The social media experiment
May 25, 2012
Social media interaction in action: New Zealand's Ma'a Nonu keeps his fans updated on his movements © Getty Images
The International Rugby Board has given the green light to a host of radical measures designed to bring fans closer than ever to the game.
Worried that the forthcoming summer tours to the southern hemisphere by England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland are not generating enough momentum, a team of marketeers has been appointed by the Home Unions to spice up what is on offer and make sure the fans are fully engaged with the fixtures.
The extremely controversial endorsement of the proposals by the IRB mean that all players will be expected to interact with fans via social media before, during and after games by using extra durable smartphones which will be carried in a special pouch on new high-tech jerseys.
"Rugby can't stand still and rely on the game alone to appeal to fans," said Michael Drew, head of the marketing team appointed to oversee the summer tours. "We need to move forward. Rugby's slowly been getting a little more interactive over the years. First, back in the nineteenth century you could sing, clap and shout when attending a game. Decades later you were able to wear your replica shirts to show your colours off to the world and support the lads.
"Then, just a few years ago, you could start to buy radios to listen to the match official whilst sitting in the stadium. It's only natural, therefore, that the next step is allowing fans to vote, via Facebook apps on their smartphones, on what substitutions the coach should make. Or that players Tweet their unique view on the action whilst it is actually happening. It's a very natural progression and we think it is going to be great fun for all concerned."
The IRB are keen to stress that the social media initiative is for this summer only and will be reviewed before being implemented in the Six Nations, Rugby World Cup or any other major tournament.
"We think this is a great way to immerse supporters in the game they love with the players they follow," said an IRB spokesperson. "Each player will have a Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest account the public can sign up to. These will all be updated by each player, coach and match official throughout the game. In fact, one needs barely bother to watch the game on television. You'll get a better view of things online."
The full proposals are:
However, there is a serious concern amongst officials and medical officers that the changes could lead to serious injury. Whilst the IRB have officially declined to acknowledge it, it appears that trial 'social media' games have taken place behind closed doors with university teams and have led to some serious incidents.
One source, who wished to remain anonymous, claims there were seven serious smartphone related injuries in the first hour of the first secret trial game alone.
"It was carnage," said the source. "One fullback broke his leg trying to make a cover tackle whilst tweeting: '8 man coming at me…going 2 make big hit!!! GTR...LOL!'. However, by the time he tweeted it his opponent had arrived and simply flattened him. Another player threw his smartphone, Crocodile Dundee-style, to knock out a winger who had outpaced him and was about to score.
"But the worst injury of all was a guy trying to take an Instagram photo of himself as he was doing a Chris Ashton type swallow dive. He landed, shall we say, rather badly on the phone and last I heard they still hadn't got it out of the orifice it was embedded in. I still feel a bit queasy thinking about it. How he quite managed to do it I don't know."
Asked if he thought the problems would be ironed out by the time of the summer tours he responded: "I can't see how. I know they modified and scaled back some of the proposals after the first trial match. They were originally going to have guys using iPads, instead of smartphones, but I still think the proposals are going to lead to some serious incidents.
Meanwhile, rumours that George North can update his Twitter account by mind power alone are being denied by the Welsh Rugby Union.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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