You wouldn't think there'd be a lot of overlap between cage fighting fans and patrons of Pinkberry, the international low-fat frozen yogurt chain. Especially not a Pinkberry in Midtown Manhattan, late on a weeknight. But there they were, hundreds of members of UFC Nation, squeezed into the shop, a crowd so large it required intervention from the New York City Police Department.
The cause of this near-riot in front of the fruit parfait dispenser? Dana White, the UFC's colorful president, had fired up his Twitter account (
"That's when the power of this thing really hit home," said White. And that was in 2009, when White had only 900,000 or so followers. Today he's closing in on 1.5 million. "It's not even about 'I like it, or I don't like it.'" White said of Twitter. "As a way to connect with fans, announce s---, figure out what customers are talking about, what they're pissed off about, you NEED it."
In keeping with Twitter, long story short: this is not the digital version of Thunderstix or The Wave, a fad sure to pass. Every NBA, MLB, NHL and NFL franchise has a Twitter presence. So do roughly half of all professional athletes. Retired NBA star Shaquille O'Neal (The Big Tweet?) has more than four million followers
To be sure, there are still holdouts, a diminishing demographic of sports fans who don't get Twitter, and most of them echo Katie Couric's
Take Milwaukee Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva
Since then, Saints running back Reggie Bush
But we've entered a new phase, Twitter 2.0 as it were. We've moved well beyond 140-character bites and into more content-rich experiences and more practical uses. When the Chargers faced a possible television blackout last season, the team took to Twitter and sold the seats. Other teams use Twitter for everything from letting fans vote on the music played during games to holding draft parties.
During a recent game, the White Sox and Indians hosted a #hashtag battle, donating $1 for cancer research each time a fan used either #GoTribe or #GoWhiteSox. The UFC has even offered a Twitter bounty, rewarding fighters in cash for amassing the most followers. White is now using Tout, a service that enables him to send short videos, shot from his mobile, to his Twitter and Facebook masses.
This should not be a surprise. If you think about it, sports -- real-time events with undetermined outcomes and passionate followers -- is a space singularly well-suited for social media. During Super Bowl XLV there were as many as 4,064 tweets per second, a record until last month's Champions League final topped out at more than 6,000 per second.
Innumerable fans have become conditioned to the "second screen" experience, checking out their mobile feed while watching the game on television. But note how many fans at the games are on Twitter as well. Suns forward Jared Dudley
Plus, at its best, Twitter gives fans the ultimate peek behind the curtain. When golfer Rory McIlroy
Likewise. when during the height of the NFL labor dispute, Colts owner Jim Irsay
For their part, athletes -- a famously gadget-happy species to begin with -- may have started by using Twitter as a toy, but now often use it as business equipment, a device for connecting with consumers, branding themselves, moving product. (Interestingly, African-Americans, disproportionately represented in pro sports, comprise twice as many Twitter users as their share of the population at large.) "It's a way of getting your voice out there, your personality across, where in the past you had other people speaking for you," said Cleveland point guard Baron Davis
It is also changing the athlete-sponsor relationship. Consider Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald
It's was via Twitter that Tiger Woods apologized for spitting on a golf course. The UFL