No one knows exactly what the impact of Elon Musk buying Twitter will be and what the social media platform will look like in 12, 6, or even 3 months. But what most experts and pundits seem to be in agreement about is that it will be very, very different. For many, the presumption is that it will be worse. Much worse. And while many sectors will be impacted by whatever happens to Twitter, there are few that could be as seismically changed as the sports media world.
Just one week into Musk’s ownership, if you can call it that, we’re already seeing massive changes and alterations to the service that will irreparably change it and the way it’s used. Verified accounts will now have to pay for the privilege of providing Twitter with content that makes it relevant. Twitter’s leadership and workforce have been gutted to the point where it’s unclear how it will protect against misinformation. Musk is reportedly eyeing new features that will essentially turn Twitter into an all-in-one social media platform, which has historically been a sign of a company’s death spiral. Twitter’s new leader is also simultaneously trying to woo advertisers while also sending them running for the hills.
And while all of that is happening, the sports media world keeps turning and keeps tweeting. So much of sports media is built on Twitter in 2022, to the point where it’s hard to imagine how some jobs, like “NFL insider,” can even exist without the reach and impact that the platform gives them. Adam Schefter recently signed a reported $9 million contract extension with ESPN based strongly on his Twitter audience reach. Adrian Wojnarowski, arguably the greatest of all the “insiders,” uses his social media reach as a way to prove to sources what his value is to them. Without Twitter, that value would seemingly drop overnight.
But to anyone working in the sports media world, be they reporters, broadcasters, TV analysts, or radio hosts, Twitter is, at worst, a relevant tool in your toolbelt for not only disseminating information but also connecting with your audience and building your personal brand. And even if you don’t like Twitter, losing its reach would have some impact on how you do your job and what you do every day, right?
Well, we don’t actually know for sure. So we decided to ask them.
Awful Announcing reached out to a handful of people in the sports media world, all working in different aspects of the industry. We spoke with Action Network’s Brett McMurphy (the insider), ESPN’s David Hale (the ESPNer), The Athletic’s Chris Vannini (the national writer), Syracuse.com’s Donna Ditota (the local reporter), Frederick Nationals announcer Joey Zanaboni (the broadcaster), and bknown’s Brendan Kaminsky (the social media agency founder) to get their thoughts on Twitter’s importance to what they do and what happens if it were to become irrelevant or even disappear altogether.
For each sports media member, the value that Twitter brings to their specific job varies. For some, it’s a critical component and a large part of how they ended up in their current job.
“Twitter is arguably the biggest reason I am in this position today,” said Vannini. “I’m admittedly an addict of the place, with Tweetdeck up on my computer all day. Twitter helps me see breaking news, either on the timeline or through Twitter alerts, follow writers of teams I pay attention to, and get my own work out to an audience interested in it. People like to say Twitter isn’t real life, but it is a very real part of media life.”
Someone like Zanaboni literally wouldn’t be where he is today without Twitter.
“From a professional perspective, Twitter has been caffeine to my career,” said Zanaboni. “In the last three years, highlight reels of my calls have generated around 10 million views – the majority of which have come via Twitter. That kind of exposure has allowed my work to get around quite a bit and opened doors to broadcasting opportunities in Minor League Baseball and with ESPN and MLB Network.”
For others, like McMurphy, who worked in the industry in the days before social media, Twitter has become something vital, filling the gap left behind by old iterations of information gathering.
“Since the majority of my career was working for a newspaper – remember those, kids? I didn’t think so – Twitter has become incredibly vital in the sports media world. It’s extremely important in what I do specifically as a college football reporter,” said McMurphy. “It allows me to report news and information in real time.
“I think Pat Forde called it this a while back: it’s sort of a perverted AP wire. Where, again back in the old days if you worked at a newspaper, you could look at the AP wire on your computer and it would scroll the latest news and scores, etc., exactly how Twitter works now. The biggest difference now with Twitter is you have the ability to reach so many more people interested in your information and insight. That’s invaluable.”
While most sports media members see Twitter as important, it’s not always for the reasons you might think.
“I am definitely reliant on Twitter as a means of sports media consumption. It’s the best way to stay in tune with the cultural zeitgeist, so to speak — to get a feel for what people are talking about, to be alerting to big moments, to know when something truly captures the attention of the larger public. In many ways, Twitter is what the 11 p.m. SportsCenter used to be for me — a chance to hear from players, see highlights, and learn what relevant people think about the day’s events,” said Hale. “But the flip side is, I’m not sure Twitter is actually that important in terms of content sharing for me, personally. Metrics tend to show a very small percentage of readership for my stories comes directly from social media. This may be unique to ESPN because it is a destination site more than most others, but I do tend to think Twitter amplifies the voices of the most plugged-in but is not necessarily as valuable a tool for reaching a wider audience as most sports writers tend to think it is.”
“Anybody who works in the media industry and is a personality has likely been on Twitter longer than any other social platform and likely has a sizeable audience there,” said Kaminsky. “Most clients I’ve worked with have their biggest follower count on Twitter. They might not necessarily be seeing the biggest engagement numbers from Twitter compared to Instagram, but the biggest ceiling for their content is probably Twitter. It is the platform most natural to members of the sports media.”
However, not everyone sees Twitter as an invaluable tool for working in sports media.
“Twitter is important but not vital to what I do,” said Ditota. “I scroll through it numerous times a day, depending on how heavy my workload is that day and how much reporting and writing I need to do. On a heavy writing/reporting day, I barely look at it. News breaks there, so it’s always good to at least keep an eye on it. But it’s not vital, especially for someone like me who covers a beat where players and coaches are accessible. And players themselves are rarely on Twitter. They break their own news on [Instagram].”
Knowing that, one way or another, Twitter has an impact on every sports media member’s day, it stands to reason that if the platform fell into irrelevance, that would negatively affect what they do each day, right? Turns out, it depends on who you ask. For her part, Ditota admits that she doesn’t think it “would change my job or my role much at all.” And even for those who do think it will have an impact, it’s hard to know if the impact would be legitimate or merely surface-level.
“A lot of us would lose some standing,” said Vannini.” A company can see your pageviews and what you produce, but your Twitter follower number can get the attention of another outlet or another reporter and help your career. It’s a stupid number likely full of bots, but we all have fragile egos.
“As for my work, it would make following 131 college football teams and more than 60 Group of 5 teams a hell of a lot harder. It’s been a long time since I had an RSS feed, and that’d be a lot of work to sort out the bits of news that impact me. Readers would go back to visiting the major websites, and it’d be very hard for a new writer at an obscure outlet to break through.”
To that point, McMurphy worries that losing Twitter would mean anyone not working for major outlets like ESPN, The Athletic, or the AP would cease to have the same visibility.
“It’s become such an important place for journalists and others – that don’t have the benefit of working at a mega media or broadcast company – to be able to report news,” said McMurphy. “I broke the Urban Meyer/Zach Smith domestic violence issues at Ohio State and other news stories on Twitter and reported them on my Facebook page, yet I was credited and my reporting was recognized by mainstream media companies. That’s something I’ve told younger journalists is you don’t have to work at the behemoth companies to make an impact. If you do quality work, people will eventually find it. I’m not sure that would be the case if Twitter and/or other social media were not available.”
“I would be torn if Twitter were to go away,” said Zanaboni. “On the one hand, I do think that it would impact the reach of my calls. Most likely, not as many people would catch the clips, and fewer people would be led to the full broadcast, which is my ultimate goal.”
However, Zanaboni also worries there are larger societal concerns beyond the sports media impact to consider.
“On the other hand, it’s clear to me that the Twitterization of society is leading us toward a more uncertain future. The constant consumption of these bite-size chunks, the snideness toward one another, the overwhelming blur of breaking news – all the things that make Twitter Twitter – are eroding our values and even loosening our grip on reality,” Zanaboni added.
Not everyone sees Twitter’s new regime as the destructive force that will end the party as we know it.
“I’m more of an optimist on the new Twitter regime than most,” said Hale. “I’ve actually done a good bit of reporting on the NIL space over the past couple of years, and one of the things that’s been impossible to ignore is that, while social media is central to branding, Twitter is a bit of an afterthought for most users under 30, who are far more engaged with TikTok or IG, so perhaps there’s a future in which an Elon-owned Twitter actually moves to expand its reach, rather than the alternative.”
Along those same lines, Kaminsky thinks that a downgraded or devalued Twitter would simply shift focus to other platforms, rather than create a void.
“It would force clients to focus more energy on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube while figuring out another mechanism to consume and produce content in the live window,” said Kaminsky. “When a big game is happening or breaking news occurs, Twitter is universally the platform of choice to scroll through and engage with. While engagement numbers are trending upward with platforms like Instagram and TikTok, the experience Twitter provides is unrivaled by any other platform. Nobody has anything close to what Twitter has, and if it ever went away, there would be a massive opportunity for somebody to solve this void. A lot of the work I do is having my clients focus on putting energy into other platforms besides Twitter since Twitter is the one that’s been most native to them.”
But will sports media members make that move if it comes down to it? Will Adam Schefter all of a sudden become a TikTok mainstay while Shams Charania remakes his news-breaking game over on Substack? It seems hard to imagine for many, but then again, Twitter seemed impossible to imagine before it became what it is today.
Ultimately, it may come down to what each sports media member is trying to accomplish. Is the goal to generate followers? Or are you looking for clicks? Or is your company pivoting to video for the fifth time? That could dictate where you set up camp.
“If your KPI (Key Performance Indicator) is people watching your video, and your audience is similar enough on Instagram and Twitter, Instagram I’ve found to be more effective,” said Kaminsky. “If your KPI is sports media peers and the industry seeing your content, Twitter is the one that I feel gets the most attention.”
To that point, Vannini worries that Twitter’s ability to connect with sports writers and other college football media around the country can’t be replicated in other existing social media platforms.
“I have Twitter lists of beat writers from every conference, national stuff, and more. That can’t be replaced by an RSS feed. I would not be able to follow every team as I can today,” said Vannini. “Maybe I’ve fallen behind and need to have the same mindset with other social media platforms and can figure things out there. Maybe I’m the old person who dismissed Twitter 14 years ago.”
For Hale, the answer lies in the difference between your “audience” and your “community” and whether or not you can curate the latter off Twitter. And unfortunately, the odds aren’t good.
“The wonderful Holly Anderson tweeted something a year or so ago that really stuck with me,” said Hale. “She basically said there’s a difference between an audience and a community. Your audience is any person who might potentially consume your work, and at ESPN, that’s a whole lot of people who consume work for diverse reasons, the vast majority of whom pay no attention to who wrote the story and often don’t read beyond the first few paragraphs anyway. But a community is a subset of that audience who read because *you* wrote it because they feel they know you and have some type of relationship with you as a journalist. They’re reading YOU, not just a story, and they’re far more likely to engage beyond what’s written, to share with others, to talk about what they read with friends, etc.
“I don’t think Twitter is necessary to build an audience, but I’ve really come to believe — at least for me — that it’s critical to maintaining a sense of community with the readers who really care. I’d like to think if Twitter went away, that community would just move to another forum. That something will come along to fill the void. But that’s not really how communities work. When everyone graduates high school, they promise to keep in touch, but you’re lucky if they even show up to the 10-year reunion.”
At this point, we’re all in a waiting pattern as Musk tweaks and tears apart Twitter to see if he can find the ooey-gooey, fiscally sound center (or maybe he’s just ruining it on purpose, it’s truly impossible to tell). In the meantime, we asked each sports media person what predictions they might have about how this all plays out and, just like everything else, opinions varied.
“I might be naive here, but I don’t think the sky is falling,” said Hale. “I actually think Twitter is a place that has a lot of room for improvement, and as much as I am aware of Musk’s drawbacks, he didn’t become the world’s richest man by driving companies into the ground. I think the most likely outcome is that Twitter becomes more about communities — engaging with the people whom you find valuable and blocking/muting the ones you don’t — than it might’ve been before, and that might enhance the echo-chamber nature of the platform (which I think is dangerous) but I think a lot of the worst predictions about Twitter are largely already true of the platform, and if Musk can find some ways to grow the user base and find new means to use the platform, the net benefit can still be a positive. Then again, if you scroll back through my Twitter feed, you’ll find I’ve been wrong a lot before.”
“A lot of people have a lot of money invested in the place succeeding, even if Elon accidentally bought something he didn’t want because he couldn’t stop posting,” said Vannini. “That said, if things head down a certain path, I could see a number of people go away as the place heads down a slow death spiral. But much like linear TV, sports could be the thing to sustain its life longer than it would be otherwise. People don’t really have sports conversations on Instagram or TikTok. Sports Twitter is a very unique place, tied around the one thing that people still watch live together: sports. Assuming this thing isn’t just unplugged one day, I believe that will survive.”
“I would prefer that it not become less trustworthy,” said Ditota. “I like to check it sporadically during the day just to make sure I’m not missing anything or to read a critical or interesting story. But if it went away, it wouldn’t crush me. It would invariably be more difficult to find content that interests me or might inform a story I write or plan to write. I don’t know where else that stuff would migrate to. None of the Twitter drama has consumed me. Maybe it should?”
“I can’t predict what will happen to Twitter, but I do believe it will become even more contentious,” said Zanaboni. “One of my laments about sports media is the way that crossfire debates and shouting matches have become cheap substitutes for investigative journalism and genuine entertainment. Everyone arguing all the time has made us miserable. I hope people get sick of bickering someday.”
“Whenever platforms make changes, people love freaking out,” said Kaminsky. “It’s common to react negatively because people customarily don’t like change and transition with anything in life that they are used to having. We’ve seen this happen time and time again across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat with product changes… I don’t have any insider information, but six months from now, I don’t think people will be freaking out as much as they are at this moment. I have confidence people will continue to leverage the massive audiences they’ve built on Twitter, all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into producing followers and content. People, I believe, will roll with the “punches.”
It wouldn’t be a sports media discussion if we didn’t wrap all of this up with a sports reference.
“Really no clue. I’m sure I’ll adjust if needed,” said McMurphy. “As Nick Saban says, you either adapt or die. That’s worked out pretty well for him.”