Mark Cuban – owner of professional basketball team the Dallas Mavericks – has a curious post out this weekend, wherein he claims that ESPN and its anchors have utterly failed in embracing twitter and using it to drive traffic to the network’s website (and I suppose to a lesser extent, it’s channels). His words, emphasis mine:
Today, sports news finds millions and millions of sports fans first via twitter. Unfortunately for ESPN.com, they don’t control any ad space on your tweet stream. ESPN no longer makes a penny from the first sports news you receive. Thats not good for them.
So they responded. THeir reporters started tweeting. Tweeting in whatever ways they could come up with to generate pageviews. Because pageviews on ESPN.com still paid their bills and allowed them to keep their jobs.
It hasnt worked.
ESPN.com reporters havent had a lot of success getting followers on Twitter. Some columnists like Bill Simmons have. The vast majority of their reporters have under 100k followers and many of those, as best I can tell, have under 10k . Which in a nutshell means, the world wide leader in sports doesn’t have much in the way of muscle to drive traffic from twitter users to their sites. That is a risk.
Just off the top of my head, I can list a few ESPN reporters that at the very-least call Cuban’s assertion into serious question: @adamschefter (529,139 followers), @mortreport (280,500), @erinandrews (431,443), @kenny_mayne (88,469), @melkiperespn (53,758), @jimrome (275,629) and @aroundthehorn (191,692). There’s several others that have 20-40,000 followers, and that’s just checking out ESPN reporters that popped into my head.
Now, if Cuban had some sort of statistical evidence to support his claim that ESPN and its reporters were doing a poor job of converting tweets and twitter followers into page-views, then, perhaps his argument would have some weight. As-is, though, it strikes me as incredibly weak.
Of course, I don’t have any such data myself, but I know for instance, during Football season, every Sunday I am hanging on Chris Mortenson @mortreport and Adam Schefter @adamschefter’s every word before I submit my fantasy football lineup, and I am going through stats on ESPN.com like a mad-man, usually with several tabs of espn.com open simultaneously. I’m pretty sure the rest of the guys in my league do the same/similar, and considering the widespread popularity of fantasy leagues, I’d imagine we’re not alone.
Now, this raises a question Cuban seems to stop-short of asking: why doesn’t ESPN have a top-down policy for its reporters on how to craft tweets so as to maximize traffic to espn.com, instead of pushing valuable information in tweets, i.e each tweet would be a hook (lede), followed by a link to an espn.com page? Perhaps there is some sort of semi-formal policy in-place, but just observing the tweets of several ESPN reporters, it’s not at all clear.
Cuban asserts that a start-up or smaller challenger could capitalize on the “opportunity” left open by ESPN’s “twitter problem,” but I think that’s a massive stretch. ESPN is by far the leader in sports and sports news, in ever medium, especially digital. While there are several smaller outfits, ranging from blogs to corporate efforts, I think one would be extremely hard-pressed to challenge ESPN’s dominance, to say the least.