Live Tweeting Athletic Events

As a person who loves Twitter, eats/sleeps/breaths sports, and works in an athletic department, I took great interest in a story that broke at the University of Washington today and quickly spread across the nation. The story came about because a reporter broke a certain policy held by UW’s athletic department. Surprisingly, most people (including me) did not know about this policy until the reporter broke it, got reprimanded, and then, quite appropriately, tweeted about it. Funny how news travels.

A journalist for the Tacoma Tribune, Todd Dybas, broke policy on Sunday night when he tweeted over 50 times during the Washington-Loyola basketball game. Dybas, a credentialed media member for UW basketball, broke code by over 30 tweets…the athletic department sets the in-game tweeting limit at 20 for basketball. When it comes to UW football, credentialed media members are allowed to tweet up to 45 in-game updates. Throughout the day, people lashed out at the University of Washington for limiting the press, shutting out fans, and going against freedom of speech. Of course, many of these “people” are on Twitter and because I follow mainly athletic-related accounts, many of them were sports writers. Even with all the anti-Twitter restriction tweets and blog posts I read, it still couldn’t convince me that the University of Washington was in the wrong with implementing such a policy at the start of the 2012-13 season. In fact, I believe it to be a stroke of genius.

In this post I don’t want to get too deep into the economics of why such a policy is important but as a person who understands, let me briefly lay it out.  Athletic departments and their partners pay lots of money on official websites, streaming capabilities, broadcasting deals, and social media platforms for fans to engage in. Fans can watch live, interact, follow along, and really immerse themselves in the action. The products offered (at least at The University of Montana and I am sure at UW as well) are top-notch and highly informative. When a reporter is live tweeting, he/she is taking some of the audience away from these sources and/or making it so the fan never even finds out about these special tools. You might say tough luck to the athletic department, the reporter is winning the fan over with informative and witty tweets and should be commended but this is not fair to say.

First off, athletic departments need to protect their investments. Money spent on cutting edge technology, gametrackers, up to the second statistics, and crisp broadcasts must take priority over the guy in the press box tapping 100 miles per hour away at his iPhone to notify his followers that someone just ran for two yards. An athletic department can’t get beat like that with everything that is at stake. But besides the investment issue, it also just comes down to quality. Frankly, many of these electronic tools/services that athletic departments have (including the University of Montana) are just much more dependable than what you can get from someone who is live tweeting. When you are watching a live stream of something or following an event on gametracker, you are getting a spot on, accurate portrayal of the game whereas with live tweeting you are prone to get mistakes along with needless commentary depending on the reporter’s point of view.

Even if you don’t believe that universities should have the right to promote their technology and give fans not attending the game the best coverage possible, when it comes down to it, athletic departments have the final say on what is permissible for credentialed media. Members of the press who receive credentials get premium seating, access to players/coaches, freedom to roam the playing facility, and a decent environment to produce their work in. With all of this provided to the fortunate ones who receive media credentials, rules must be followed. If journalists desperately feel that they are cheating their followers by not having the freedom to over tweet during a contest, they need to just turn their credential in. As of right now, many journalists don’t have to make this decision but as other departments see what UW has in place, I think we might see some adoptions of this policy. Congrats to the University of Washington athletic department for standing its ground. Don’t Blink.