Blogging Athletes

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article up this week about athletes using the internet for direct communication with their fans:

As the MySpace generation reaches professional sports, many athletes are maintaining website profiles and blogs. Along with providing a direct link to fans, these personalized Internet entries serve as an excuse to limit interviews with mainstream media while also offering the ability to deliver unfiltered messages.Bryant used his site to acknowledge it would be tough to leave the Lakers — but he would if it meant playing on a winning team. Other reports are purely personal. Tiger Woods announced the birth of his daughter. And Greg Oden discussed the pain of having his tonsils taken out.

“They come off good if the athletes know what they are doing,” said Will Leitch, editor of, a website that often links to players’ websites. “The mistake is when you see people that still have their college MySpace profile up and all of a sudden they are in the NFL or MLB.”

Indeed, while posting messages is often intended to clear controversy, it occasionally causes it.

This is a topic I’ve covered before, in terms of musicians in these posts (among others):

How the internet transformed what it means to be a music fan

The new social rules of internet fame

Pop Stars must blog says Baltimore Sun

Music Fans and musicians belong to each other

My take on this is that it can work very well if the image the star builds on his or her site is consistent with the public persona that’s working for them already, and otherwise it can be a mess. Or as I was quoted as saying in this article:

“There’s a fine line between being candid and getting yourself in trouble, and it depends a lot on what your image is,” said Nancy Baym, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas. “There is a reason professionals usually handle that stuff.”

I strongly believe that the opportunity for direct relationship building between fans and artists, athletes, public figures, is a good thing, but I like how this article points out its potential pitfalls.

‘Competitive Fandom’

ScienceDaily recently published an interesting article about the work of a pair of UW-Madison researchers on fantasy sports leagues:

Fantasy baseball is the ultimate model for a game type Erica Halverson, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and part of the GLS program, calls “competitive fandom,” a rapidly growing area of interactive participation for people who are passionate experts in a given subject or field. “You name it and there’s a fantasy version of it,” she says.

There’s already Fantasy Congress, where players earn points for how many bills their team of legislators introduce and pass; Fantasy Survivor, a companion to the hit TV reality show; and Hollywood Stock Exchange, where fans trade “securities” to predict how well a movie will do at the box office or how an individual actor’s career will fare.

But sports reign supreme in this genre and fantasy baseball does it best, Erica Halverson says. And the game – where players have access to huge amounts of data and the ability to manipulate those numbers with relative ease – shows some parallels with other fields, such as the stock market.


It’s an area ripe for study. Sixteen million adults played fantasy sports in 2006, spending an average of just under $500 a year and generating an economic impact of more than $1 billion a year, according to the Fantasy Sports Industry Trade Association. The majority of those first began playing the game offline and spend about three hours per week managing their teams, according to the trade group.

“Not only is it something we love, but this is a huge market of gaming that’s going on where people are spending thousands and thousands of hours playing,” Erica Halverson says. “As a research group, we’re fundamentally interested in what people learn from gaming and what gaming has to offer education. This is sort of a subset of gaming that’s a new avenue to explore.”

For more on the topic, see this article in the LA Times (which conveniently quotes me).

Fans Organize to Buy Teams! Boundaries Melt!

The lines between fans and professionals have never been as clear as one might think. After all, is there anyone who grows up to be a movie director who wasn’t a movie fan? Or a sports coach who didn’t care much about the sport? Not long ago I got into a discussion with someone who’d been reading a lot of critical media approaches and argued (crude oversimplification follows) that the culture industry holds the power while the fans are their oppressed dupes. I asked what happens when fans get hired into the culture industry. Does the fact that they were fans suddenly become irrelevant? Do they turn magically from duped to duper? Or is it all a lot fuzzier that that?

Fuzzy as that boundary’s been, the net is making it fuzzier than ever what with mp3 bloggers getting paid radio gigs and fansite creators getting hired by record companies to run their technology. But here’s a great example of just how darn fuzzy it could get. The BBC reports on a website, MyFootballClub, that has the goal of getting 50,000 fans to register, at which point they’ll be asked to pay £35 each (£1.4m total) so that they can buy their own football team. Members, says the site, “will attempt to guide the club up the leagues, sharing equal ownership and control. Just like a football management game – but for real.” The site’s creator, Will Brooks describes it to the BBC as “a vehicle that will pool fans’ opinions, passion and wealth and turn fantasy football into reality.” He describes watching a team go broke in the 1980s:

“I looked around at the 3,000 fans who had turned up and was left thinking that if everyone chipped in we could buy the club – but then there was no way of mobilising that feeling. The internet changes all that.”

The effort is not spurred only by the chance to play with real people instead of fantasy leagues, it’s also an effort to restore love to a game that the professionals view only in terms of profit:

“I’ve always had the notion of a group of fans putting money into a club and not taking it out – it is a potent force for good as most owners look at clubs as a way of making money.”

“I think some supporters of some big Premiership clubs feel as though they are a little out of touch with football these days.

Apparently the site’s doing pretty well, at least among journalists:

Only a couple of days after being launched with minimal publicity, the scheme has already generated enormous interest on the Internet and Brooks has been fielding calls from journalists as far afield as Spain.

The website has a list of 15 clubs – including Manchester City and Arsenal – which supporters want to buy, though Brooks says it is more likely the money raised will be used to buy a lower league club.

One of the things that makes fandom work so well as a social activity is that for every shared passion, there are also things about which fans disagree. That gives them plenty to discuss. So it’s mighty hard to imagine 50,000 fans actually succeeding in being organized, cooperative, and agreeable enough to make the kinds of decisions that running a team requires without falling into bitter power struggles amongst themselves.

This is a little reminiscent of this effort to involve fans in running a baseball team while making a reality tv show, but far more radical. For all the coverage of the baseball experiment when it launched, there’s been deafening silence on looking at how it went (imagine that), but the relative paucity of posts and comments on the official site here make me wonder if it really succeeded in increasing interest amongst fans as well as media. But then, if they’d OWNED the team…

Working March Madness Community

Bloomberg News reports that March Madness — the college basketball tournaments and accompanying mania that happen in the US this time of year — “may cost U.S. employers $1.2 billion in lost productivity before the winner is crowned April 2.” The problem (if that’s a problem) is that with the games being broadcast Thursday and Friday, “fans who should be working will be stealing glimpses of the action on television or the Internet and tracking the progress of their office pools.”

The president of the consulting firm that arrived at this estimate, suggests that:

even with the potential loss of productivity, employers can make the NCAA tournament a “good buy” by seizing a chance to boost morale.

It’s a ready-made event to create community and develop relationships,” Challenger said. “It’s an opportunity to take advantage of the distraction to build camaraderie among staff.”

I’m not mad about pushing fandom in the workplace, as it’s too easy to fall on the outsider side of that divide. But living here in Jayhawk country, where March Madness is a very very big deal, it does seem foolish to let all that good collective energy go to waste. The really smart (computer-based) workplace would set up a game viewing page that people could keep up in the corner of their screens with a real-time chat window to accompany it, so people could watch the game together and get work done at the same time. It’s not like we don’t all know how to multitask by now.

100,000 Fans Can’t Be Wrong

When you think “fans” you may not think “Yacht Racing!” but like NASCAR, international yacht racing has a scene all its own. The BMW ORACLE racing team has a team blog where they can keep fans, friends, and family near. The blog recently celebrated the 100,000th visitor writing:

We really have something to celebrate — in less than two years, and with just two months to the start of the Louis Vuitton Cup, the BMW ORACLE Racing Team has passed another milestone: the 100,000th visitor to the Team Blog. But it’s not just this figure that really puts a smile on our faces, it’s the incredible amount of positive feedback which we have received since the Blog was launched on 14th June 2005.

The huge wave of comments and reactions received over the last 18 months suggest that this special insider view helps to explain the popularity of the Blog. That’s what the comments have said about our unique online offer, frequently alongside the wish that there were more websites out there devoted to the America’s Cup. I am especially delighted to hear that kind of feedback as it shows we were right to go down this new road of online communications.

With the official Team Website and the Team Blog, we have been able to provide a much broader spectrum of information and enabled fans to really get up close and personal with the team.

Another good example of how centers of attention can connect with fans on a more personal level and enhance the fans’ sense of connection and (in this case) the team’s sense of fan support.