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Old 01-22-2011, 12:04 AM   #1
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Default Athletes reaching out to fans: How tweet it is

Athletes reaching out to fans: How tweet it is
Saturday, January 22, 2011
By Bill Brink, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11022/1119913-96.stm

One hundred and forty characters go a lot further than they used to.

Thanks to Twitter, 175 million people worldwide can communicate, share, link, update and post the goings-on of their lives to thousands, even millions, of followers. The National Football League has taken advantage of this social networking tool, and players, some coaches and even league executives now tweet about everything from league business to upcoming games to what they had for breakfast.

Or are planning to have for lunch, as Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley demonstrated Friday when trash-tweeting about the Steelers' opponents in Sunday's AFC championship game, the New York Jets, led by quarterback Mark Sanchez.

"What should i have 4 lunch??," he tweeted. "me and #92 [linebacker James Harrison] were talkin bout it and thought that a sanchez sandwich sounded really good."

NFL players get attention for their incendiary tweets, but the use of the site has grown far past verbal sparring.

"Twitter has become the fastest way to reach large numbers of news media and fans with information," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

An estimated 500 NFL players have Twitter accounts, according to NFL vice president of corporate communications Brian McCarthy. Those accounts allow them to interact with fans in new ways -- with short posts much like text messages -- and give their followers a window into the life of an NFL player.

"Years ago, the only time you would have communication with fans and players would perhaps be at a training camp or standing at a gate after the game trying to get an autograph," Mr. McCarthy said. "You're able to communicate and see what they're doing on a daily basis. You're able to talk to the players."

Mr. Woodley tweets with a purpose.

"Me, I'm not the type of person to tweet and say, 'Hey, I'm at IHop eating,' " he said.

Having a Twitter account allows Mr. Woodley to hear directly what the fans are thinking, he said.

"Some of them say, 'Hey, LaMarr, you need to do this, or we need you this week.' 'Where's LaMarr Woodley been for two weeks? He hasn't gotten a sack,' " he said. "It's positive and negative, but when you're on Twitter you got to be able to take it."

"It's a good thing because it gives fans access to the players," said safety Ryan Mundy, who also tweets.

Some players hold contests to give away cleats or game balls to their followers. Others re-tweet fan comments or post pictures. Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz tweets about his iPod's playlists, and Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll tweets inspirational messages. Most players tweet about football, but some give a blow-by-blow account of their day.

Some, like safety Troy Polamalu and receiver Hines Ward, use Twitter to promote charitable causes. Mr. Polamalu participates in TwitChange, an online auction where Twitter users bid to have their favorite celebrities follow them. The proceeds benefit Operation Once in a Lifetime, which provides financial support to soldiers and their families. Mr. Harrison uses Twitter to promote the James Harrison Family Foundation, which raises money for children with physical disabilities. Mr. Ward linked his Facebook page to a Twitter account to promote Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation, a charity that benefits underprivileged children.

"I've just always been a charitable guy," Mr. Ward said. "Pittsburgh, one thing about it, I'm always giving back to this city because this city has given me some great years."

As positive as Twitter can be, the public nature of the tweets can get users into trouble. "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest once tweeted the results of the show before it aired. American congressmen have created security risks by tweeting details about their locations in Baghdad. And while former Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes' tweet alluding to marijuana use wasn't the sole reason he was traded during the offseason, it didn't help, either.

"People take a lot of things out of context," Steelers receiver Mike Wallace said. "You have to be smart about what you say."

The NFL does not allow players to tweet from between 90 minutes before a game until after their post-game media responsibilities conclude. Mr. McCarthy said the policy is consistent with the league's other policies regarding game-day technology use, as well as common sense.

"Would you want your dentist tweeting while performing a filling on you?" he said.

The NFL now tweets to promote games, release information and keep fans updated. Commissioner Roger Goodell has more than 105,000 followers, and Mr. Aiello and Mr. McCarthy both tweet.

"It's an instant focus group that is free and worldwide," Mr. McCarthy said.

The league started using Twitter in this fashion in the spring of 2009, before the NFL draft, Mr. McCarthy said. It used Twitter to gauge the fans' response to the possibility of moving the draft from its traditional Saturday afternoon spot to a three-day, prime-time format, and recently used it to learn fans' opinions on adding two regular-season games to the schedule.

"It enables sports leagues like the NFL to reach and amplify messages in real time," Mr. McCarthy said.

Mr. Aiello has tweeted information about fines stemming from helmet-to-helmet hits, and he and Mr. McCarthy both tweet information or links regarding the current collective bargaining agreement negotiations. They treat this area as a secondary, but important, aspect of their Twitter use, Mr. McCarthy said.

"Fans are saying the same thing we are, which in essence is, 'Get a deal done,' " he said. "We are then trying to be understanding of that."

In the meantime, three football games are left in this season, and the players use Twitter to express their excitement. When Jets receiver Braylon Edwards tweeted Mr. Woodley, his former teammate at the University of Michigan, about Sunday's game, Mr. Woodley, referencing Mr. Edwards' backflip after the Jets beat the New England Patriots, tweeted back a warning: "don't try somersaulting on our field tho."
Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11022...#ixzz1Bk1mMvq3
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Old 01-22-2011, 09:48 AM   #2
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Default Re: Athletes reaching out to fans: How tweet it is

LaMarr and Troy are probably the only two people I really follow with a purpose on Twitter.

LaMarr has a fun FB account as well. For anyone who hasn't joined his page, you're really missing out sometimes. I love how involved he gets with the fans, and he's always giving cool stuff away (from autographed footballs to a Vizio TV (If he wins some certain contest that fans can vote in). He's always interacting.

Check him out! http://www.facebook.com/LaMarrWoodley
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