If you’ve been ignoring the world in protest of Al Borges’ departure you might not know about this thing called Twitter. It is a simple and popular online tool that turns you into a mobile publishing magnate simply using the text messaging feature of your cell phone. You can tell the world all about the weather, missing the Auburn Grill or bumping into Trey Johnston in 140 characters or less.
Early adopters, those digital daredevils who fix our computers, will tell you Twitter is now mainstream.
Need proof? Even the media is using it.
If you’ve been ignoring the world in protest of Tommy Tuberville’s departure you might not know that the SEC hasn’t been especially smart with this newfangled social media business. Twitter was one of the toys up for debate. The conference did not want it (or Facebook or YouTube, et al.) used at sporting events, citing ownership rights. Fans, the ones who’ve been planning on Twittering through halftime, quickly grew indignant.
As best as anyone can tell, the problem begins with the name. Twitter, you see, doesn’t sound manly enough for the gridiron. Even worse, the verb form, “to tweet,” sounds offensively against everything good and pure about bruising linebackers and 240-pound running backs with speed.
So the conference had a big staff meeting and came up with this language:
Ticketed fans can’t produce or disseminate (or aid in producing or disseminating) any material or information about the Event, including, but not limited to, any account, description, picture, video, audio, reproduction or other information concerning the Event.
You, the fan, suddenly became the SEC’s competitor. You must not, they said, take eyeballs away from CBS and ESPN. The fans wrote many blog posts, Twitter updates and letters to the conference.
They weren’t the only ones. The media howled at the restrictions that the new policy placed upon them. The Associated Press got so angry they began citing Shug and Saban about propriety and access.
No less a satirical light than Orson Swindle seized on that point, describing the Associated Press as “the last people to be lecturing anyone on digital rights mismanagement” and offering up tips for things the fine folks there might do with sticks found in their yard. Media consultant and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis noted “It’s all just information and information, once known, is a commodity that is best distributed now via the conversation. Neither [the SEC nor the AP] can stop anyone with an ear from saying, ‘Did you hear?’”
(Full disclosure: Jarvis is a former boss of mine.)
The SEC listened to the complaints and switched directions like they had to cut loose an offensive coordinator midseason. Fittingly they announced revisions on Twitter. When it was released the revised policy stated: “Personal messages and updates of scores or other brief descriptions of the competition throughout the Event are acceptable.”
Slightly less draconian, the new policy suggests if you’re doing it for the joy of spreading the game you’ll be fine. Do it for money and you better have a note from Commissioner Slive. Those are increasingly difficult to come by in the age of ESPN/CBS television, even for legitimate media.
What will come of it?
First, there’s spite. We would have done it anyway, proving more points than the SEC cared to consider. My first tweet was going to be “Dear SEC: I’m somewhere in the crowd of 85,000. I’m wearing blue. Good luck finding me.” I would still have 53 available characters.
On the other hand, such a policy would have created 14 new jobs in Birmingham aimed at monitoring us all. Think of it as economic stimulus.
Another important point is one of publicity. The general consensus online is that the conference got it right in reacting to the backlash.
On the other hand, the conference proved they don’t know how to take advantage of our free marketing. Your cheering and typing away is double free extra exposure, as valuable as an 11:20 a.m. kickoff on ESPN2, really.
The more philosophical point is one that asks the question about property. Certainly the conference and the networks that have paid handsomely have a vested interest in their product. A canny journalist would argue that after the action a play becomes history. History with thousands of witnesses.
On the other hand, if they wanted it to be truly proprietary they wouldn’t let you into the stadium. Your presence means you knew what happened. Armed with such knowledge you could tell your coworkers about the big play around the water cooler. If the guy from accounting was also at the game you could act out a play and that’s just not in keeping with stated policies around “the Event.”
But the conference worries not about your excited, exaggerated retellings. They’re concentrating on video protection. And while the conference and the networks are inexplicably insecure about this, there is nothing that can be posted on Twitter, or the other social media venues that is going to keep you from tuning in to the game, the highlights, the replay and the review show. So tweet away and worry not about the implications of the verb use.
After all, this could be a long season. Venting or, best case, bragging about Auburn’s victory and Alabama’s struggle with Florida International will be great entertainment. Think of the practical use. Friends at home could update us on injury status as relayed by the television crew. Friends across the stadium can more easily coordinate post-Toomer’s plans. We’ll all make fun of Notre Dame and Tennessee.
The SEC is on Twitter at @SECSportsupdate. No one knows, yet, what they’ll do with it during games, but surely they’ll post something in between efforts to count all that ESPN money.
You can give it a try, too, if you haven’t already signed up at twitter.com. And, just to catch you up: Borges is now at San Diego State and Tuberville (according to al.com’s Gold Mine) is resting, a figurehead hedge fund investor and looking for his next gig. Also, Gene Chizik is Auburn’s coach, the depth chart is thin, and Kodi Burns is a wide receiver. Oh, Alabama is getting another glance from the NCAA, but otherwise not much else has changed.
Kenny Smith has been online since he went to Auburn. Now he teaches journalism and online media for a living. You can find him online at www.kennysmith.org, and on Twitter @kennysmith.