Why sports media should rethink its relationship with Elon Musk’s Twitter

Sports media companies should break up with Twitter. Maybe not all the way, but networks should make some changes. They probably won’t. But they should.

The way sports media companies use Twitter has been illogical from the start, and Elon Musk’s messy takeover of the social media site is a perfect time for the bosses of those companies to re-assess a relationship that has long been one-way:

Networks and reporters give, and Twitter takes.

Let me make the case.

1. We’ll start with a quiz question. (You didn’t say there would be tests, Clicker!!)

• A big time reporter with millions of followers has a huge scoop. He or she should first unveil the news on:

A) A site that doesn’t pay him or her any money, has no association with his or her company and has now asked for a fee for a check mark?

B) The platform of the reporter’s employer, which actually provides the reporter a salary, benefits and health insurance?

Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter appears as if it will not change the one-way relationship the site has long had with sports reporters.
AFP via Getty Images

2. Not only do many reporters rush to give away information for free on Twitter, it often has little benefit to the employer, even if a link is provided. Sometimes, big numbers come through Twitter engagement, but generally not.

Many times other aggregators (Bleacher Report is the worst of this bunch, but there are clones) will take the information and re-report and mention the Twitter handle of the reporter and/or his place of work. Again, the people providing the salary, benefits and insurance to the reporter get little to nothing from it.

3. On Twitter, people are generally looking for quick information, not to read a full article. People are scrolling through. Links can do well sometimes, but often not.

4. Twitter is good for individual reporters. Adam Schefter is approaching 10 million followers on the bird. Adrian Wojnarowski is at nearly six million. Those are huge numbers and are meaningful for them.

For employers, a reporter’s following on Twitter is another metric to gauge interest. However, there are people who have far less Twitter followers that make much more of an impact than competitors with bigger followings.

ESPN analyst Adam Schefter on tv broadcast before a game between the Buffalo Bills and the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on October 18, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Titans defeated the Bills 34-31.
Adam Schefter’s reporting has made him a must-follow on Twitter, but it’s not clear his nearly 10 million followers always read his work on ESPN.
Getty Images

5. Let’s take another quiz:

• If you were ESPN and you were listing information under a commentator’s name when they were on television, what would you put?

A) How to find more of the person’s work on another platform that you have no connection to?

B) How to find more of their work on your own platform?

To further emphasize these points, think about this: Years ago, Bob Iger reportedly had discussions to buy Twitter for Disney.

If he had, would Fox Sports, CBS or NBC reporters still freely post information on a competitor’s platform?

6. I’m not saying media companies should totally abandon Twitter; Musk could right the ship a little. But they should be using it mostly to promote their own platforms, not to go to Twitter more and become accustomed to finding out information there first. It should be easier to recalibrate with Musk thumbing his nose at mainstreamers every chance he gets.

7. The main reason reporters want to post on Twitter first is for credit. This makes it so aggregators pick up the information and attribute it. It means something and is important to be recognized. However, it helps websites that aren’t paying the person.

ESPN Analyst, Adrian Wojnarowski, talks before the game between the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks during Game Three of the 2021 NBA Finals on July 11, 2021 at the Fiserv Forum Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Adrian Wojnarowski’s many Twitter posts about breaking news has made him perhaps the preeminent reporter in the NBA, no matter where he works.
NBAE via Getty Images

8. Twitter should mostly be a promotional tool, as a means to push people away from Twitter. What I mean is, the platform should be used by networks and publications to say: Look what I have over here.

For some reason, most sports media companies have decided to push people toward Twitter. Here’s how I would rework the relationship:

A) I wouldn’t push Twitter handles under commentators’ names on television. Nor would I mention Twitter handles on radio or podcasts.

B) I would break all news on my own company platforms. If Schefter has a big story, I’d make it so he could preview with a tweet: News coming with a link to watch him on ESPN or ESPN+.

C) If the news is only worthy of a story and not going right on-the-air, I would publish it to the company’s site and then post the link on Twitter.

I would use Twitter to offer some comments, but not stuff that is proprietary.

D) I wouldn’t worry about winning on Twitter. If you are only going to win by seconds anyway, then is it really a worthy scoop? If you are rushing to tweet something out so you beat another insider by 15 seconds, was there great value in the first place?

Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania tweet about the Steve Nash firing.
The race to be first with sports news on Twitter sometimes leads to conflicting reports about the same event.
Via Twitter

There are some cases when it makes sense to go to Twitter first. If it is a big story, like a hiring, and you really know someone else is on it, you don’t want to lose that scoop, but it shouldn’t be the default method.

E) This whole reimagining would be designed to train people to come to your platforms, not Musk’s. Right now, networks are trying to teach people to look to find those they pay for news and commentary on Twitter. That make sense?

F) So this would not be a full redraw, but it would be a redrawing of the lines.

G) If reporters didn’t like it, they could tweet at Musk to hire them.

Quick clicks

• In the offseason, we told you here that the McCourty twins did very well in the NFL’s broadcasting boot camp. Jason has excelled on NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” and has sounded really good on Westwood One. On Sunday, current Patriot, Devin, was a guest analyst on “The NFL Today” as New England had a bye.

• On NFL Network’s Bucs-Saints broadcast, Rich Eisen sounded like a studio guy trying to call play-by-play. It takes a lot of reps to be good in a booth.

• CBS’s Bill Cowher went off in the pregame on the Colts’ Jim Irsay’s hiring Jeff Saturday, who has never coached higher than high school, as their interim head coach. Cowher called it, “a disgrace to the coaching profession.”

Bill Cowher
Bill Cowher made it clear on CBS that he was not impressed with the Colts’ decision to hire Jeff Saturday as their new head coach.
Twitter/CBS

• A Clicker column castigator pointed this out to us, and then we saw for ourselves last Thursday. Amazon’s Al Michaels does a funny thing when he previews the NFL’s top weekend games. He never says the letters, “N-B-C.” He mentions the other networks. NBC replaced Michaels with Mike Tirico on “Sunday Night Football.” Michaels still has an emeritus role with the network, but omitting its name from his commentary is a bit odd.

• Jim Nantz will end the college basketball season by doing his final turn on play-by-play, public address announcing and the trophy presentation (though he has vowed to continue this one) at the Final Four. He started the year putting his voice to the CBS Sports’ college hoops season intro. Nantz isn’t calling games — he hasn’t called regular season college hoops for awhile — but he began the year with one shining moment.

• Last week, we wrote a column about the pathetic silence from Amazon over the anti-Semitic documentary that Kyrie Irving publicized. NBA commissioner Adam Silver, speaking to the New York Times, said, “I think Amazon has to make decisions as well. My first instinct wasn’t that something, to me, that is so frankly vile and full of hate speech would be contained within Amazon Prime.”

• Included in Jon Wertheim‘s long Sports Illustrated feature on ESPN’s college/NFL analyst Robert Griffin III is this juicy quote from Griffin’s college football producer, Kim Belton: “I see him as, potentially, a generational talent. He has what the great ones have. I’m talking about the Maddens and the Vitales and the Ueckers. They realize, We’re gonna cover the game. But we have to let our personality shine through.”

Robert Griffin III speaks on stage during round four of the 2022 NFL Draft on April 30, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Robert Griffin III’s work as a college football analyst has impressed his co-workers at ESPN.
Getty Images

• On Thursday, with, surprise, surprise, Mike Greenberg off from his radio show, ESPN New York had Dan La Greca doing a local show on 98.7 FM. They have done it before. If ESPN and Good Karma Brands’ 98.7 really want to compete with WFAN, it should have more of that. In Chicago, the affiliate did start its own morning show, which allowed it to compete in a stronger fashion against The Score.

RIP Fred Hickman

SportsCenter may be the Yankees of highlights shows, but CNN’s “Sports Tonight” was like a small market team that competed with it and won some playoff series in the 1990s.

With Nick Charles and Fred Hickman leading their rotation, “Sports Tonight” stayed right with the ESPN behemoth. They did a show that was more nuts and bolts, while ESPN’s anchors — many times entertainingly, many times not — found new ways to say someone hit a home run.

When Hickman was at his peak, there weren’t that many national black sportscasters, and so Hickman was something of a trailblazer. He was very good during his CNN run. His work wasn’t excessive and there are no catch phrases I can recall. He just got the job done, smoothly and accurately.

Fred Hickman anchoring "Sports Tonight" in 1989.
Fred Hickman helped CNN’s “Sports Tonight” keep pace with ESPN’s SportsCenter with a straightforward style.
CNN

After more than two decades at CNN and Turner, Hickman was the first person on YES’s air. When he eventually joined ESPN, it was a bit jarring to see him on the SportsCenter set. His ESPN run there was not as memorable as what he did at CNN.

Hicks passed away last week at 66. Charles died in 2011 at 64. In the era when the sports highlight shows ruled the day, the duo made a mark.

College football creativity

The Conference USA deal with CBS and ESPN is interesting, as detailed by John Ourand and Michael Smith at the Sports Business Journal:

Conference USA signed a new five-year media rights contract with CBS Sports Network and ESPN, and the new-look C-USA will shift its entire slate of October football games to midweek evenings starting with the 2023 season. C-USA, which will add five new members for the 2023-24 academic year, will play most of its October league games on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, with a handful of games also planned for Thursday and Friday nights. The strategy mimics the Mid-American Conference’s schedule, which plays all of its November games during the week in what it calls “MACtion.” C-USA worked with Octagon as its media adviser.

Sources said C-USA schools would be making in the neighborhood of $750,000 per year each, which would slot them just behind what schools in the Sun Belt and MAC are making.

Liberty Flames C-USA logo painted on the field prior to a college football game between the BYU Cougars and the Liberty Flames on October 22, 2022, at Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, VA.
Conference-USA’s new media deal will allow it to try to raise its presence with a regular schedule of games on weeknights.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

MACtion has been a success, and I wonder, with the spread of legal sports betting, if it might even gain more steam. For C-USA and MAC schools, the midweek national schedule gives them national exposure. Even if we are moving into more of a streaming world, it still means something to kids, parents, alumni and boosters to be associated with CBS and/or ESPN. Even when smaller games are on ESPN+, it adds a little bit of prestige. Perception can be reality.

That’s why if I’m the Pac-12, I’m very cognizant of visibility with its next deal. ESPN and Amazon — maybe as a combo deal — are the perceived favorites. And while we have been very bullish on Amazon’s sports plan, we are not so sure that Pac-12 would excel in it.

The major way that Apple and Amazon can reach casual watchers is by popping up on their phones and other devices with notifications. The problem with this — and I’ve already had this with Apple suddenly telling me about every close game known to mankind — I only want to be reminded about things I want to be reminded about. Like, I don’t care if Real Salt Lake (an MLS team for those who don’t know) is tied 1-1 late against the Chicago Fire. That becomes a nuisance. So being accessible on traditional channels is still very important. That’s why the C-USA deal seems smart.

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