SBJ/20090420/Media

Twittering the Masters: Who got it right and what they did

The Masters was the first of the four majors in men’s golf to embrace Twitter, and it turned out to be  a commendable effort that would have benefited from more focus on providing users with more behind-the-scenes access or inside information on what goes on at the notoriously private tournament.

The Masters’ Twitter and Facebook sites featured posts from a freelancer who was positioned on the course, away from real-time scoring or televisions, during the seven tournament days and charged with complementing blogs at Masters.com by offering a mix of updates on competition and atmosphere.

The tournament’s roughly 300 tweets from Monday to Sunday night provided an adequate recap, but it was regularly “scooped” on Twitter by the PGA Tour, which was compiled from staffers on- and off-site. The PGA Tour was also faster and more comprehensive with stats. The Masters signed off Sunday night, but the tour generated conversations into Monday by asking readers to post Masters memories.

Highlights for the Masters were tweets about parking and traffic conditions and some experiential comments. The low points were incorrect tweets telling followers to tune to ESPN on the weekend (the coverage was actually on CBS), or that the playoff started on hole No. 10 (it was 18, and then moved to 10). Both were quickly corrected.

Given the on-course positioning, a better tack would have been to focus more on the experience of attending an event dubbed “the hardest ticket in sports.” Good examples from the Masters feed were tweets about crowd sightings, like Nike’s Phil Knight, and eavesdropping on CBS’s Jim Nantz recalling a winning bunker shot 21 years ago.

Some of the best and worst tweets from The Masters
The good (Tweeters want access or insight that is not readily available elsewhere)
@The_Masters: Behind 18 green it’s darker outside than on TV. Furyk, Villegas and Phil all have good looks for birdie.
@pgatour: Waiting near the big oak tree before Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson tee off was Lee Elder, the first African-American to play in the Masters.
@golfchannelnews: Masters’ winner Jackie Burke Jr. to Rich Lerner: “This stuff (wind) doesn’t bother that little west Texan (Chad Campbell).”
@stewartcink: Watching some of the ESPN replay. I’m getting hosed on the coverage!
The Bad (Forced agendas become more apparent when stated in less than 140 characters)
@golfchannel: Book your weekend tee time online. Get great prices at over 1,000 courses nationwide!
@pgatour: In case you were wondering, the Masters champ earns $1.35 million and 600 FedExCup points.
@The_Masters: Do you have ideas that’ll help grow the game of golf? The Masters wants your opinion--See the “Golf Goes Worldwide” section on Masters.com.

Social media is a way to reach new fans and provide more information for hard-core fans. The Masters could have better accomplished both by steering its tweets away from information easily gleaned from television (crowd size/apparel) to provide unique angles, such as access to Chairman Billy Payne and quotes or anecdotes from players. Well-intentioned tweets about the sunset or course maintenance would have been augmented had the writer been allowed use of a camera.

That type of coverage may have also been better suited to the Masters’ page on Facebook, which has fewer restrictions on space and reaches more readers, but the page seemed to be an afterthought. The roughly 30 posts on the Masters’ page were a mix of repurposed video from Masters.com and intermittent scoring updates.

Ultimately, the access that everyone wants ties back to the participants. Other golfers would be wise to take the lead of Stewart Cink, whose 50 or so tweets included pictures during practice rounds and posts about course conditions before he missed the cut. Tweeting gives fans a glance inside the ropes while allowing the players to dictate the level of access. If Cink doubled to more than 23,000 followers last week, imagine what Tiger Woods would attract.

Augusta National and PGA Tour officials said their efforts were a success based on the numbers generated. The Masters compiled 43,000 Twitter followers and 40,000 Facebook friends in just over a month despite neither being promoted anywhere besides Masters.com. Followers on the PGA Tour’s Twitter page and Facebook pages increased about 25 percent during the week, to 4,000 and 15,000, respectively.

Golf Channel, on the other hand, proved Twitter and Facebook don’t automatically drive Web traffic. It did little besides tweet links to Web stories and tease its studio coverage, and ended Masters week with 250 followers that generated an additional 950 page views for GolfChannel.com.

Jon Show can be reached at jshow@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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