ESPN Live Twitter-Type Coverage Good Thought, But Not There Yet

After a week of many negative Twitter stories, it was great to see ESPN experiment with its use in real-time, live game coverage, which can be a sweet-spot value proposition for the microblogging tool. ESPN employed Baseball Writer’s Jayson Stark, Rob Neyer, and Amy Nelson, now legendary Bill Simmons, the Stats and Info group, and an MLB Editor to tweet live during the game, though Nelson was the only one at Yankee Stadium.

ESPN provided a live chat type interface on their website that housed all the tweets from the aforementioned participants, and occasionally a user question – though none were good and we have no idea how they selected those questions. All tweets alos went out through Twitter under the individuals name, so you had to be following all of them to see the whole thing unfold, which I was not until last night, but now I am, so one goal of ESPN accomplished.

It felt very much like an experiment. My ESPN portal showed me the countdown screen more than the actual content, and my comments fell into the black hole. It was difficult to use in that it constantly froze and restarted. Lost me quick. On Twitter, my feed was a mess, and keep in mind that Twitter does not automatically refresh. Further, just because ESPN is hosting an event, the rest of the world does not stop Tweeting, so ESPN tweets intertwined with other users I follow, making it difficult to follow. Twitter really needs a filtering option, above and beyond search. In this instance, search was difficult because the tweeters were not consistently tagging any of the tweets. I would have liked to filter everyone out but them and a few other local reporters to create my Yanks-Red Sox feed, or have the option to filter all of them out of my feed so I could monitor the rest of my universe without the constant commentary flooding my screen.

While ESPN’s tool was anti-user, in that it prevented user comments, it successfully controlled the flooding effect of a message board or live chat, making it a tolerable experience. The next step is to let users pick who they want to follow, not force everyone on them, to stabilize the platform, and decide how to handle user interaction, which has to be incorporated, but carefully – as in not with the fire hose approach. Further, mirroring all the comments in Twitter may not be the best answer. Yes, it opens up all followers to the comments, but they can easily do that my tweeting to go to the website for live game action. This is where a team/network/league can add value by understanding its customer base. What did ESPN gain from the experiment last night? Some ad dollars I assume. But they left most of the traffic stay on Twitter, did not push users to register or provide any information, and failed to incorporate sponsorship or involve advertising in the live feed. Sports fans are engaged, a small hurdle of registration or advertising will not stop prevent them from engaging in live conversation during a Yankees-Red Sox game. Doing it for the sake of doing it will not hold the answer, they need to recognize value.

Plus, if Bill Simmons is involved, ESPN needs to put a die hard Yankee fan to match wits and trade barbs. It would add entertainment value.

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