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ESPN had an interesting piece on football and tweeting this afternoon. It is remarkable how the NFL has learnt to live with the fact that Ochocinco, the 3rd most followed Sporting Figure according to Bing, now has a direct line to connect with 1000s of fans. NFL has always understood that managing fans, stoking their excitement and catering to their expectations, is a big part of being a successful sporting league. This has sometimes meant a tightly run PR initiative with a clearly articulated message.

NFL's Twitter star!

And now we have Twitter in locker rooms and executive suites across the country, and there is no one message and there is definitely no controlling the tweets of those impulsive football stars! Although there is widespread agreement that many a tweet has been less than stellar, it is still understood and accepted that Twitter has helped build better bonds with fans. The idea of interacting directly with their Sunday superheroes has prompted many to follow NFL athletes – Ochocinco, Terrell Owens and Larry Fitzgerald seem to lead the pack as far as followers numbers are concerned. These personal connections work well for NFL as a whole because it is a way to engage with fans well beyond the game time or even the football season.

I think it is interesting that the Ochocinco and Owens are the top two football players in Twitter in terms of followers because they are both big personalities. The social in social media demands that there be a strong voice, a brand behind the Tweets and the updates and these two definitely fit the bill on Personality, with a capital P, right? As I was writing this blog, I saw Ochocinco’s Twitter profile get updated – I had to document the before and after because it suggests a toning down. A response to all the conversation about tweeting, perhaps?

The New Look for Ochocinco!

The other interesting tangential take on this TV story is that ESPN itself has had a complex relationship with social media. There was a report in late August that ESPN has revamped their social network policy. The emphasis in their policy is to think of the ESPN brand and to build its strength. The tug-of-war between the individual and the collective whole promises to be an on-going topic as companies embrace social media.