On one of the busiest sports weekends during the year, as the Final Four and opening weekend of baseball joined the slate alongside the NHL and NBA, one oft discussed and outspoken figure in the industry took the time to tweak the worldwide leader in sports. Using his Twitter to led followers to his blog, Mark Cuban, the very active and public owner of the Dallas Mavericks of the NBA, hastily wrote just over 500 words under the heading, “Does ESPN Have a Twitter Problem?”The post comes equally from a place of legitimacy and mischievousness. Cuban is a very successful businessman, but also a man frequently in the spotlight, for better or worse. He is outspoken in his critique of both the media and the NBA, getting in trouble for both, and getting fined for the latter. Whether or not he gives an answer to the question he posed (more on that later), when Cuban raises a question, it makes news.
Much of the post reasserts givens in the sports world, facts universally accepted by most active web users. Statements like, “We were able to get everything sports we wanted in the palm of our hands. No matter where we were,” and “Today, sports news finds millions and millions of sports fans first via twitter,” are nothing new or novel, but used instead to build a case that ESPN no longer has the influence it once did because of the prevalence of social media.
Cuban goes on to write about how ESPN is easily bypassed by fans as they can get links to stories on Twitter and be directed to other sites first. He suggests that journalists at ESPN do not have the influence that other journalists might, and in the world of Twitter, the first and fastest to the story gets the hits.
One barb is particularly sharp in the post: “Over the past 9 months or so, their reporters are becoming more and more like tweeting columnists and less and less like tweeting reporters.” This statement is interesting; first and foremost, it is claiming explicitly that the ESPN journalists on Twitter need to find a different way to use the media. Secondly, it wouldn’t be surprising if Cuban, a man who has no hesitations about challenging the media, would write the same statement over again without the words, ‘tweeting.’
Back to the question at hand, the problem isn’t that reporters and columnists have a lack of interesting or timely things to say, it’s that ESPN doesn’t do a particularly good job of showcasing them. For years, the home page at ESPN has left much to be desired, with the latest version featuring clusters of stories, random videos and links, and sections that have no stability. From that starting point, it is hard to find anyone on Twitter save for Bill Simmons. Unless you know what you are looking for, the ESPN page can be a test in patience; it is simply hard to discover new things in which you might be interested.
Cuban concludes by stating “Its not inconceivable that by hiring writers with big , loyal twitter followings, a competitor or upstart could take over the first level of access to sports fans Something that ESPN has owned for years. That would be a twitter problem for ESPN. It may already be a twitter problem for ESPN.”
Cuban did indeed write this in a blaze, as the spelling and grammar is poor and inconsistent, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t say exactly what he wanted to say. While he doesn’t explicitly answer ‘yes,’ to his question, he lays the foundation for something to argue that case. It’s also not inconceivable that it’s Cuban who starts a company by ‘hiring writers with big, loyal twitter followings,’ to go up against ESPN, creating a bigger Twitter problem.