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For pro lacrosse, Twitter is a team builder
The Washington Stealth got to Rexall Arena in Edmonton at about 7 pm Eastern on Friday. We know this because right around that time, the Stealth's collective Twitter presence fell silent for about five hours while the team took on the Edmonton Rush.
Twitter's made headlines in sports for lots of reasons, many of them bad. Deion Sanders used it to blast Jay Cutler during the NFC Championship game. Terrell Owens went after former teammate Tony Romo. Tampa Bay Dan Ellis(notes) used Twitter to bemoan his difficult lifestyle - and was roundly shellacked by fans for it.
But in the little-known world of professional lacrosse, Twitter serves a lot of purposes. It's a team builder, a community outreach program, and a scoreboard, all in one. Most teams have Twitter accounts to broadcast promotions, but the people making the real difference on the social networking site are the players themselves.
The aforementioned Stealth, the 2010 National Lacrosse League champions, is the perfect example. The franchise now calls Everett, WA home; it's the club's third stop after Albany and San Jose in a franchise history that has seen lots of success on the floor, but very little off it. The Stealth still draws about 5000 fans per game (the league average hovers closer to 10,000), and the club tries everything from youth academies to sponsoring summer field travel teams to boost those numbers. But one place the Stealth leads the way is on Twitter.
The Stealth has at least eight players who talk regularly on Twitter: Paul Rabil and Kyle Hartzell from Baltimore, Eric Martin from San Francisco, and Jeff Zywicki, Tyler Richards, Lewis Ratcliff, Tom Johnson and Rhys Duch from Canada. There was a ninth, Jamieson Koesterer, but he recently left the team to coach at Johns Hopkins (although he still checks in from time to time).
For those eight, Twitter is everything from a chat room to a bulletin board. Hartzell and Rabil broadcast their flight times; Ratcliff and Duch talk about the latest Keisha song. When Hartzell and Rabil go to work out during the week, everyone else knows about it.
That's pivotal information in the world of pro lacrosse, which is still a part-time hobby. It's rare to have an entire team stay in one place all season long. The reality for the pro laxer usually involves lots of weekend travel, a maximum of one practice a week, and a couple of days with the teammates with whom they go into battle - before heading back from whence they came, to go back to a work week as a teacher or a firefighter or an equipment rep.
So anything that can help the team bond is a bonus. To that end, Ratcliff sees Twitter as an important part of the Stealth's togetherness.
"I think it just keeps us connected throughout the week," Ratcliff said before Friday's game.
"I like to be able to see what guys are up to and have some fun at each other's expense."
Ratcliff isn't sure if Twitter really helps the team on the floor, but he admits the weekly talks bring the team tighter together. There are some people on the team, he says, who just don't get the concept; but it keeps the players talking lacrosse throughout the week, which is a definite strong point.
It's difficult to decide what can't be said on Twitter, though. Some people use it a personal diary; others as community outreach. Ratcliff understands fans might be reading, so he occasionally tempers what he says.
"Yeah, I've held back a few times knowing that I have some younger followers," Ratcliff said.
"I think it is a great marketing tool, if you have enough of a following."
The Calgary Roughnecks can rival the Stealth for presence, if not geography. Team captain Andrew McBride, standout rookie Curtis Dickson, and defenders Pete McFetridge and Devan Wray can often be found talking not just to each other, but to other players around the league. A couple of weeks ago, Geoff Snider joined up, and quickly became one of the more entertaining talkers. On Thursday, he told Chad Ochocinco to "go to bed, you have a big game to watch on TSN2 on Saturday @ 7pm EST. You'll need your rest." That game, of course, featured Snider's Roughnecks against the Toronto Rock. He also bemoaned the lack of Canadian presence during the Super Bowl halftime show.
Most of the Roughnecks live together in Calgary, so Twitter isn't as much a tool to bring them together as a way to goof off. But it still puts a public face on a team without buying ads or kissing babies.
Hailey Carnegie has three hats in this ring. She's an active Twitter user, a consultant with National Public Relations, and the wife of Roughneck Mike Carnegie (who, incidentally, is not on Twitter).
"When you follow them all, you get the idea that they are all truly close friends and spend just as much time off the field as they do on it," she says of the Roughnecks' Twitter crew.
Carnegie thinks there's good and bad with athletes on Twitter; especially when, in the Roughnecks' or Stealth's case, they're helping to define the team image.
"Twitter isn't for everyone," she says.
"When clients come and ask us about the use of social media, we look at their business strategy and goals and really evaluate whether Twitter is the right fit. For something like lacrosse, Twitter is a great tool to increase brand awareness…it helps make the league more accessible to potential fans, but also current fans. The Calgary Roughnecks, for example, always strive to connect with their fans. The fans mean so much to the players. Twitter just provides another platform to do just that."
With that in mind, it's surprising more teams don't embrace Twitter's promotional power. The Boston Cannons of Major League Lacrosse are ever-present during the summer, but other clubs tweet sporadically, if at all. The same is true in the NLL. Ratcliff says he's surprised that teams like Philadelphia and Colorado, who have the same geographical issues as the Stealth, don't use Twitter more.
If Twitter is part of the public relations exercise, what do you do when someone like Snider gets carried away talking about, say, being hit on by waitresses? Well, says Carnegie, the lack of a filter is part of the charm, both for Twitter and lacrosse players - even if they do need to be reeled in once in a while.
"I think all of the players who are on Twitter have a love for the sport that they want to share," Carnegie says.
"I don't necessarily think that they need to train the players because the rawness part does give the sport some charm. But just as organizations provide employees with a set of guidelines for online behavior, I don't think it would be a bad idea for the NLL to provide those to players."
Andrew McBride - @Brider37
Geoff Snider -@GeoffSnider4
Pete McFetridge - @petemcfetridge
Curtis Dickson - @CurtisDickson17
Devan Wray @DWray24
Paul Rabil - @paulrabil
Kris Hartzell - @Hartzy1881
Jeff Zywicki - Zywicki67
Lewis Ratcliff -Lrat42
Eric Martin -GoldenStateLax
Tyler Richards - @TylerRichards00
Tom Johnson @TomJohnson8
Rhys Duch - DucheeLAX10
Jamieson Koesterer - @squirerockwell