Tag Archives: Charlie Davies

Twitter Trends and the Football World: From 2009 to 2010

Darren Bent Twitter

The English football season started off with Steve Bruce wondering what the hell Twitter was when a media storm broke following Darren Bent’s expression of frustration on his then-stalled move to Sunderland from Spurs in the summer. “Someone says Darren has been Twittering,” Bruce told the Sunderland Echo. “I don’t even know what that is, but I have seen a few things in the papers about it.”

Bruce now knows very well what Twitter is, as he commented to the Daily Mail on the power of the social internet earlier this month: “It never used to get out of the dressing room. The manager would get hold of you and there would be a fight every other week. The number of fights I’ve seen . . . that’s the way it’s gone, with the media spotlight, Twitter, it spreads like wildfire.”

2009 has been the year of Twitter, and its impact on the football world was similar to its impact on the rest of the world: as a new go-to spot for real time news on big events, for its unprecedented peeks into  our hero’s and heroine’s lives, for an explosion in viral marketing and for its ability to connect people around the world.

Let’s take a look at four key Twitter trends from 2009 reflecting those four aspects of the service’s impact, and consider what’s in store for us in 2010.

1) @DBtheTruth and @JozyAltidore17
Bent dominated Twitter in English football, provoking the first major tweet-induced controversy with his comments about Spurs chairman Daniel Levy: “”Do I wanna go Hull City NO. Do I wanna go stoke NO do I wanna go sunderland YES so stop f****** around, Levy. Sunderland are not the problem in the slightest.” Bent’s original account, @DB10theTruth, was quickly closed when word spread, but he soon reemerged as @DBtheTruth, now boasting over 26,000 followers. Another of his tweets hit the headlines recently, as his mention of racial abuse of his mother made the headlines (an arrest was later made).

Like Bent, Jozy Altidore’s use of Twitter illustrated the issue teams are having controlling the flow of information about their own club. Altidore was fined for revealing on Twitter that he had been dropped from Hull’s squad for being late, with Hull manager Phil Brown saying “That for me is information that stays in house. The reason he wasn’t on the bench was our business.”

Communications directors and coaches across the football world will have to deal with more and more of this kind of issue. Information that was once in house can much less consistently be kept there. Teams are trying to educate their players about what they can and can’t say on their public accounts, but now a player can instantly tell a practically unlimited number of people anything they want as easily as sending a text message, and that’s not going to be possible to tightly control. We will all find out more about the stars of football than we might ever even have wanted to know.

2) #confedcup
The Confederation Cup now provides something of a dress rehearsal for the World Cup the following year, and in the Twitterverse, South Africa in 2009 was a tiny taste of the insanity we can expect in June when the big event arrives there. The flow of tweets about the tournament was considerable given its relatively low profile, trending on Twitter several times, and giving a big publicity boost to the US team with their unexpected run to the final.

Tim Howard was a trending topic at the Confederations Cup, and expect him to be one again come June 12th, when Twitter will explode on both sides of the Atlantic as the US takes on England. Michael Jackson’s death almost broke Twitter, and one could imagine that if we have another Zidane-like incident, the World Cup just might do so too. The magnification lens and chatter on any and every incident will be unprecedented in the history of sport.

twitter-follows-sports

3) @womensprosoccer
On November 22nd, Womens Professional Soccer hit 100,000 followers. As of today, that had exploded to 185,713. One of the world’s newest professional leagues is cleaning up in new media savvy in the soccer world; the world’s oldest league, for example, England’s Football League, have (as of right now) 185,394 less followers than WPS: that’s right, just 319 people follow @football_league. The Premier Legue? I just spent ten minutes on google and their official site trying to find out if they even have an official Twitter account (anyone know?).

WPS’ teams have also been in the forefront in using Twitter for marketing, as we commented back in March about the Chicago Red Stars, with the low-cost ability to reach people a big boost for lower income teams. Still, it’s also worth thinking about just how much impact even this relatively small investment actually has on the bottom line: consider this tweet from Chicago Red Stars Director of Sponsorship and Marketing Pat McNamara a few weeks ago: “A typical WPS Suburban Soccer Fam is not on Twitter. We put a lot into SMM. Stay the course & grow into it or divert resources?”

The rest of the football world, though, will be playing catch-up, especially as their target audiences most definitely are on Twitter. In 2010, expect a new emphasis on Twitter from new media laggards like the Premier League and MLS (already working on it with @MLS_Insider tweeting regularly and growing its following substantially in recent weeks).

4) @CharlieDavies9
News of the American forward’s terrible car crash broke quickly on Twitter in October, with speculation spreading even more widely than fact. It was odd to see many of Davies’ teammates write about their fears for Charlie almost immediately. Davies’ own Twitter following suddenly grew enormously in the weeks after his crash, with over 15,000 following his recovery. His near two-month silence was recently broken, and he recently tweeted “I’m truly blessed to have survived and have people that care. I’m doing much better and I’m able to walk. Rehab is going very well.”

U.S. supporters used Twitter to coordinate their 9th minute tribute to Davies on October 15th against Costa Rica at RFK stadium, and it has been touching to see the American soccer community — from players to fans — come together online over such a serious trauma for one of their own.

Perhaps this is a reminder of why we use Twitter; to be better connected to more people, to be part of a community. The good, the bad and the controversial of the soccer world will only be tweeted by us ever more in 2010.

Tweet Tweet: A Revolution in Player-Fan Communications

“Ref in seattle just cheated the dynamo. What a joke. Not even close. Ref is a cheat” Not the usual ranting of a fan of the Dynamo after a controversial decision in an MLS game. No, this was a now-infamous tweet by Brian Ching, U.S. national team player and star of the Houston Dynamo, after he’d watched what he saw as some disgraceful refereeing of his MLS team on television. By the next morning, Ching — who perhaps had heard from his club’s Communications Department — had tweeted that “I apologize for the comment which i made in the heat of the moment. Everyone tries their best and mistakes happen.”

Major League Soccer later fined Ching $500 for his comments. Ching might have been the first to be fined for his outburst, but he surely won’t be the last — and if an MLS player with 1,800 followers can create such a stir, what on earth will happen during the Premier League season and the World Cup in the coming year?

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Other major sports are already feeling the heat of this new, direct and largely uncensored connection between players and fans. In the NFL, the opening of training camp has led to a twittering storm (@TrentShelton “On my way to practice…thank God for waking me up this morning! U should do the same”), with Rick Maese in the Washington Post saying this means the league has lost control of its tight grip on the “image game”.

While athletes have used blogs the past couple of years, they say Twitter is quicker, more accessible and less likely to be filtered through agents, publicists or team officials before publication. From the perspective of both fan and athlete, that’s a good thing. But the National Football League is an image-obsessed league, routinely beset by athletes’ off-the-field antics. Twitter has already grown into a social media tool over which the league has little to no control.

Coaches and league officials are still attempting to control use of Twitter, but NFL players simply aren’t obeying. San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman tweeted: “Coach said we cant tweet in the blding so i called my lawyer and found a lupo [loophole] in that contract…tweeting outside yeaaaaa.”

When controversial Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco (you know, Chad Johnson) said he would tweet during games, the league reaffirmed its rule banning mobile devices from the sidelines — but Ochocinco (with 79,000 followers) tweeted back “Damn NFL and these rules, I am going by my own set of rules, I ain’t hurting nobody or getting in trouble, I am putting my foot down!!”

chadjohnson

In American soccer, which hardly struggles from a case of over-exposure, it may be the case that almost all publicity is good publicity, and the direct connections for fans following the younger national team players have been a trend on Twitter all summer. Followers of Ching’s Twitter protested MLS’ $500 fine by good-naturedly raising $500 for charity to express their support for free expression for players.  Such a connection is particularly important for fans of MLS, who receive little in the way of the insight into their team’s players’ lives from the mainstream media that other sports are already saturated with.

Down at the Confederations Cup, @FreddyAdu11 tweeted one day that “guys it is soo boring in south africa. we cant go out because of safety reasons so its train and hotel. someone please entertain me. anythin”

Young Americans like Adu, Charlie Davies and Jozy Altidore see Twitter as a key way to connect with fans and develop their identities. Adu’s Twitter page features an image of him crashing towards the camera from the goal, and his bio simply reads “Attitude is EVERYTHING”.  His 8,476 followers are often directly appealed to (“all the advice is great guys. just know that im reading them all the time. I cant always reply to everyone but i am paying attention”), and Adu pushes them to help grow his following — “hey beautiful people wassup? tell all your friends to tell their friends whoever to follow me. I wanna get alot of followers. Lets get it”

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Of course, this direct and instantaneous communication tool creates a nightmare for Communications Departments. Transfer news and roster selections have been leaked by players on Twitter many times already, creating an almost endless feedback loop examining in microscopic detail the meaning of hastily posted 140 character tweets. Young players are seemingly impervious to patient explanation of procedure and privacy before posting. An infamous case came in cricket last week, when one Australian dropped from the team tweeted the news long before an official announcement was scheduled.

Some have also begun to criticise the lazy journalism Twitter seems to encourage — tweets form the basis for stories before information has been verified with the team and with no direct contact with players to confirm stories. Still, at the same time, the mere existence of Twitter returns us (if in a virtual, 140-character-limited-way) to the days of less guarded conversation between players and journalists and fans that existed before tight controls limited access and sponsor appearances or press conferences dominated what barely constituted dialog.

It will be interesting to see how the Premier League reacts this summer if Twitter catches on there as it has in other leagues and sports. And fans will undoubtedly have a unique insight into next summer’s World Cup from tweeting, perhaps to the chagrin of Fifa, team officials and sponsors — raw, 140 character bursts mainly of inanity but occasionally insight that cut directly through the walls players have increasingly had put around them to protect their images in the past three decades. What might Ronaldo have tweeted in the locker room before the 1998 World Cup Final?  Or Zidane in the minutes after his infamous headbutt?

The History of the Confederations Cup

Confederations Cup Trophy

Confederations Cup Trophy

As we look forward to an unexpected final between Brazil and the United States in the 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup we look at how the competition was established and developed.  Has a tournament with a troubled history finally ‘made it’?

The Artemio Franchi Trophy and the King Fahd Cup

The precursors of the Confederations Cup as intercontinental international trophies were the Artemio Franchi Trophy and the King Fahd Cup. Neither managed to establish themselves as prominent fixtures in international consciousness, but both — along with the Afro-Asian Cup — did embed the idea of regular competition between continental champions.

The first Artemio Franchi Trophy, contested by the European and South American champions, was won by France (winners of Euro ’84), who beat Uruguay (winners of Copa America ’83) 2-1 in 1985 at Parc des Princes, Paris. It’s fair to say the trophy was not a resounding success, with just over 20,000 showing up in Paris, and a repeat affair not taking place for another eight years. In 1993, Argentina (Copa America ’91) beat Denmark (Euro ’92) on a penalty shoot-out after a 1-1 tie, in front of 34,683 in Argentina.

At the same time, the Afro-Asian Cup had been developing as a contest between the Asian and African champions. It was first held in 1978 between Iran and Ghana, though never completed as political problems in the former country led to cancellation of the second leg. It wouldn’t reappear until 1985, but was then played regularly until 1997, when a dispute between the two confederations led to a decade-long hiatus.

Competitions such as these showed some demand for intercontinental contests, but it was the King Fahd Cup, inaugurated in 1991, that first showcased intercontinental competition including more than two confederations (if we exclude the “Little World Cup” of 1980, a somewhat different one-off conception deserving of its own post).

The King Fahd Cup — or “Intercontinental Championship” — was first held in 1992, featuring Argentina (Copa America ’91), the United States (CONCACAF Gold Cup, ’91), the Ivory Coast (African Nations Cup, ’92) and the hosts, Saudi Arabia (Asian Cup ’88). The local crowd flocked to see Saudia Arabia’s two games, a 3-0 win over the U.S. in the “semi-final” (also the opening round!) and a 3-1 defeat to Argentina in the final in front of 75,000.  There was less interest in the other semi-final, attended by 15,000 as Argentina crushed the Ivory Coast 4-0, or in the third place play-off, won by the U.S. in front of under 10,000 spectators.

King Fahd II Stadium, Riyadh

King Fahd II Stadium, Riyadh

The tournament was a minor success and, bankrolled again by King Fahd’s kingdom, it returned in 1995. It was expanded to six teams, to accommodate the European champions Denmark as well and to allow Saudi Arabia to enter as hosts, since Japan had won the previous Asian Cup. Also participating were African champions Nigeria and Gold Cup winners Mexico. Two groups of three gave the tournament added longevity, with Denmark and Argentina advancing to the final. In a half-full King Fahd II stadium, the Laudrups of Denmark led the Europeans to a 2-0 victory.

The FIFA Confederations Cup

Fifa sniffed a commercial prospect and took over the contest from 1997 on, though for the final time, it was played in Saudi Arabia that year, with the cumbersome double title of the FIFA/Confederations Cup for the King Fahd Trophy. For the first time, every Fifa Confederation was represented, with Oceania (represented by Australia) appearing for the first time. The tournament was expanded to eight teams, with the previous World Cup winner (Brazil) also invited along with the Asian Cup runners-up UAE (presumably because Asian Cup winners Saudi Arabia already had automatic entry as hosts). Brazil crushed Australia 6-0 in the final, the latter having somehow squeaked that far despite winning only one of their five games in regulation time.

The Fifa Confederations Cup (as it would from now on simply be known as) had been established on the international stage, but it still lacked a solid purpose, and the refusal of certain continental champions to participate undermined its legitimacy over the next decade (Germany opted out in ’97 and ’03 and France in ’99). The always shifting qualification procedures confused the public, such as Mexico’s entry into the ’03 tournament based on their win in the Confederations Cup two years earlier.

That 1999 tournament saw the Cup moved away from Saudi Arabia for the first time, and the switch to Mexico proved to be a rousing success: almost one million attended the matches, at an average of 60,625, almost triple the average of two years previously. A goalfeast – 3.44 goals per game, and stellar performances by Ronaldinho, Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Saudi Marzouq Al-Otaibi with 6 goals each — certainly helped matters. Mexico’s epic 4-3 win over Brazil in the final was watched by 110,000 at the legendary Estadio Azteca.

Yet it still wasn’t entirely clear why the tournament was taking place when and where it was. Why was it held every two years, and where would it go next?  In 2001, the eventual long-term solution was found, as South Korea and Japan co-hosted the Cup as a dry run for their role as World Cup hosts the next year. Crowds were down somewhat, with a 557,191 total attendance (34,824 per match), though most matches saw stadia close to capacity – helped by Japan’s surprising run to the final, where they were defeated by France.

Perhaps as reward for winning the ’01 tournament, France were chosen as hosts for the ’03 event. This tournament, though, would mark the low point in the history of the event, as Cameroon’s Marc-Vivien Foé died on the pitch of heart failure during their semi-final with Colombia. His death sparked a debate about the demands the international calendar placed on top players, and the value of the Confederations Cup. Sepp Blatter hardly helped matters by immediately stating the final would go ahead three days later with many questioning whether Cameroon should play at all. Though Fifa initially promised to consider renaming the event after Foé, nothing came of that (there will be a brief ceremony before tomorrow’s final remembering the Cameroonian).

Marc-Vivien Foé

Marc-Vivien Foé

The Confederations Cup did return two years later, once again as World Cup dress rehearsal, this time in Germany. A pretty impressive turnout — 603,106 (37,694 per match) — saw a run to the semis by the hosts, who were beaten by eventual champions Brazil, who in turn defeated Argentina in the final 4-1.

For the first time, the Confederations Cup was not held two years later, and Fifa announced it had settled on a definitive formula: the Cup would be held every four years by the next World Cup hosts. All six confederation champions, the host nation and the reigning World Cup winner would be the entrants — though for the South American and European champion only, participation remains optional.

It seems this formula, along with Fifa’s smart decision to package the rights to the Confederations Cup with the World Cup, has finally established the tournament as a serious proposition. The opportunity for nations to compete at the next World Cup’s venue and for the host themselves to get a meaningful warmup and operational dress rehearsal gives it practical purpose. And it’s a fine carrot for the less prestigious continental championships to offer their winners.

Perhaps most importantly, there is finally a sense that the world cares and is watching. As U.S. forward Charlie Davies posted on his Twitter account today ahead of the final,  “off too [sic] training, We gotta do it big tomorrow on ESPN!!!! Shock the world part II”.