140 Characters Multimillion-Dollar Consequences

The rise of the 24-hour news cycle and the advent of social media have put increased importance on celebrities need for effective media control.  The media and the public are looking for more ways to satisfy their insatiable appetite for news about their favorite celebrities and athletes. Many athletes and actors have embraced and thrived in the new media world, others haven’t fared as well.

Actors and athletes aren’t generally media savvy on their own; they rely on a publicist or a team of people working the proverbial room selling Brand “Athlete” or Brand “Actor” to the world in the most positive light that will enhance their image. A great image will sell more tickets, advertisements, movies and the rest but with one wrong turn the media and the public will eat the athlete or actor alive and spit them out and move on to the next hottest celeb. These wrong turns generally happens when the celebrity decides to “go it alone” and make an off the cuff statement or switch to an inferior publicist.

Case in point, back in 2004 Tom Cruise was number four on the Forbes “Celebrity 100” behind Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods and Oprah. At least Oprah is still ranking high this year. In 2004, Tom Cruise fired his long time publicist Pat Kingsley in favor of his sister. That turned out to be a huge mistake because less than a year later he was acting like a raving mad man, jumping on Oprah’s couch and then later lecturing Brooke Shields on the dangers of antidepressant drugs and espousing the greatness scientology. Just 6 years later, Cruise has dropped to 56th behind boxer Manny Pacquiao and country singer Kenny Chesney. What makes the couch incident more embarrassing is it was a stunt to celebrate the 25-year anniversary of the release of his Risky Business movie. The Oprah couch display was to mimic the movie’s couch scene shot Cruise to stardom. When no one got the bit, Cruise was too embarrassed to explain it.

What makes Cruise’s tumble more incredible is that it came before the rise of Facebook and Twitter.

In early 2009, among sports fans Twitter wasn’t more than an internet curiosity until Charlie Villanueva, then of the Milwaukee tweeted during halftime and with 140 characters, Twitter was front and center in the sports fans conscious. The Bucks reprimanded Villanueva and soon after all four North American sports leagues raced to implement twitter rules barring in game tweets.

The rise of Twitter has been a great way for athletes to create a greater connection with their fans. Before Twitter, fans had to wait until after shoot around or batting practice for a brief moment to interact with their favorite player. Of course, to get near them you need to spend top dollar on courtside seats but now with an internet connection and twitter account fans have immediate access to the day-to-day musings celebrities.

While most celebrity athletes, like Villanueva have built up their image on twitter; checkout Tony Hawk and Dana White, both use twitter to its fullest others athletes haven’t been so smooth with their social media contact with the fans. Some have been funny like Michael Beasley tweeting pictures of his new tattoo without hiding the empty marijuana bags strewn about the room or Brandon Jennings getting into a war of twitter words a teenaged Jordan Farmar imposter or even downright bizarre like Starbury TV.

Stephon Marbury was looking to increase his exposure to get an NBA contract. The old cliché about all publicity is good publicity isn’t entirely true. All publicity is good publicity if it is controlled and presented correctly. Starbury TV streamed Stephon Marbury for 24 hours live to the world through Ustream.tv.

24 hours of unfettered access to the mind of Stephon Marbury gave us some gems such as “Can I rap? Yeah, I can rap. But I don’t. Rap is just fast talking” and “I’m telling you what it is: I know I’m the best point guard in the NBA. I don’t need anybody else to tell me that” or this classic “That is bullshit…F*cking…bull. Bull Sheeeeeet.” The most bizarre moment came when scooped a handful of Vaseline and ate it down. 24-hours of unfettered and unfiltered access to Stephon Marbury didn’t earn him an NBA contract, Marbury spent last season in China.

All of the social media missteps have been funny, embarrassing or even Vaseline eating bizarre none had created any financial damage beyond the player until now.

In what is turning into a first of its kind incident, the case of Marvin Austin has the potential to be the most damaging social media mistake in the history of social media. If you haven’t been following the story, Marvin Austin is a college athlete for the University of North Carolina football team. Austin and UNC are under investigation for NCAA violations after Austin repeatedly tweeted about trips to DC and Miami and his love of shopping sprees. Considering Austin is on a scholarship and has a very good chance at entering the NFL, the NCAA is looking for answers as to who paid for Austin’s travel and why he is driving a car that is owned by former UNC and current SF 49 Kentwan Balmer.

If Austin did violate the NCAA rules by taking cash, UNC could suffer player sanctions or other punishments similar to those levied on USC earlier this year. It shows that even 140 characters can have multimillion-dollar consequences when celebrities and athletes don’t control their public image through social media.

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