Commentary

Why Can't Players Tweet During NFL Games?

twitter/football

Professional sports leagues focus on the weirdest things when they start cracking down on misbehavior. For example, the NFL doesn't seem to particularly mind players abusing steroids (the punishment for failing a steroid drug test is a four-game suspension -- basically a slap on the wrist)... but NFL players who use social media during a game are liable for a $25,000 fine. This is part of a communications blackout which decrees players may not use cell phones, electronic devices, or social media including Twitter or Facebook within 90 minutes of kickoff.

And it seems the NFL is serious about the social media ban: Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco just got slapped with a $25,000 fine for tweeting during a game on Tuesday. Ochocinco, who's had social media run-ins with the NFL before, apologized (via Twitter) noting, "that was 2 months of my Bugatti payments you just took from me, I won't do it again."

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Maybe someone can explain this policy to me. I can understand banning some kinds of communication during the time around games -- specifically, anything which could be used to receive last-minute tips about the opposing team's plays. But I can't guess what the NFL hopes to accomplish by preventing players from disseminating their own content, provided of course it doesn't fall in the category of game-sensitive information. If coaches or managers don't want them tweeting, that's their prerogative, and social media ought to conform to the same standards of sportsmanship as behavior on the field -- no excessive trash talking, etc. -- but why make it a league-wide rule punishable by fines?

The policy strikes me as counter-productive because allowing players to use social media during games could be a potential gold mine in terms of driving and tracking viewer engagement. Frankly, the only time athletes really have anything interesting to say is probably during the game, when they're sitting on the sidelines talking amongst themselves -- but the viewer at home usually isn't privy to their bench chatter (unless they happen to read lips). I'm sure some of this content isn't suitable for broadcast on Twitter, or any other medium, but with some basic rules in place governing language and subject matter, I imagine you could have some interesting Twitter streams -- including dynamic posting by individual players, coaches and managers, as well as team accounts and even dialogue with the public.

16 comments about "Why Can't Players Tweet During NFL Games?".
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  1. Amy Fanter from Odds On Promotions, August 26, 2010 at 1:58 p.m.

    The policy is most likely in place for one major reason ...
    Las Vegas (i.e. sports betting).

    Then again, would you want your surgeon tweeting during your bypass or your dentist tweeting during a root canal? We seem to forget that the players and coaches are working -

    Hire someone upstairs to do do the sideline tweeting, better yet, give a fan the chance to the Game Day Tweeter.

  2. Bruce Hammonds from Kaboose, August 26, 2010 at 2:01 p.m.

    It's no different than your employer telling you that they don't want you on Facebook or Twitter during work hours. Let's not forget, these athletes are employees...just like you and I. They are obviously much higher paid employees, but they are subject to employer restrictions just like everyone else. If I am paying someone millions of dollars to perform a duty, I want their sole attention focused on that task...not social media.

    And BTW...a 4 game suspension for steroids is not a "slap on the wrist". That equates to 25% of the season. Enough to make or break a team's chances of making the playoffs.

  3. Nick Reinig from Karsh & Hagan, August 26, 2010 at 2:03 p.m.

    I think for one, the $25k fine is chump change compared to the four game suspension without pay - even if someone makes a measly $1MM a year, a four game suspension is $250,000, ten times that of a social media fine.

    Also, I would think part of the NFL's policy addresses that players should be focused on the game at hand, not worried about updating their followers - hopefully their followers are watching the game on TV or listening on the radio, with networks paying out large chunks to the league... money coming from advertisers. I don't think many advertisers would be happy knowing that their audience just missed out on their spot because they had their head buried in their favorite player's feed instead of watching/listening at the time.

    That is unless of course there were a way to monetize Tweets in a manner for the advertiser to sponsor a particular player's feed to reach their target.

  4. Ken Kurtz from creative license, August 26, 2010 at 2:17 p.m.

    Four game suspension for steroids a "slap on the wrist?"

    In Ochocinco's case (he's making about $4,000,000 a year), that represents 25% of his season, and a "fine" of $1,000,000.

    Only in a parallel, deranged, tweet-centric universe is a $1,000,000 fine a "slap on the wrist", and a $25,000 fine "serious."

    You want an explanation for the NFL's "no-tweet" policy. How about this? THE NFL IS ONE OF THE MOST VALUABLE, AND INCREDIBLE PRODUCTS KNOWN TO MANKIND.

    Jagoffs tweeting on the sidelines can only diminish the quality of the product.

    All you tweeters keep tweeting though. Keep dumbing yourselves down... makes it easier for the real thinkers in this society.

  5. Frank Reed from Marketing Pilgrim, August 26, 2010 at 2:25 p.m.

    Erik - Have you ever played football? Contrary to what most people think, you need to be more than just a hulking Neanderthal to play. You have to concentrate, you have to be aware, you have to pay attention.

    If you have players during a game wondering about their next tweet vs. what defense they are playing against and how they will respond you will do something that will kill the value of why they even get to do this in the first place: it will kill the game.

    Besides, the last thing the world needs is in game tweets from football players. It's a game. Play it and when it's over tweet til you pass out.

    That's my take.

  6. Tom Jeffrey from Hook, August 26, 2010 at 2:25 p.m.

    I just wrote a similar post myself. I think the NFL is missing out on a huge opportunity to get fans even more involved in the game. The NFL is a sport, and it's also entertainment. Players tweeting adds to the entertainment value. From a fan point of view, I loved the fact that Ochocinco tweeted about how hard he was hit going across the middle. It makes him a real human.

    There should certainly be policies in place about what topics are off limits for players. I'd say let the tweets begin.

  7. Tommy Chang from TM Advertising, August 26, 2010 at 2:32 p.m.

    The NFL won't allow it until they figure out just how they can monetize it. Then, you'll probably see an NFL.com Live Player Stream where players wil be *asked* to tweet. They'll probably put a kiosk in the end zone where players who just scored are required to go to tweet about their score "in the moment" and tweets will stream across the scoreboards sponsored by corporation X.

    It's not allowed now, but it's only a matter of time and money.

  8. Jay Garza, August 26, 2010 at 3:26 p.m.

    The answer to why players can't "Tweet" during games is simple. It's too much of a risk to what makes the NFL the most popular sport in America. Gambling. If players were allowed to "Tweet" status during the game it could compromise the one thing that keeps this machine rolling in all the money they make. Further, fans may not realize how it easy it is for so called "wise guys" to get these guys to tweet them in game information. Things could get sketchy quickly.

  9. Dan Armstrong from Shopzilla.com, August 26, 2010 at 3:28 p.m.

    Couldn't agree more with Amy and Frank. They are professionals who are supposed to be working. There are plenty of professionals who "job" it is to Tweet, but pro sports is not that industry.

    And how would you police the lines between "entertainment" tweets and "strategy" tweets, which obviously has massive gambling implications. I'd love to see the first time Ochocinco innocuously tweets that his ankle hurts, he drops the game-winning pass, and millions are lost (or won). Or when he says his ankle's hurting and then a CB rolls his foot intentionally.

    "Off limit topics" are also not feasible, given the already embarassing history of NFL players and Twitter. Ochocinco is an exception, due to his larger-than-life personality, but is not the rule.

    That's a completely untenable situation.

    Why does everything in life need to be broadcast in real time and monetized? Players are paid to play, compete and win. Leave the halftime show to sideline reports and cheerleaders.

  10. Matt Heindl from Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners, August 26, 2010 at 4:14 p.m.

    Yes, athletes are supposed to be PLAYING and THINKING ABOUT THE GAME they are paid awesome salaries to do... not to mention possible collusion/fixing/cheating that may occur when digital communications are freely available.

    I realize this is an opinion piece, but this particular opinion is just plain silly.

  11. Erik Sass from none, August 26, 2010 at 5:08 p.m.

    Interesting points. A couple responses:

    1. The four-game suspension for steroids seems like a slap on the wrist relative to the seriousness of the offense, not relative to the $25,000 fine (which for its part seems like a lot of money for tweeting).

    2. The potential for cheating by professional athletes is huge, but it already exists, and any athlete who is determined to cheat can already communicate with co-conspirators off the field by using codes agreed ahead of time, e.g. subtle gestures like scratching your head, stance, flavor of Gatorade you're drinking, etc. Even if TV cameras aren't on them every second, a co-conspirator could still be watching from the stands and communicating with fixers off-site via cell phone.

    3. Given the high visibility of social media, it would be pretty foolhardy to try to communicate in code with fixers about throwing the game via Twitter. Not impossible, but definitely a big risk. Guidelines and professional pressure would obviously prevent open sharing of game-sensitive information.

    4. It's true that professional athletes are paid to play their sports and not tweet. But just like other professionals who use social media, it would be up to them to make sure their social media use didn't interfere with their ability to do their job -- a judgment call which I'm sure they feel competent to make. Why NOT tweet when everyone is milling around on the field while referees confer over a slow-motion replay, or when the opposing team's coach calls a timeout? At this point the players are actually under-utilized assets: you're paying them millions of $ to sit on their butts. And no, I do not think they are hulking neanderthals... which is why I think fans would probably want to hear what they're thinking during the game.

  12. Tad Dewree from Mind 4 Marketing, August 26, 2010 at 5:28 p.m.

    Tweet during the game?

    For the same reason Nascar and Formula One drivers couldn't, wouldn't, and shouldn't during a race.

    Social media is a adjunct to life. Not real life.

    Seriously..exactly how much social networking Koolaid did you drink?

  13. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 26, 2010 at 7:29 p.m.

    When you sue the doctor for leaving something inside of you when he was supposed to remove something else because he was a twit, would it be a Tweet Defense or just plain bird brained?

  14. Sam Whitmore from SWMS, August 27, 2010 at 7:33 a.m.

    @nflqb calls for fly on 3rd and 1? Why are they paying me $6M a year to run for 1st downs? #wtf

  15. Brian Hayashi from ConnectMe 360, August 27, 2010 at 2:49 p.m.

    Players won't be allowed to tweet for the same reason ABC pays $8.8 billion of dollars for the rights to telecast Monday Night Football and other NFL events. More specifically, wireless companies pay hundreds of millions of dollars to the NFL for data rights. Player tweets - specifically the ability to communicate directly with people - makes those agreements less valuable. As the payload of each tweet goes from 140 characters to include links to pictures and video, the potential damage to the value of NFL contracts increases exponentially.

    Follow the money, follow the power. (Or follow me at @connectme)

  16. Steve Bucholz from SABA solutions, September 1, 2010 at 10:42 a.m.

    For the same reasons Employers don't generally encourage their employee's to conduct their personal business while they are paying them to perform their job duties. This is a silly suggestion that is taking social media to absurd levels of excess.

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