Sports Biz: Will the NBA declare war on Twitter?

The National Basketball Association is the latest professional sports league to try and figure out what, if anything, it needs to do about Twitter.

NBA officials "plan on having some sort of guidance" about the wildy popular micro-blogging site before next month's start of the season, according to Tim Frank, an NBA spokesman. He declined to elaborate on what recommendations are being considered.

Some of the game's biggest stars, including Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest and Kevin Garnett, have attracted tens of thousands of followers and found Twitter to be a cheap, easy means of self-promotion. O'Neal, who joined the Cleveland Cavaliers in the off-season, promises "random acts of Shaqness" to his more than 2 million followers. There are also countless Twitter feeds from professional basketball fans, teams, the sports media and even the NBA itself.

So, what could be the problem with that? According to executives in other sports, potentially plenty. Earlier this week, the NFL announced pretty draconian restrictions on Twitter and other types of social media such as Facebook. Tweeting and Facebooking is banned 90 minutes before a game and until post-game interviews are completed, CNET said. Restrictions apply to the media as well. Earlier, the New York Jets encouraged players to tweet.

The U.S. Tennis Association this week angered star player Andy Roddick when it issued a warning at the U.S. Open about tweeting confidential information that could be useful to gamblers, which could be almost anything. Fixing tennis matches has been an ongoing concern for years, though some experts question whether clamping down on Twitter will do much good to prevent it.

Officials at the National Hockey League have no official Twitter policy, leaving it for teams to set individually. They are watching developments in other sports, even though hockey players have not embraced Twitter with the same enthusiasm as other professional athletes, according to Michael DiLorenzo, the director of social media for the NHL. He added that might be the result of many of them not speaking English as a first language.

Baseball has no official Twitter policy either, but micro-blogging during games is discouraged.

"Uniformed personnel, clubhouse staff and equipment staff are prohibited from using cellular phones, including any type of portable or mobile phone, laptop or texting device or similar portable equipment while on the bench or playing field at any time, and are prohibited from using such devices in the clubhouse within 30 minutes from a start of a game," said spokesman Kevin Bourne in an e-mail to DailyFinance.

Dave Czesnuck, director of operations for Northeastern University's center for Sport in Society, told DailyFinance that sports leagues may be using worries about gambling as an excuse to maintain control over their public image. Twitter followers are passionate fans and leagues should be careful not to anger them.

"Gambling has been part of sports since long before computers," he said. "If it's going to embraced by the mainstream, it should be embraced by the leagues."


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