SBD/September 9, 2011/NFL Season Preview

Speak Softly: Vast Majority Of NFL Team Execs Elect To Stay Off Twitter

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As the '11 NFL season kicked off Thursday night, a study by SportsBusiness Daily shows that fewer than a dozen top-level NFL team execs are confirmed to be on Twitter. Colts Owner Jim Irsay’s quirky and candid posts quickly made him a must-follow after he joined the social media site last year, and that is reflected by his more than 59,000 followers. But so far the vast majority of his peers -- owners, team presidents, GMs and Exec VPs -- have chosen not to follow in his footsteps. That low number comes after a recent poll from Turkey Sports & Entertainment that found 70% of all sports execs are not on Twitter. While a notable number of NFL league officials are on Twitter, from Commissioner Roger Goodell to Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello, few team owners and execs have followed suit. Irsay is one of just three NFL team owners confirmed by SBD to be on Twitter, along with Woody Johnson (Jets) and Paul Allen (Seahawks). On the business side, only two top-level team execs -- Jets Exec VP/Business Operations Matt Higgins and Lions President Tom Lewand -- have active Twitter handles, while a handful of their counterparts in football operations have confirmed accounts. Broncos Exec VP/Football Operations John Elway, who tweeted just 12 times in August, leads all front-office personnel with more than 103,000 followers. A few NFL team execs appear to have accounts, including Patriots President Jonathan Kraft and Cardinals President Michael Bidwill, but those could not be verified. The following list shows confirmed Twitter handles and relevant data for NFL team execs at the owner, president, GM or Exec VP level, as of Sept. 7, 2011. 
 
NFL TEAM OWNERS
FOLLOWERS
TWEETS
LAST TWEET
Colts Owner Jim Irsay
59,680
4,909
Sept. 7
Seahawks Owner Paul Allen
21,337
109
Aug. 31
Jets Owner Woody Johnson
14,454
33
May 6
NFL TEAM EXECS
FOLLOWERS
TWEETS
LAST TWEET
Broncos Exec VP/Football
Operations John Elway
103,159
117
Sept. 6
Jets Exec VP/Business Operations Matt Higgins
15,226
5,243
Sept. 7
Falcons President & CEO Rich McKay
3,432
65
May '09
Lions President Tom Lewand
2,564
15
Aug. 29
Rams Exec VP/Football Operations
& COO Kevin Demoff
648
57
Sept. 1
 

THERE'S NO "I" IN TEAM? In surveying NFL franchises about their organizational philosophy, most teams expressed a preference to let verified team accounts communicate the message. Several clubs, notably the Patriots (128,674 followers), Bengals (47,440) and Raiders (75,487), asserted that while individual execs are not on Twitter, they do interact on the social media platform as part of a greater franchise-wide effort.  “Although our executives are not on Twitter individually, each may use (and many do use) our organizational Twitter account to disseminate messages to our fans,” Raiders Chief Exec Amy Trask wrote in an e-mail. “Sometimes those messages are tweeted with attribution (‘Amy Trask says’ or ‘message from Amy Trask’) and sometimes the content is delivered without attribution, if attribution seems unnecessary.” After the Raiders abstained from voting on the NFL’s new 10-year CBA, the only franchise to do so, the @Raiders account posted several comments attributed to Trask. “We have profound philosophical differences on a number of issues -- both of a football and economic nature,” one tweet read. Higgins sees the benefit of engaging on a personal level with fans. “We have a deep commitment to transparency and engagement, so if you’re going to talk to the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk at the highest levels of the organization,” Higgins said. “Fans say they want to connect with teams and personalities. … The benefits (of Twitter) far outweigh the negatives.” Higgins also cited the value of immediate interaction with fans, who hold him accountable for both his actions and those of the Jets.

BALANCING ACT: The benefit of being on Twitter varies for NFL team execs, depending on what side of franchise operations they handle, said David Katz, Founder & CEO of SportsFanLive.com and ThePostGame.com. "If you look at player personnel -- general managers and coaches -- you might not see a lot of them on while they're actively in those roles," Katz said. "Those jobs are really all about information secrecy, and the idea of having an ongoing dialogue with a fan base ... is not something that's in the job description." But for team officials not involved directly in football operations, especially owners, it's a different story. "I think there may be a generational gap there," Katz said. "Maybe they don't feel comfortable (on Twitter). Maybe they're not as technology focused, maybe they have other things they'd rather be doing with their time." Still, Katz added, "I think it's, quite frankly, a missed opportunity. ... If you look at the team owners, I think fans who love these teams and want every bit of information about these teams, should feel as though they have access to the owner. Even if that's the owner putting out a handful of tweets occasionally, responding to fan questions when they see fit, it would go a long way toward continuing to build that bond and that loyalty that fans have with the franchises they love."

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