Mark Cuban has owned the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks for more than two decades, since long before streaming services or social media or smartphones. So the earthquake rocking the tech world with tremors shaking myriad intertwined industries — Elon Musk’s $44 billion Twitter purchase last week — doesn’t worry Cuban too much.
“We thrived before Twitter,” Cuban said this week in an email. “We can thrive after if need be.”
From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, industry leaders are trying to assess the continued fallout of Musk’s Twitter takeover, which includes an anticipated personnel upheaval and platform proposals that would affect the experience for the millions of people who use the service every day.
Sports represent just a small part of Musk’s newly acquired Twitter-verse. But over the past 16 years, the platform has become an essential part of this country’s sports engine, having changed the way sports are consumed and discussed. Fans use it as a second screen during sporting events and a meeting place in between, to follow sports news, see highlights and their favorite leagues, teams and players. Athletes use Twitter as a direct pipeline to fans, sports brands use it to reach customers, and the entire industry leans on it for around-the-clock engagement.
And now many athletes, players, teams and fans are wondering how the company’s shifting priorities, potential policy changes and algorithm tweaks are going to impact that experience.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the platform in general,” said Bailey Carlin, a social media consultant who works with athletes and companies. “And I think that’s the tough thing for us who work in the space. The uncertainty is scary.”
Cuban, a Twitter user since 2008, says the platform is “a great spot for people who like to argue or those who like to search for influence, and a great source of immediate news.” But he offers a caveat: “I think there are fewer sports fans who are active on Twitter than you may think.”
“Our biggest base is younger fans. They aren’t on Twitter,” he said in an emailed response to questions. “Our most lucrative base watch linear TV and buy tickets. The vast majority are not on Twitter.”
Marketing professionals say that while a younger audience might spend more time on TikTok, Instagram or YouTube, Twitter still needs to retain a large number of users — 238 million people use it on a daily basis, the company has said — to be an essential part of the sports fan’s daily routine and information diet.
“Do I think that people will drop off the platform because Elon Musk owns it now? No,” said Joe Favorito, a veteran marketing and branding consultant who’s worked with athletes and sports entities for 35 years. “I think that people will see how it evolves and then will want to see if this is still the place where my community is residing, or should I be going someplace else? It’s all about reaching relevance and where these people are residing.”
Experts say it will be vital that the Twitter discourse remain organic and immediate, and that the site’s algorithms can’t supplant timely posts with too many dated or promoted tweets. Keeping athletes and other industry stakeholders in Twitter’s virtual town square will also be key, and perhaps an early challenge to Musk’s proposed overhaul of the company’s influential verification system. Musk has proposed charging users $8 a month to have a blue check mark.
Carlin, a former social media producer with the XFL, Barstool and Sports Illustrated, works with a variety of athletes and companies and says he typically has a dozen verified Twitter accounts open at any given time. “How do I now go tell Chris Bosh, ‘Hey, Chris, you have to pay $8 a month to keep your verification so people know it’s really you,’ ” Carlin said of the retired basketball star, one of his current clients. “Like, how do I do that?”
He points out that athletes might also be turned off if the discourse becomes too ugly and if Twitter decides not to do as much to police threatening posts or weed out menacing users.
A Twitter spokesperson did not respond this week to a request for comment.
Professor Alan Morse, the director of the Sport Marketing Research Institute at the University of Northern Colorado, said Musk’s revenue-seeking efforts ultimately could also benefit sports fans, while potentially also making money for teams, leagues and athletic departments. Morse said Musk could seek to monetize its Twitter Circle feature, which allows a user to share posts with a limited and exclusive audience.
“If I’m an athletic director, I could say, ‘Hey, if you donate X amount of dollars, you could get access via Twitter Circle to information that the general public doesn’t get,’ ” Morse said. “You’re going to have some donors that are very willing to do that in order to get breaking news, recruiting updates or maybe having a coach sit down and have a little Twitter chat once a week.”
Musk has also floated the idea of resurrecting Vine, Twitter’s short-form video-sharing app that was shut down in 2016, before other apps started realizing the potential of social videos. The company is also considering paywalled video. An increased emphasis on videos could be attractive to sports fans seeking highlights or original content featuring their favorite athletes, experts say.
“Vine was way ahead of TikTok and even Instagram,” Favorito said, “and it was doing very well among athletes and people who wanted to share short-form content. It turned into a big business mistake by Twitter.”
Leagues and teams rely heavily on Twitter to stay in touch with fans. Twitter has had long-standing partnerships with most of the major U.S. sports leagues, which typically include access to highlights, digital events and other forms of exclusive content. The NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball have all streamed some of their games on Twitter.
As long as fans continue to see reasons to flock to the app, the leagues will surely continue to meet them there, Favorito said.
“The beauty that Twitter has going for it, no matter what happens, [is that] it is a one-on-one conversation with whoever is following you. I don’t think that loses its relevance going forward,” he said. “Now if brands start leaving Twitter for whatever reason, if we see numbers drop, you’ll spend less time there and find yourself going to the platform where everybody is.”
For now, the sports world — like Wall Street, political strategists and virtually every major brand in the country — is waiting to see what exactly Musk does with his new $44 billion toy.
“Bottom line,” Cuban said in an email, “it’s Elon’s company. He can do whatever he wants with it.”