It used to be enough to have a beer in hand and a bowl of chips in reach to watch a football game. Now it is a juggling act with drink, snacks and a smartphone.
Look for those numbers to increase. Twitter has been in operation for only five years. Facebook has been around longer and is by far the most popular social media for fans to follow and discuss their favorite teams, according to the study by Catalyst Public Relations. It is used for that purpose by 86 percent of NFL fans and 79 percent of college football fans.
It is all part of the social media revolution sweeping through football like wildfire, very rapidly changing the way the game is watched and communicated, for better or worse, by fans, players, teams, leagues and media.
All one big sports bar
Football fans gravitating to social media is in line with the trend throughout society. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center showed that social media is the most rapidly growing online activity, with 65 percent of Internet users interacting with sites such as Facebook and Twitter. That is up from 11 percent in 2005 and about 17 percent as recently as 2007.
Twitter, which debuted in 2006, has had a lot to do with that, and sports fans have contributed greatly to Twitter's meteoric rise. It has enabled fans to gather as if in a ubiquitous sports bar.
"[Fans] feel like they are all together. If they are tweeting with a particular hash tag for that game, they can all comment to each other. These are people who don't even know each other," said Dhiraj Murthy, assistant professor of sociology at Bowdoin College.
In an age when soaring salaries for athletes has driven a wedge between players and fans, social media has provided a counter balance. Many athletes offer glimpses of their lives and personalities through the medium, circumventing traditional media to communicate directly and interact with their fans.
"It's almost as if the athlete is in the sports bar or all the fans from the sports bar are in the locker room with that athlete. You actually feel you are in that space," said Murthy, who has a book coming out next year titled "Twitter: Social communication in the Twitter age."
Players find their voice
While social media gives players a direct voice, they can no longer hide behind the claim of being misquoted. Some have gotten themselves in more trouble with their own words on Twitter than when trusting quotes to reporters. Steelers running Rashard Mendenhall received a strong backlash with tweets critical of the killing of Osama bin Laden ("What kind of person celebrates death?") and ultimately lost a lucrative endorsement deal with Champion sports apparel because of the controversy.
In 2008, Texas center Buck Burnette was kicked off the Longhorns football team after he posted a racially charged comment about Barack Obama being elected president on his Facebook page. More recently, Auburn defensive back Jordan Spriggs got in hot water when he appeared to be soliciting impermissible help with his homework by tweeting: "man who is good at writing papers?????????????? i pay." Response included former Auburn player Antoine Carter's tweet: "u gotta be the dumbest person in the world lol." Spriggs shut down his account.
Zeke Pike, a high school quarterback who has committed to Auburn is already stirring controversy by trash tweeting Alabama followers with remarks such as, "I can tell you're an Alabama fan cause you have no educational skills. It's FAMILY not fambly . . . Something only AU knows about."
The forum does provide players with a chance to interact with fans and show the personality inside the helmet, and a lot of it is harmless. Florida defensive end Lyden Trail became a curiosity with quirky tweets and photos on Yfrog showing him engaged in the fad of planking – posting photographs of yourself lying facedown in unusual locations.
Football's most followed and prolific tweeter is wide receiver Chad Ochocinco (@Ochocinco), who was ranked as the second-most influential personality on Twitter earlier this year by the research firm Twitalizer, trailing Brazilian comedian Rafinha Bastos. Ochocinco, who has nearly 2.6 million followers, is a master of the medium with observations that run the gamut from mundane to humorous to controversial. It will be curious to see how his act plays in New England under coach Bill Belichick, who said recently: "I don't Twitter, I don't MyFace, I don't YearBook."
Dolphins running back Reggie Bush (@reggie_Bush) is second in the NFL with about 1.9 million followers, but a lot of that interest grew during his relationship with Kim Kardashian. More entertaining is Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (@larryfitzgerald). A team-by-team list of NFL players on Twitter, as well as former players, can be found at Tweeting-athletes.com, or visit Listorious.com/NFLplayersfans/nfl-players#
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