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Posted: December 01, 2011

Sports biz: Modern sports mantra

Tweet early, tweet often

Stewart Schley

Editor's note: There's a puzzle hidden within this column. The first person to e-mail the answer to stewart@stewartschley.com gets mentioned in next month's issue.

Oh, the mediocrity. At the NFL's midseason point, the Denver Broncos weren't just average in the standings. The team was average on Twitter.

According to an application developed by a Rice University associate professor, the Broncos were 21st in the NFL in tweets-per-second (TPS).

The tool mines Twitter comments to sum up references to NFL action during games. The Dallas Cowboys ranked first, with 12 tweets per second.

That's 1.1 million Tweets, or brief comments shared over Twitter, the Internet-bred conversational forum that's changing team relationships.

The Broncos, at No. 21, did out-tweet AFC West rivals Kansas City and San Diego. But the Oakland Raiders took the division crown, at No. 14.

Still, the fact that somebody is even bothering to record fan sentiment via tweet testifies to the rising influence of this social platform.

Sports marketing experts, almost to a person, now identify Twitter as the most effective tool they have for building strong fan allegiance.

"It's completely reinvented how most of us are consuming information," said Peter Stringer, the Boston Celtics' interactive media director.

In a recent interview with website Chicagonow.com, Stringer said Twitter is his prime source for finding and sharing sports-related content.

Colorado's professional sports teams are in on the revolution, as they amass legions of "followers" on the free-to-use Twitter.com platform.

Not surprisingly, the Broncos reign in the emerging category, as a total of 84,020 users are now following the team's official Twitter feed.

Ranking second, with 51,325 Twitter followers: your Denver Nuggets. That's despite the absence of any live games to tweet about this season.

And in third place: The Colorado Avalanche. Slightly over 34,171 Twitter registrants had added the Av's official Twitter feed as of Nov. 12.

The Colorado Rockies also have a substantial Twitter presence, with 22,966 followers who get a constant stream of updates from the MLB team.

Exactly what's on Twitter, from a team perspective? Brief posts ranging from live-game updates to fan messages to inside tidbits on players.

But the bigger appeal is probably the strong sense of community Twitter tends to create around the common interests of its sports-fan users.

Follow your team via Twitter and you'll get far more than a one-way, prescribed viewpoint from the team itself. (That's what blogs are for.)

Instead, Twitter creates an interactive dialogue, with messages flowing not only from the team, but from everybody else who tweets about it.

That creates a richer, more personalized stream of news, information and observation than any sports team on its own could possibly produce.

It's also more genuine, a quality that makes for a rare and welcome departure in a sports world where messaging is often tightly controlled.

Increasingly, teams seem to "get" the nature of communicating via Twitter, and the potential power it has to keep fan interest running high.

That's why most pro teams, Colorado's included, are building social media teams devoted to maintaining a constant message flow over Twitter.

And, Twitter provides real-time feedback, said Rice U's Lin Zhong, the associate professor who invented the NFL tweet-per-second sensor app.

Case in point: "We chose football because touchdowns, interceptions and other events in the game ... lead a lot of people to tweet," Zhong said.

Whether the Twitter-sports pairing will endure is uncertain. Other social media platforms such as Facebook also are competing for attention.

But just when you thought teams had all but saturated the modern media environment, along comes a novel way for fans to connect with sports.

In Twitter, modern-day sports marketers appear to have discovered a provocative new way to communicate with fans - 140 characters at a time.
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Stewart Schley writes about sports, media and technology from Denver. Read this and Schley’s past columns on the Web at cobizmag.com and email him at stewart@stewartschley.com

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