The two worlds of social media and professional athletes have not always played well together. Back in the day, organizations had better control over what their athletes said to the public. Statements were either issued in a press release or at a press conference. The world was simple.
Now, with the rise of social media, especially Twitter, athletes are saying things publicly all the time - making multiple statements a day. Sure, most professional athletes use Twitter like every other person; but since they are followed by so many people every little thing they say gets scrutinized and publicized - much to the chagrin of sports team owners and organizational presidents. And sometimes they forget to filter what they say.
So while most organizations like the NFL and NBA have implemented rules cracking down on Twitter use, one sport's President is planning on rewarding "creative" Twitter use.
Ultimate Fighting Championship's Dana White announced at the UFC Fighter Summit in Las Vegas that his fighters will begin to receive bonuses for Twitter use starting June 1st.
Starting June 1, UFC and Strikeforce fighters will be divided into four categories, based on how many Twitter followers they currently have. At the end of each quarter, three fighters from each category will be awarded a $5,000 bonus. The three winners will be based on who has gained the most followers since the start of the quarter, who gained the highest percentage of new followers and who wrote the most creative tweets. White will be the judge of the last category.
At the conclusion of a full calendar year, the UFC will end up paying $240,000 a year to its fighters for their Twitter usage.
Dana White is a prolific Tweeter himself, so his love of the technology must play some role in this decision. Some big name UFC fighters like Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell and Ryan Bader are already pretty active on Twitter, but White wants to expand the Twitter use to every one of his fighters.
For any relatively new sport, even one that has gained almost immediate popularity, publicity is key. While organizations like the NFL and NBA are well established and simply want to avoid bad press, White and the UFC understand the amount of buzz that can be created by Twitter.
For over a year and a half, the NFL has had a policy in place that bans Tweeting within an hour and a half from kickoff and also bans the service until post-game interviews are wrapped up. The NBA has also banned Twitter during games for players, coaches and other team personnel.
But much of the damage that their players have done in the past has been on their own time, nowhere near gametime. The most famous Twitter controversy has to be former Kansas City Chiefs RB Larry Johnson's gay slur tweets from 2009. After bashing his coach after a loss he wound up in a Twitter-fight with another user. He then referred to his Twitter profile picture as a "fag pic." That little comment cost him $213,000.
And then there's Rashard Mendenhall, a more recent example. His comments following the killing of Osama bin Laden caused quite a stir.
It looks like Dana White and the UFC are welcoming all that come with Twitter presence. And why shouldn't he? For a sport than has already come under fire by some for its violence, a possible Twitter controversy is nothing. So tweet away, fighters - and be creative!