Sports Fans Lose Out on Social Media Ban (For Now)

October 15th, 2009

Professional and collegiate sports organizations are missing out on a huge social media opportunity.

Two weeks ago, Reuters ran an article about how North American pro sports leagues are in a twitter over tweeting.  The article discusses how the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) recently imposed policies and guidelines for its players, coaches and operations personnel regarding the use of social media applications, such Twitter, Facebook and LockerBlogger.  The rules specifically for the NFL also apply to those representing a player or coach, such as an agent who might tweet on their client’s behalf.

While the guidelines focus on before, during and after games, they can also be applied to practices, team meetings and media events, such as press conferences and locker room access.  Additionally, beyond social media applications, the use of electronic communications devices such as mobile phones and PDAs is prohibited, as stated in the NBA’s policy.

Pre-Game During     Post-Game
NFL 90 minutes Prohibited    30 minutes after media conference
NBA 45 minutes Prohibited    After the post-game locker room is open to the media
NHL 30 minutes Prohibited    30 minutes
MLB * 30 minutes Prohibited    30 minutes


* Major League Baseball (MLB) does not have a specific guideline for social media but acknowledges a longstanding policy regarding communicational devices that prohibits their use 30 minutes before the start of a game.

Fans are also subject to social media policies. In August, Mashable reported that the NCAA’s Southeast Conference (SEC) considered banning social media during its events, but have since revised it.  It now allows fans to use Twitter and Facebook to post status updates and photos, but not video or anything else that can transmit real-time play-by-play activity.

So why are professional and collegiate sports locking down social media? Do they want control?  Is it about money?  The answer to both questions is yes.

The broadcast rights for professional and college sports are a multi-billion dollar business.  For example, ESPN and CBS are paying the SEC $3 billion to broadcast the conference’s games over the next 15 years.  Furthermore, these leagues believe that having a fan or athlete break a story – before a “credentialed” reporter or news organization – may dilute their audience base which could ultimately impact their revenue model.

At the recent @NJConnect event, I met with Vidar Brekke, CEO of Social Intent, a creative agency specializing in developing social applications.  He has an interesting view on social media and sports, and believes it is inevitable that the control currently imposed by these leagues (on the players and everyone else involved in the game) will change.

Social media is in the process of disrupting how sports are being broadcast and reported on.  The top-down “one-to-many” broadcast model needs to evolve to integrate social media.  This “many-to-many” model allows the fans and athletes to be a part of the team’s unique brand.  And the deep level of engagement and connection can only make consumers more of a “fan” and motivate them to buy branded merchandise, attend games if not watch them on traditional channels (television and radio) and new ones (such as online and mobile applications).

Sure would have been fun to see T.O. or Ochocinco celebrate their first touchdown tweet from the end zone.

Domenick Cilea

Domenick founded Springboard in 1995. When he is not working on marketing, PR, branding or content strategy, Domenick can be found in a gym, on the road or pool training to survive his next triathlon.

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