the first to admit I’m not an expert on the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement and this is just my opinion, but I feel one of the biggest reasons athletes are not eligible for the draft until they’ve been out of high school for one year ultimately boils down to them having an additional year for their bodies to develop.  Whereas, the NFL’s expectations are that these athletes attend college for a minimum of three years.  Yes, football is more physical, but you still get pretty beat up in the paint and off the boards in basketball.  For me, athletes that miss the latter years of college are also missing out on very important life lessons and opportunities that will be available to them once their athletic careers are finished.

There is hope though and significant progress being made by the NFLPA.  While the new rule probably annoys most, if not all, NFL teams that are very eager to see what the rookies they drafted this year will do on the field, they’ll have to wait just a little bit longer.  Mandated in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, rookies will now report just a little bit later to their team’s OTA programs as they wait for their own graduation.  You heard it, the NFLPA actually values the education that these kids are getting and in return expects them to complete all of the hard work they’ve put forth in the classroom over the past, give or take, four years.  Before the Dolphins and Bears complain about Dion Jordan and Kyle Long being late, think about what Andrew Luck did on the field this past season.  Oh yeah, Luck was also delayed because of this rule and if I’m correct, it hardly hurt his performance on the field.  Now we just need these kids to read Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s take on the “20 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 30”.