ESPN and the NFL Still Trying To Figure Out This Twitter Thing

News broke this weekend that several NFL teams, including the Packers and Dolphins, have ↵outlawed their players and staff from using the social networking service Twitter. With the fine of $2,500 levied to Chargers defensive back ↵Antonio Cromartie for complaining about the training camp food, it looks like the league-wide smack down on 'microblogging' will be coming soon. ↵Crimetime31 (yep) has since protected his Tweets from future gawking. All those fans who long to follow OGOchoCinco Twitpicing his touchdown dances this season, well, 'this is why we can't have nice things.' ↵

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↵It seems the 'watch what you tweet' mantra isn't just sweeping the NFL training camps. Those who cover training camps are also getting the rules re-written for them. Bob Kravitz reports that several teams in the league have banned members of the media from using Twitter or live-blogging practice. As Kravitz points out, a fan in the stands watching practice can use a phone to easily scoop the media that is actually there to cover it. ↵

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↵⇥In other words, a fan can sit in the stands at Colts camp and send up-to-the-minute tweets and blog posts about the last sweet catch by Reggie Wayne. But Peter King and John Clayton and less luminous mediots like myself cannot. ↵
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↵There are no cell phones allowed on the field, and while Kravitz spoke with the NFL's senior VP of media relations Greg Aiello who stated that the league has recommended all teams join the rest of the us in the technology-is-everywhere world, "Ultimately, it's up to the individual teams to set policy," Aiello said. ↵

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↵This policy -- if you can call it that -- coming on the heels of Andy Reid's classic stonewalling of the media about a team-changing injury, further illustrates that NFL teams clearly don't understand the business model and where the media, and new media, fits in. Like the NFL, the Worldwide Leader in Sports is still trying to figure out this whole Twitter thing as well. ↵

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↵Word came from, where else, Twitter yesterday that ESPN is changing its policy regarding employee Tweets. ↵Per Ric Bucher: ↵

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↵⇥The hammer just came down, tweeps: ESPN memo prohibiting tweeting info unless it serves ESPN. Kinda figured this was coming. Not sure what this means but ↵
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↵Did the ESPN colossus swallow Bucher up whole? Or did he just run out of characters? The term 'unless it serves ESPN' had everyone wondering yesterday evening what the new ESPN rules would focus on. ↵

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↵So we took to our sources. They don't call ESPN's offices a campus for nothing. The place is bigger than most New England liberal arts colleges, and with the number of production people, on-air talent, PR staffers and executives, sources come flying from all angles. ↵

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↵Was this new ESPN policy in response to ↵Mark Schlereth going back and forth with Ochocinco, or was it just coincidental timing? And how will this effect the more free-spirited ESPN Tweeters like Bill Simmons and Jemele Hill? To head the conjecture off at the pass, ESPN sent out a statement last night with a release on their policy for social media. ↵

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↵⇥Per ESPN PR: We have been active in the social media space for awhile. As our mission is to serve sports fans, we will continue to be active. We are now merely getting smarter about it by providing guidelines to commentators and reporters. ↵
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↵In a nutshell, this new policy has less to do with interaction between analyst and player as it does with breaking news. We learned through a source that ESPN is upset with on-air talent breaking news on Twitter, rather than on an ESPN platform. The WWL is working on a system to pick and choose ESPN tweets to post on their .com platform, so if news is broken via Tweet, it will be posted on the website as well. But until that service is up and running and can find its place on the site, ESPN brass would like the breaking news to be toned down a bit, mmmkay? ↵

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↵Frankly, nothing in this ESPN release is that shocking. You can't have personal sites that contain sports content. Assume at all times you are representing ESPN. If you wouldn't say it or write it for ESPN, don't tweet it. Don't argue with readers/viewers who don't like your work (that's the fun of it all!) and of course, don't tweet about sports before you 'receive permission from the supervisor as appointed by your department head.' ↵

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↵ESPN has one-upped the NFL teams fining players by suggesting their range of consequences is, 'including but not limited to suspension or dismissal.' ↵

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↵No word in the ESPN release how this new policy will affect those who are freelancers with the network. For example, ESPN had a strict no-comment policy regarding the Erin Andrews situation (rightfully so), but that didn't stop Jay Mariotti, who ESPN pays quite a large sum of money to spew venom nearly every weekday on Around the Horn, from writing 1,501 words on the topic at FanHouse. Will this policy change with regard to social networking? Can it change? ↵

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↵We'll have to wait and see. For now, bookmark Tweleted just in case something quotable disappears in the ESPN or NFL fog. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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