CFL's Eskimos tackle new territory

Updated: September 16, 2009, 11:19 AM ET
By Ryan Corazza | Special to ESPN.com

We've seen a lot from Twitter in the U.S. pro sports landscape this year.

[+] EnlargeBradley Robinson
Courtesy Edmonton EskimosEdmonton Eskimos trainer Nate Hay makes some pregame adjustments for defensive back Bradley Robinson.

Players breaking their own news, players breaking team news, fines, controversy, self-promotion, as-close-as-you-can-get access. The NFL has enacted a policy on its use.

But there's an interesting use of the platform happening in the Canadian Football League for the first time this season that's yet to proliferate stateside: real-time, all-access photography via cell phone.

Let's take the Edmonton Eskimos' 35-34 loss to the Calgary Stampeders on Sept. 11. Sure, there was plenty of scoring, with action updates on Edmonton's Twitter account, which is great information for followers -- but other organizations, and even media outlets and fans, have done that before.

But there was also another aspect to the organization's Twitter stream during the game: linked photos from SnapMyLife.

Here's the team in the tunnel before kickoff, here's linebacker Mo Lloyd laying on the sidelines shortly after his first interception of the year, here's Quanteisha on the field just before she's about to perform at halftime. In earlier games this season, the team's account has shown defensive tackle Dario Romero 10 minutes before kickoff in the locker room, headphones on, eyes closed, getting mentally prepared before he takes the field, as well as coach Richie Hall's pregame speech.

It's an all-access photography pass that documents the game as it happened for fans.

It's the real-time version of HBO's "Hard Knocks," with less polish. It's a mainstream media's game-day slide show, except it's instant, and allows for access any and everywhere. Cameras aren't always allowed in the locker room at all times, but team personnel are. A team's Twitter stream -- its own media arm -- is much more powerful because of this. They're the only people capable of providing this sort of access for fans. Even Peter Robert Casey, who St. John's men's basketball brought in as an independent media member to solely use Twitter to cover the team this season, doesn't have 100 percent access -- he'll be treated like a regular media member.

"What we try to do with our tweets and the photos we send with them is to give fans something they couldn't see," said Dave Jamieson, the Eskimos director of communication and marketing, who notes that other teams, such as the British Columbia Lions, are taking a similar initiative. "We're on the inside. Because we have that status and those privileges that go with it, we're able to provide some of those rare glimpses of the football dressing room and behind-the-scenes stuff."

Where the NFL has told team personnel to put away the cell phones 90 minutes before games, during the games and until postgame media obligations have been fulfilled, some teams in the CFL are doing quite the opposite. It's a league that's always been about accessibility. But remember: This is the PR wing of the staff; no players or coaches are typing away at their cell phones while they're on the field, so the integrity of the game remains intact.

"We are also sensitive to the fact that you don't want to in any way compromise competitive integrity, showing something that may give an advantage to an opponent, or at the same time undermine the Eskimo brand," said Jamieson who snaps the pictures and sends the tweets, along with another staffer. "The immediacy is so powerful and effective -- it's another thing we do on game day for our fans and it's been well-received."

The NBA has yet to finalize its Twitter policy, and David Stern has said it won't be anything too drastic. The policy will probably be similar to the NFL's: no tweeting during the game. Yet the league would be wise to extend this policy only to coaches and players, and let team personnel tweet away, with the CFL's photo initiatives as their jumping-off point.

Ryan Corazza is a freelance writer and Web designer based in Chicago.

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