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.
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.
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).
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.