The Arena
A look at social media & professional sports

Jun
29

The Twins' Joe Mauer is the reigning American League MVP and the player fans most want to see in The State Farm Home Run Derby.

Not only are MLB fans deciding which players will start in the July 13th All-Star Game, they are also influencing who participates in The State Farm Home Run Derby, taking place on July 12.

Fans can vote for up to three players from each league to be in the Home Run Derby, and while their votes will largely determine the eight players who participate, the finalists are still at the discretion of Major League Baseball (unlike the All-Star Game, where it’s all up to the fans).

With that being said, look for Major League Baseball to please its fans by selecting the players they most want to see, which will in turn spike television ratings for the event.

As of yesterday, the Twins’ Joe Mauer was the American League leader in votes, while the Cardinals’ Albert Pujols recently leapfrogged the Phillies’ Ryan Howard for the National League’s top spot. Pujols is the two-time defending NL MVP, while Howard won the 2006 Derby.

The Brewers’ Prince Fielder, the defending Home Run Derby champion, is also at the front of the pack in the NL.

Mauer, who is also the leading vote-getter in All-Star balloting with close to 4 million votes, has led the Derby race from the get-go. The Rays’ Carlos Pena and the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, who is currently tied for the major league lead in home runs, trail Mauer in the AL.

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Jun
27

Mets third baseman David Wright, one of several players in a fierce battle for a starting position in the All-Star Game, is being helped immensely by his campaign manager. Photo by Ed Betz, Associated Press

Campaign managers are no longer used solely for political campaigns. Nowadays, professional baseball players need them to solidify a starting spot in Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, as fans determine which 18 players will comprise the starting lineups for each league. With so many fans of so many different teams out there, it can get to be dog-eat-dog, and the race often comes down to the very last day of voting until a winner is finally determined.

In this era of social networking, fans are finding it easier and easier to acquire votes for their favorite players, as MLB.com has instituted a campaign system that encourages fans to advertise their cause via e-mail and Facebook. Fans are given 25 points for joining a player’s “campaign,” and a subsequent 25 for each person they get to vote for that player. The top points-earner is named “campaign manager,” a.k.a. head honcho of their favorite player’s voting campaign.

MLB.com’s Mark Newman writes about how these campaign managers are going above and beyond in order to get their favorite players a starting spot in the July 13th All-Star Game. The Mets’ David Wright trails the Phillies’ Placido Polanco by a small margin for third base in the National League. His campaign manager hopes to help his cause by e-mailing the MLB All-Star voting link to her family and friends, as well as posting it on her Facebook profile so that her 300+ friends can see it. Oh, and she’ll also encourage them to vote for Wright while they’re at it. Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher went to high school with his campaign manager, who has generated more points than any user. Swisher currently ranks fifth in voting among American League outfielders, as the Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki, the Rays’ Carl Crawford and the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton are holding down the top spots. However, if Swisher’s main man keeps getting exponential votes to come his way, don’t be surprised if Swisher knocks one of the three from their perch.

Voting concludes at midnight on Thursday, July 1, and the All-Star game takes place 12 days later in Anaheim.

Here is a look at the most-recent numbers:

Jun
16

Albert Haynesworth is no longer all smiles after the Redskins have decided to switch to a 3-4 defense; instead, he's looking for a way out of Washington.

A year removed from signing a lucrative $100 million contract with the Washington Redskins, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth is now looking for a way out of the nation’s capitol.

Following a disastrous 2009 campaign, the Skins cleaned house in 2010, bringing in Bruce Allen as their new general manager and replacing Jim Zorn with former Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan as head coach. With these changes came even more changes, as Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, yet another new addition to the Skins coaching staff, switched to a 3-4 defense that would put Haynesworth at nose tackle. Dissatisfied with these developments, the $100 million man skipped the team’s mandatory minicamp and demanded to be traded elsewhere, angering not only his teammates but Redskin fans as well.

Linebacker London Fletcher, one of the most respected players on the Redskins’ roster, called Haynesworth’s behavior “very selfish,” while defensive end Phillip Daniels said, “I think I speak for every guy on this team: We all feel like he turned his back on us.”

And if those seem like harsh words, wait until you read what the fans have to say about the Haynesworth dilemma. In his Redskins Insider blog post today, Washington Post columnist Jason Reid addressed the players’ sentiments over Haynesworth and received a ton of comments from fans who are angered over a player making his kind of money and still wanting out. The nicknames “Fat Albert” and “Albert Buttersworth” are tossed around, and some even criticize the previous Redskins administration for signing Haynesworth in the first place.

In a messy situation that’s bound to only get messier, the fans are letting their voices be heard, and it’s looking more and more likely that Albert Haynesworth might get chased out of town before he can even get traded.

Apr
16

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll is currently the only NFL head coach on Twitter, and he is making quite a splash. PHOTO by Ted S. Warren, Associated Press

So far, we have looked extensively at how social media, particularly Twitter, is used in the NFL, from athletes to fans to franchises. However, one area of the league that has not yet been touched upon is actually a pretty powerful group — the men who call the shots: head coaches.

When it comes to NFL head coaches, Pete Carroll is essentially the Chad Ochocinco of this group; he lives his life through his Twitter page.

Carroll was hired as Seahawks head coach on January 11 after an extremely successful nine-year stint at Southern Cal. At USC, he won two national titles and compiled an unbelievable record of 97-19. The news of Carroll leaving this supposed dream job to coach the Seahawks was such a big deal that it generated 2591 comments on ESPN.com, 4093 Facebook shares and 627 retweets….talk about social media at work!

Interestingly enough, Carroll is the only current NFL head coach on Twitter, with a whopping 385,751 followers; compare him being the lone coach to the 501 NFL players who have accounts on the social networking site, according to Twitter-Athletes.com.

With that being said, Carroll is a very active Twitterer. He keeps his followers up-to-date with what’s going on his busy life as an NFL head coach, gives shout-outs to other professional franchises like the Los Angeles Kings (NHL) and pro athletes like phenom pitcher Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants, and has recently instituted a “song of the day.” For this nifty little feature, Carroll provides a link to that song on YouTube.

It’s safe to say that the 58-year-old Carroll (who is about 28 at heart) has achieved celebrity status on Twitter, but will his fellow head coaches — many of whom are around his age — adopt this trend? With all of the fun Carroll has had, it’s hard to imagine Twitter use among the NFL’s top dogs remaining stagnant for too long.

Mar
23

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco has been known to cause a stir via Twitter. PHOTO by Jay LaPrete

Chad Ochocinco is the star of the show when it comes to the Cincinnati Bengals. Most famous for his off-the-wall end zone celebrations, frequent trash-talking and 2008 name change from Chad Johnson to Chad Ochocinco (Spanish for ’85,’ his number), the eccentric All-Pro wide receiver has recently achieved notoriety for something else — his obsessive use of Twitter.

Ochocinco’s site has over 800,000 followers, and his infatuation with the social networking giant became well-known in July of 2009 when he promised to Tweet during Bengal games. Due to the NFL’s strict no-nonsense policy, that never materialized despite Ochocinco’s valiant efforts.

Although he couldn’t Tweet during games, Ochocinco found plenty of time to let his voice be heard off the field. In December, as a matchup between Ochocinco’s division-leading Bengals and the San Diego Chargers, another division-leading team, loomed on the horizon, the Twitter celebrity and Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman exchanged harsh words online. The following month, during a more tongue-in-cheek confrontation with a fellow NFL player, Ochocinco had a Twitter war with New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, who is widely considered to be the NFL’s best cornerback. Ochocinco’s Bengals and Revis’ Jets were playing in the regular season finale, and leading up to the game, the two went at it via Twitter ad nauseam — click here to check out what they were saying. Perhaps the irony was that Revis’ Jets won that matchup, and then won again the following week when the Bengals and Jets squared off in the first round of the NFL playoffs. Needless to say, the league’s biggest trash-talker didn’t have much to dish out after that, but there’s always next season!!

However, recent developments have shown that Ochocinco uses Twitter for more than one-upping his opponents. On Monday, the NFL star made his debut on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, and to the surprise of not so many, Tweeted away about his new gig. Word has it that Ochocinco also has a following of fellow NFL players on Twitter.

Whether it’s his play on the gridiron or his moves on the dance floor, Chad Ochocinco always finds something to Tweet about and has gradually turned into the poster child for athletes who use Twitter to their advantage.

Here is a video of Ochocinco’s first performance on Dancing With the Stars

Mar
17

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice is one of several NFL players with a profile on AgencyAthlete.com. PHOTO by Eric Miller

PlayerPress.com is arguably the ESPN of sports social media sites. Developed by former NFL player Jim Finn and veteran sports marketing executive John Hernandez, Player Press features a news wire with the most up-to-date stories in the sports world, as well as its own little blogosphere. There is a running feed of the most recently posted fan articles, as well as which ones have been the most frequently viewed. Although fans cannot have their own blogs on Player Press, the social dimension still exists as there is room for comments on a user’s article. There is also a scoreboard, if you will, of the most written-about teams, with the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Eagles leading the way. Any sports fan can sound off on Player Press, and perhaps most interestingly, there are several pro athletes with their own blogs on this site. Take for example Carolina Panthers linebacker Jon Beason, who’s one of the many NFL stars who blogs on Player Press. Beason’s blog features a brief player profile, a list of his latest posts, and a “shoutbox” so that his fans on Player Press can post comments and root him on.

Taking the fan/player relationship a step further, the social media giant today announced the launch of AgencyAthlete.com, which essentially presents a way for pro athletes to market themselves in the age of Web 2.0. Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice is one of several NFL players who has developed his interactive personal website through Agency Athlete. Rice’s site is decked out with a customized video player, blog posts by Rice, and links to his official shop for authentic Sidney Rice merchandise, as well as the “Sidney Fan Community,” where his fans can connect with one another and blog.

Rice’s official Agency Athlete site is extremely elaborate compared to most, but some other athletes who have sites through this new marketer include Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and Washington Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall.

Agency Athlete is making significant strides in revolutionizing how fans can interact with their favorite players, all thanks to a company that clearly understands how to implement social media in the world of pro sports.

Mar
15

A screenshot from Turner's SportsNOW application for the iPhone.

Ted Turner is now trying to compete with the likes of ESPN and MLB.com in the mobile apps arms race.

Last Thursday, it was announced that Turner Sports had launched SportsNOW, its very own  application for the iPhone. By downloading SportsNOW, hardcore fans can follow their favorite teams by accessing live scores and game stats from the NBA, NHL (National Hockey League) and NCAA college basketball. According to the broadcasting company, more sports will soon be added to the application.

One unique feature of SportsNOW is its social media platform, which enables fans to connect directly to Facebook or Twitter and update their statuses, interact with friends and other fans, and even talk some trash through their iPhones.

Oh, and not to mention, it is free.

The easy access to social networking sites, as well as the part about there being no cost, is what differentiates Turner’s SportsNOW from the mobile applications presented by ESPN and MLB.com.

ESPN’s ScoreCenter hooks up fans with game scores and stats, and much like SportsNOW,  it too is free to download if you can afford an iPhone. However, the communication is completely one-way; there is no interactivity involved. Fans simply receive score updates and do not have the chance to Tweet or talk smack.

MLB.com’s At Bat app gives fans an in-depth look into any baseball game they choose to follow, complete with pitch counts, box scores, in-game highlights to view and live broadcasts to listen to. Also, with a subscription to MLB TV, users of At Bat can watch games live in their entirety. There’s no doubt that At Bat has all of the bells and whistles, but the catch is the cost — $14.99, with an extra cost to watch games via MLB TV.

Turner Sports is perhaps most well-known for broadcasting Major League Baseball on TBS (most notably Atlanta Braves games, as Ted Turner owns the team), and the NBA and occasionally NASCAR on TNT. Maybe after the launch of SportsNOW, Turner will be known for broadcasting games on iPhones; after all, following sports on the tube was so last decade!

Mar
04

MLB 2K10 is the newest installment of 2K Sports’ pro baseball video game, complete with striking resemblances to star baseball players, realistic game scenarios, and a million-dollar prize.

That’s right, $1,000,000 will go to the first gamer who pitches a simulated perfect game on MLB 2K10. The game hit shelves on Tuesday, and the million dollar contest runs until May 1. It’s also important to note that this perfect game on MLB 2K10 must be documented by either a camera or digital video recorder.

The “Battle for $1,000,000” ties in with the video game maker’s “Pitchers vs. Hitters” ad campaign, advertised below:

2K Sports has been advertising this theme ad nauseam, with its Twitter page being no exception. The company has over 7,000 followers on Twitter and not too surprisingly, every recent post has been about MLB 2K10.

With such a savvy ad campaign and $1,000,000 to boot, perhaps there’s a reason behind all of this from 2K Sports’ perspective.

Its biggest rival, EA Sports, is a giant in the sports video game industry. Best known for the Madden video game franchise, EA Sports brought in an estimated $125 million during its most recent fiscal year…and that was just from sales of EA Sports Active for Wii. The bottom line is that games made by 2K Sports have failed to achieve the popularity that such games as Madden and FIFA have for EA Sports.

However, the one area where 2K is able to outdo EA happens to be pro baseball. In 2005, 2K was given the exclusive rights to Major League Baseball when Take Two Interactive, the corporation that owns 2K, signed a deal with the MLB Player’s Association, thus ending EA’s MVP Baseball series.

Since 2K now monopolizes all pro baseball video games, maybe a jaw-dropping promotion like the “Battle for $1,000,000” will bring some much-needed attention to its other game franchises and help  it get on the same playing field as EA.

This contest will obviously be a home run for some lucky gamer, but will the company that manufactures the game have the same outcome?

Feb
26
Ozzie

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has quite the reputation around Major League Baseball for being a loose cannon. PHOTO by M. Spencer Green, Associated Press

Ask any baseball fan who the most entertaining manager in the major leagues is, and you’ll likely get the same answer from every single one of them.

Ozzie Guillen, manager of the Chicago White Sox, is a quote waiting to happen. Known for saying exactly what’s on his mind (whether you want to hear it or not) and occasionally making waves with members of the media, umpires and even his own players, Guillen is a sight to behold.

It was for reasons such as this that White Sox upper management wasn’t thrilled when they found out Guillen had joined Twitter. General manager Kenny Williams responded to the news with a ‘no comment’ and a head shake, while White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf also has concerns about Guillen’s “salty language.”

On the defensive, Guillen claims that he’s only using Twitter to tell fans about his life outside of baseball, much like many NASCAR drivers are now doing with regards to their “real lives.” Guillen also adds that he will not leak any behind-the-scenes moves the White Sox plan on making via Twitter, such as Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love did last June when he announced on the social networking site that head coach Kevin McHale would not be returning. Where do you think the mainstream media (i.e. ESPN, Minnesota newspapers)  first caught wind of the McHale news? You guessed it!

The Guillen situation raises a lot of interesting questions about the use of social media in professional sports:

  • With Guillen’s past history of going on long-winded, profanity-laced rants, does the White Sox upper management have a legitimate reason to be concerned about his presence of Twitter?
  • Should more be done to moderate profanity on Twitter?
  • Then, is it a good thing or a bad thing that news in the pro sports world often gets leaked on Twitter before anywhere else?
Feb
24

Kasey Kahne might be the only NASCAR driver on the social networking site LikeMe, but he is one of many athletes. PHOTO by Chuck Burton, Associated Press

When you visit NASCAR star Kasey Kahne’s official website, you will notice that besides links to Kahne’s Twitter, Facebook and MySpace pages (nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to NASCAR drivers on the Web), there is a box with the heading KKLikeMe.Net. Upon clicking on it, what you discover might not be quite as familiar as the likes of social networking’s Big Three…

LikeMe is for anyone looking for new and better places to hang out, based on the recommendations of others. It allows you to select your favorite restaurants, bars, live music events, shopping places, spas, hotels, activities and “other stuff.”

Just as the  site’s title indicates, you are then matched up with people like you who have similar interests and favorites. Like Twitter, you can follow people and pick up on their recommendations. Another useful aspect of LikeMe is how you can tell why it is you like a certain place or activity. For example, on his LikeMe page, Kahne says that he enjoys going to Whisky River, a bar in downtown Charlotte owned by fellow NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., because it always has good music. Then, under “other stuff,” Kahne includes a variety of his favorite brand names. McDonald’s, Oakley and Puma all make the list, and ironically enough, they all sponsor Kahne.

Although Kahne is the only NASCAR driver “guest recommender” on LikeMe, there are several other professional athletes who share with the world their favorite watering hole or a good place to grab a burger. They include:

Other celebrities on LikeMe who are not professional athletes include:

LikeMe might be a relatively unknown application right now, but with its unique method of interactivity predicated on its users’ interests, it most definitely has the potential to be the next big thing on the social media frontier.