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Volume 24 No. 158
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SFF Conference: Execs Find Twitter To Be Beneficial Outlet, But Challenges Still Exist

In a breakout session yesterday at the '13 Sports Facilities & Franchises Conference entitled "High-Stakes Team PR in the Twitter Age," MLS Exec VP/Communications Dan Courtemanche, Nets & Barclays Center Senior VP & Chief Communications Officer Barry Baum and Sporting KC Exec VP/Communications & Digital Rob Thomson discussed the challenges facing PR and media relations execs in this era of ever-present social media. Sporting KC played the Red Bulls last night, and the team flew into the area on Monday. Thomson saw the news of the Boston Marathon bombings upon landing and he said it was important to notify the players of the incident so they would be cognizant of their social media postings. Courtemanche noted the Mexican national soccer team flew into S.F. Monday for last night's exhibition game against Peru. MLS’ Soccer United Marketing was behind the event, so he said it was important to notify the Mexican team of the incident so they would avoid insensitive comments, both in social media and while talking to the media. Courtemanche said the Mexican coach was hesitant at first, unconvinced the team would be fielding questions about the bombings. But Courtemanche said the SUM PR staff insisted, and effectively communicated the tenor of the American public in the wake of the bombings. Courtemanche: "All of this was occurring on social media, while the team was flying."

USING TWITTER TO FILL THE GAPS: The panelists discussed Twitter's ability to get news or info out that previously would not have had an appropriate outlet. Baum said, "There are certain stories and certain photos that we don't necessarily have a particular place to go with. We have a lot of celebrities that come to our games, and you don't want to send a press release out, or an e-mail, of say, Justin Bieber wearing a Nets hat. So we'll tweet those photos out, and they'll always get picked up by various publications." While Twitter's immediacy and scope is clearly advantageous for spreading news quickly, Baum said there are situations in which news will have more legitimacy if broken by more traditional means such as the local newspaper. "Sometimes it's more meaningful to get a story where somebody else is announcing the news, rather than you're announcing the news," he said. Thomson added there are many occasions when Sporting KC uses Twitter as "more of a rah-rah tool" to drive the news, because the social media site "doesn't really paint the whole story."

VERIFYING NEWS STILL IMPORTANT: Courtemanche noted when former MLSer Robbie Rogers recently announced he was homosexual on Twitter, virtually every media outlet immediately went to press with the story. However, he noted the AP did not, waiting until they sourced the story either directly from Rogers or his agent. Thomson recounted a situation in which a K.C. journalist went to press with a former MLSer's tweet, announcing he was going to be playing for Sporting KC. But the tweet turned out to be an April Fool's joke. Thomson said, "Unlike a poorly written, or misrepresenting article from five years ago, it's a short shelf life of him getting criticized, and it's kind of forgotten. So, it is different how information and how journalists are treated in the short cycles of news anymore."

DIFFERENT MODELS FOR TEAMS: Baum said that Twitter usage for the Nets and Barclays Center is managed by a social media team, under the umbrella of the Nets' marketing department. But Thomson said, "For us, social media does fall under the communications department, which is rare in Major League Soccer. We're one of three teams or so that does this. It's really bridged the gap, too. I meet now way more with our sponsorship department team, and our marketing side, because it does help in our merchandise sales." He added Sporting KC often tweets photos of new merchandise, and a certain number of tweets or social media references can be built into the team's agreement with a certain marketing partner.