The social network revolution known as Twitter has become a powerful media tool that has completely redefined the connections that people maintain with each other ever since its debut in 2006. The sports world, including the NFL, is no exception to that trend. Both players and teams have gained a new tool that allows them to exert an immense amount of influence on their fans, bringing them closer than ever before. The social network has already brought major changes to the game of football, specifically in the area of fan connections and public relations, increasing interest in the game and its players with the potential to boost popularity of the league exponentially.
Through Twitter, the NFL has recently developed the ability to track fans’ levels of excitement, as well as follow action on the field without ever turning on a television. A new computer program called SportSense has been created solely as a result of the tremendous influence that Twitter exerts upon the NFL. In a matter of seconds, the program can analyze the tweets of fans to decipher when touchdowns, interceptions, or any other big plays occur during games. It can also gauge how excited fans actually are when these instances occur, simply through analyzing a statement of 140 characters or less. It is now possible to capture millions of fans’ reactions in real time, exposing emotions and team loyalties through tweets, even if no team or player is explicitly mentioned. Twitter has become a platform that can provide information even faster than sports networks such as ESPN, using content from NFL fans who have become real time, living sensors.
Twitter is not only tracked to decipher fan interest and big plays during the action, but it is also utilized to follow what players, coaches, teams, and others closely involved with the league have to say. With no limits to what can be said, players especially have the opportunity to generate major popularity or get themselves (and their wallets) in a lot of trouble with the league, and everything in between. For example, Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Rashard Mendenhall was dropped from his endorsement deal with athletic clothing company Champion after a controversial tweet that speculated whether the 9/11 attacks were actually real. Tweets aren’t just viewed by one’s followers either; they are often publicized on ESPN and other news media outlets for the world to see, increasing the risk of consequences that Twitter creates.
Due to the extreme exposure and increased visibility, many players have benefited in terms of total fans as well as followers who take an interest in what they have to say. In terms of total number of followers, the most influential player, past or present, on Twitter is currently Chad Ochocinco with over three million people tuning in to what the New England Patriots WR will say next. Reggie Bush comes in at number two with just over 2.1 million followers. Terrell Owens and Larry Fitzgerald come in at #3 and #4, respectively, as the only others to eclipse the one million followers mark. Rounding out the top five is Drew Brees, the former Super Bowl MVP quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, with close to 800,000 followers. Quickly rising up the ranks with about 710,000 followers, Tim Tebow currently sits in the sixth spot, followed by former players Warren Sapp, Troy Aikman, Michael Strahan, and current linebacker of the San Diego Chargers, Shaun Phillips, who round out the top ten.
Teams as a whole, rather than individual players, are much less popular and influential via Twitter, as the team with the most followers, the New York Jets, has only slightly over 270,000 followers compared to the top player, Ochocinco, who speaks to over three million with every tweet. The rest of the top 4 includes the only other teams who are followed by over 200,000 fellow tweeters - the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, and New England Patriots. The Green Bay Packers hold the fifth spot at just over 195,000. The remaining top ten teams, in descending order of total followers, are the New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, and Chicago Bears.
The Twitter phenomenon has added an entertaining element to how NFL fans and players interact and view each other. Fans can feel closer than ever to their favorite players, following what they have to say and what they’re doing whenever that information is provided. The social network also provides a platform where teams and players can track their reputation, constantly monitoring what others are saying about them in real time, as well as divulge breaking news that can be viewed there before anywhere else in the world.
With the more than 300 million users currently utilizing Twitter, the possibilities for the NFL seem endless within the social network. Future player and team interactions with fans could become closer than ever. With the freedom to express themselves in any way possible within a 140 character limit, players must also exercise more caution than ever before with what they share, constantly under the close watch and scrutiny of the league itself, as well as millions of adoring fans and close followers. Twitter is already an integral aspect of the NFL and its business, with endless possibilities for the future. The only unknown is what those possibilities will turn out to be.
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