Mega-brand players just too big to tweet

Updated: October 8, 2009, 10:35 AM ET
By Ryan Corazza | Special to ESPN.com

Those following the career arc of LeBron James know he's more than just the most talented basketball player on the planet. He's a brand.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady and Giselle Bundchen
AP Photo/Evan AgostiniDo you really think Tom Brady, shown with wife Giselle Bundchen, has the time or inclination to be tweeting?

James has clothing and his own shoe under the Nike umbrella as well as several other endorsements; a documentary about his high school basketball team; a book about those same high school days that he co-authored with Buzz Bissinger; he's starring in a movie that starts filming this coming summer; he was invited to and attended the Allen & Co. media-industry conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, an exclusive meet-and-greet for moguls; he hit the talk-show circuit hard this summer. Oh, and he's tight with Jay-Z, a transcendent guy on the top of his profession, just like LBJ.

He's basically a one-man production house these days, in which he's the star of everything. But in all this LeBron-centric media, there's one thing missing: Twitter.

If, for some athletes, Twitter is about building their brand, about them connecting with fans, about them gaining more exposure to capitalize on their talents with endorsements and sponsorships while they still can, then why isn't the biggest brand in American professional sports on the service?

A simple theory: He doesn't need it. LeBron is a mega-brand, and mega-brands don't need to be toiling away on Twitter to gain more fans and money. They already have all that and more.

Let's look at a few other guys. First, the NFL. Peyton Manning is arguably the biggest brand: He's been in a million commercials, he's led a team to the Super Bowl, he's been the host of "Saturday Night Live." He's not on Twitter.

Tom Brady? Leader of the Patriots dynasty, husband to supermodel Gisele Bundchen. Not on Twitter. Brett Favre, who almost singlehandedly gave ESPN the top-watched cable program of all time Monday night? Not on Twitter.

Not many baseball players use the service to begin with, but Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez -- two of the biggest names in the sport, and two who spend time on the sports page and Page Six -- aren't on Twitter.

This isn't to say every big-name athlete is shunning it. We can go to the NBA and see guys such as Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard (some of the biggest brands after Kobe Bryant -- who also doesn't have an account -- and James) are active on the service. But I'd argue those guys aren't in the same ballpark in terms of appeal. There's LeBron, there's Kobe, then there's everyone else. Michael Jordan isn't on Twitter now. And if it existed during his prime, I doubt he'd be chatting with fans on it. He had bigger fish to fry, other checks to cash.

And in the NFL, guys such as Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco are constant tweeters. But Tom Brady they are not.

The bottom line is this: Twitter in an invaluable marketing tool for athletes. That's why so many are on it, and have seen their profile and brand uptick in recent months. It will continue to help those who are seeking growth off the court.

But for the biggest ballers? It ain't worth their time.

Puck policy in the works

Like the NFL and NBA before it, the NHL is near completion on a social media policy that will extend to players, coaches and team personnel. Michael DiLorenzo, the NHL's director of social media marketing and strategy, told Reuters late last week he used the NFL's and NBA's policies as a basis for his own recommendations to the league. The Reuters report indicated the recommendations for the policy cover "30 minutes before and after games, practices, meetings and media access periods."

These recommendations are a bit more strict than those we've seen from the NBA and NFL, both of which have policies that only extended to game days. But again, it harkens back to what seems to be the bottom line for the leagues: Tweet on your own time, while making sure the interests of both traditional media and the league are firmly intact.

The recommendations are being reviewed by senior management now, and DiLorenzo told me over the phone Tuesday he expects it to be finalized within the next week or so.

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

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