WASHINGTON, March 14, 2013 - As print newspapers continue their long descent into inoperable demise, the rise of the blogger – specifically sports bloggers – has tossed the classic definition of journalist into grayer areas.
Matthew Cerrone, a former P.R strategist, started MetsBlog.com in 2003. In the 10 years since the site’s inception, what was once a hobby has now become a full-time job. In that span of time, Cerrone has built a brand. By building individual relationships with fans and a greater relationship with the New York Mets, Cerrone has been on the ground floor of social media for the last decade, and has seen its ups and downs, including how athletes engage it.
Cerrone was at first apprehensive about the usage of Twitter. Like many he relied on the contact submission form on his website to interact with fans. It was through this form that he first asked fans if he should embrace Twitter.
“I distinctly remember some advising me to not bother, because it would be just a fad.” But this once-perceived fad has now fused with both Cerrone's life and his brand.
“I can't live without it. I picked it up quickly, and did what I advise most newcomers to do: Just follow people, don't tweet, just follow and get a feel for what it's about. It doesn't take long before you'll all in, though. I still view the medium as two different dynamics: It's a great way to consume information, but then a great tool to communicate one on one.”
Cerrone likens the transition to Twitter to the repercussions the text-message had on telephonic phone calls. “It was built to be and still very much just an enhanced text message service. And, in the same way texting has crushed the traditional telephone service, Twitter has crushed many of the traditional ways we get information and communicate online.”
Though Twitter has been an essential medium to help build his own brand, Cerrone like many other Twitter users appreciates the one-on-one relationship that is newly fused between fans and players. This relationship now goes beyond the ballpark and introduces new elements to fandom that were previously unknown.
“I'm a Mets fan, but I have become a fan of Orioles of Adam Jones, strictly because he and I seem to like the same food, which I'm now aware of from following his Instagram.” This connection, Cerrone says, could never have happened even as recently as 10 years ago.
Though many athletes use Twitter as a medium to communicate their day-to-day activities, Cerrone is mindful at how an athlete can use Twitter to further his career. “I love when I see less popular personalties and athletes building a following, building a specific brand, because they're creating a community that is exclusively their own.”
This specific brand is something that Cerrone believes could be used to a players advantage. “I look at Nick Swisher, an outfielder for the Cleveland Indians and think, with his personality and that following he has amassed on Twitter, how does an ESPN or FOX Sports not hire him for on-air work immediately after he retires.”
The reach that athletes have on Twitter has also allowed some to use their access to fans for charitable and professional service. Washington Nationals infielder Ian Desmond has used this platform to raise awareness for several different causes including Quilts of Honor. By connecting with fans via Twitter, he has given away tickets, and game used items for those who donate or interact with charities he supports.
Beyond charitable causes, athletes have also used Twitter to market themselves. Cerrone summarizes this by noting that “these guys have a direct pipeline now to sell books, products, tickets, autographs.” This dynamic is not exclusive to the athlete as Cerrone notes that “their agents can leverage those audiences in negotiations.”
As Twitter continues to grow into the lexicon of society, its importance in the life of the athlete continues to grow. 2012 National League Rookie of the Year, Bryce Harper was 14 at the inception of Twitter. For his entire adult life, Twitter has been a major medium. As young athletes like Harper rise in prominence, their usage of Twitter is not exclusive to their professions, but a by-product of their age. These athletes “don't need to 'embrace it,' because it's already part of the D.N.A. as teenagers,” Said Cerrone.
Going forward, Cerrone believes success for an athlete on Twitter requires both a thick skin and a degree of honesty and candor that fans have now come to expect. “Rule number one is always be authentic. However, you have to have a filter. That's how life works.”
As the medium continues to grow, Cerrone hopes that teams and corporations do not over exceed their limits by censoring an athlete and becoming problematic to the athlete, fan relationship.
“The fact that a fan can meet a player and those two can recognize one another from Twitter, that they'd already have a small relationship before meeting face to face, is pretty powerful. I worry teams and leagues will get involved and start muddying up this relationship with branding and ticket sales. But, for now, it's pretty awesome.”