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Tweet Tweet… Not So Sweet?
By Anna Molosky

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These days, nearly all of us with internet access have heard of or are ourselves users of the social media services Facebook and Twitter. However, their huge popularity has generated some negative attention from the business side of the billion-dollar professional and collegiate sports industry. The main question at hand is whether these networks take away viewers from TV sports networks such as ESPN which hold broadcasting contracts with college and professional teams or if, conversely, they are an invaluable promotional resource. As these modern social networking are so, well … new, many sports leagues have divided opinions concerning their promotional value.

The contrasting cases of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Big Ten Conference, both giants in the college sports world, pose an interesting example to this debate. Recently, the SEC issued a ban on all social media from college stadiums. The SEC believes that the dissemination of videos, pictures, tweets, Facebook posts, and other electronic media will reduce the number of viewers watching live broadcasts of the game on TV which could, if severe enough, seriously endanger the conference’s contracts with CBS and other television networks. Meanwhile, the Big Ten Conference has taken the opposite approach, encouraging the use of and making its own accounts on social media sites. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Coaches like Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald see Facebook as a way to communicate with fans, not a tool that could jeopardize mainstream media”. A poll indicates that 40% of Americans disagree with the ban, believing that “social media adds to the TV broadcasts”

For insider insight on the issue, players Ashley Robinson and Shannon Johnson of the Seattle Storm were interviewed. When Robinson was asked what her opinion concerning the recent SEC ban on Facebook and Twitter use during games was, she sympathized with the decision, stating, “They have to do that; then what do you watch ESPN for, you just get on Twitter and follow people or get on Facebook... then you don’t even have to watch the game.”

Johnson agreed saying, “So many people use twitter and Facebook to keep up with athletes now a days, the people at ESPN are definitely upset that people just go on there and follow players.”

While both players acknowledged the threat Tweeting could pose to million-dollar media contracts, they believe that social Web sites such as Facebook, which both women use, were useful for connecting preexisting fans with players. Johnson remarked that, “When you use Twitter you know more personal stuff [about the players] than what ESPN or other local sports channels can do”. However, while existing fans may benefit, Robinson reflected, “As for promoting the WNBA, I feel like that the people who go on our pages know who we are.”

With millions of active “Tweeple” and Facebook users, this media headache is doubtful to cease anytime soon. And although huge cable sports channels may lament the easy access of game information available via internet, the fact remains that for any sports fan watching the game live in the comfort of their living room beats craning over the computer to catch simple game scores and highlights via the plain font of social media sites. No matter the side of the debate on which you stand, Storm veteran Ashley Robinson offered a parting message: “Facebook gets a lot of people in trouble.”