Mark Cuban Asks: “Does ESPN Have A Twitter Problem?”

Mark Cuban Asks: “Does ESPN Have A Twitter Problem?”

Sportology has spent a good deal of time examining ESPN’s overall approach to the new realities of the Web as it relates to video and media rights. Mark Cuban’s blog post yesterday asked a question that is a different side of the same problem. Specifically, does ESPN.com has a problem as it relates to Twitter. Per Cuban:

Over the last two years things have changed. We all found twitter. We found Facebook. Not only did we find twitter and fb, but our phones got much, much smarter. Tablets popped on the scene. We were able to get everything sports we wanted in the palm of our hands. No matter where we were.

ESPN responded. THey knew that twitter was becoming a HUGE generator of pageviews. The lifeblood of ESPN.com. If you couldn’t reach an audience on twitter , those with an audience on twitter could and will take pageviews from ESPN.com. Sending them elsewhere.  COuld it be big enough to be a game changer ? Maybe.

In the past, sports fans first stop in the search for sports news would be  ESPN.com .  Twitter changed all that. Twitter means we dont have to go to ESPN.com, we just check our twitter stream. Those people we follow always send us the updates we needed right to us. And we like it.  And if we want more information, we just clink on the links they send us.

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.

Ryan Spoon of DogPatch Labs suggests that ESPN doesn’t have a Twitter problem, ESPN has a Twitter opportunity. Ryan goes on to give ESPN some very on-point, practical suggestions for how they can start realizing that opportunity. But as Ryan notes, his suggestions should be considered “social media marketing 101”.

Both Cuban and Spoon are correct, for the same reason that the Chinese use the same word for both crisis and opportunity. Both would agree that ESPN has had some fundamental problems adjusting to a social-Web centric world. And as Ad Age reported on Friday, only 44% of the Fortune 50 have any social media icons on their home Web pages and 60% hide their Twitter feeds, so ESPN is not alone.

I pondered this just a day after I saw a notable Tweet from Kyle Spencer, Executive Director of Marketing for the Golden State Warriors. Kyle, whose leadership has helped the Warriors leverage social media very effectively, found it curious that only 15 of the 143 Fortune 100 CMOs have a Twitter account.

I checked and sure enough, ESPN’s SVP of Marketing, Carol Kruse, has no Twitter account. Nor has she updated her LinkedIn profile to reflect her employment at ESPN, a job she took over 7 months ago. Those items suggest that Carol is not likely to have a strong, native understanding of how the social Web works.

This is another great example of the understated degree of disruption going on and the potential vulnerability of even the most entrenched incumbents. Even though, as Cuban notes, this may be a “game changer”, ESPN is struggling to adapt.

So it’s also worth noting that fast moving SB Nation just made a brilliant move in grabbing a number of the former Engadget team, including Josh Topolsky, Engadget’s former Editor-in-Chief. The former Engadget guys will be doing tech-focused stuff, but Topolsky spells out why he’s joining SB Nation:

Of course, the natural question I’m sure a lot of people have is: why SB Nation? The easy answer is that the people at SB Nation share my vision of what publishing looks like in the year 2011. They think that the technology used to create and distribute news on the web (and mobile) is as important as the people who are responsible for the content itself. And that’s not just pillow talk — SB Nation is actively evolving its tools and processes to meet the growing and changing needs of its vast editorial teams and their audience communities. They’re building for the web as it is now. From the perspective of a journalist who also happens to be a huge nerd, that’s a match made in heaven. SBN isn’t just another media company pushing news out — it’s a testbed and lab for some of the newest and most interesting publishing tools I’ve ever seen. In short, I was blown away when I saw what kind of technology they’re using to get news on their front page and engage audiences, and even more blown away when I started talking to them about what could come next.

Ryan Spoon’s suggestions will get ESPN started towards better using social media, but for ESPN to solve their “Twitter problem”, they will need to do far more than integrate Twitter buttons onto their existing Web pages. As SB Nation understands, the technology is now a fundamental, core piece of the puzzle, not an afterthought or a subset of marketing. This looks like the classic case of the large old company Goliath that can’t change it’s ways and the scrappy, agile startup that’s running circles around it’s entrenched competitor. Don’t be surprised if SB Nation is nipping at ESPN.com’s heels in a few years.