Twitter turns 10: The best of sport

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo is the most followed athlete in the world on Twitter. Photo / AP.
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo is the most followed athlete in the world on Twitter. Photo / AP.

There is a classic episode of 1970s sitcom Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? in which Bob and Terry try and avoid hearing the England score until Match of the Day to win a £10 bet.

In those days, the boys only had to worry about radio news bulletins, evening paper billboards and cheers from the pub.

Nowadays, in our hi-tech, always-connected society, you'd be daft to even accept the wager.

Everyone has access to smart phones, rolling news channels and the world wide web and we expect to know what's happening anywhere in the world in real time.
And nobody has harnessed this demand quite as well as Twitter, which celebrates its 10th birthday on Monday.

While Twitter remains essentially news and opinions in 140 character bursts, it has evolved over the past decade to incorporate pictures, Vines, video clips, live streaming via Periscope and even snap polls.

It is now perfectly possible to follow a big event completely on Twitter, watching clips of key moments seconds after they happen.

TOP 10 MOST FOLLOWED ATHLETES IN THE WORLD

1. Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) - 41.1 million followers - The Real Madrid and Portugal superstar treats us constantly to selfies and some carefully-orchestrated product placement.

2. LeBron James (@KingJames) - 28.9m followers - Cleveland Cavaliers basketball star offers daily pearls of wisdom plus plenty of pictures of garish Nike sneakers.

3. Kaka (@KAKA) - 24.4m followers - Plenty of action pictures and viewpoints on whatever sport the Brazilian happens to be watching.

4. Neymar (@neymarjr) - 21.5m followers - New tattoos and dressing room selfies with Lionel Messi and his other Barcelona colleagues after yet another win.

5. Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) - 13.4m followers - The NBA hero's feed reads like one rolling advert for Nike but a lot of good deeds and charity work as well.

6. Ronaldinho (@10Ronaldinho) - 13.2m followers - Lots of throwbacks to the Brazilian's glory days and plugs in Portuguese for his video game.

7. Wayne Rooney (@WayneRooney) - 12.7m followers - England and Manchester United captain shares plenty of pictures of his family, Nike boots and Spotify playlists.

8. Andres Iniesta (@andresiniesta8) - 12.2m followers - Barcelona icon is also quite partial to a celebratory selfie - and the obligatory 'we're on a plane' picture when they play in Europe.

9. Gerard Pique (@3gerardpique) - 12.1m followers - His following might have something to do with partner Shakira, of course, but the Barca defender has recently been giving us tours of the Nou Camp on Periscope.

10. Shaquille O'Neal (@SHAQ) - 11.6m followers - 'Very quotatious, I perform random acts of Shaqness' reads the basketball star's Twitter blurb. Whatever that entails.

No sports star or club is without a Twitter account, which has become the default means of communication, behind-the-scenes insight and brand cultivation.

'I think sports fans have come to expect - and have the right to expect - news and information instantly,' said Alex Trickett, Twitter's head of sport.

'I believe Twitter has brought about a fundamental shift in the fan experience. Because of videos and Vines, it is now possible to not be in front of a television and still watch the live action.

'But then on top of that, through Twitter, you also have opinions, discussion and interaction with ex-players, pundits and fellow fans, both of your team and the rival team. It's like sitting on a sofa with the whole world.'

It took a few years for sports stars to realise Twitter's potential. Basketball star LeBron James - who now has just shy of 29 million followers - first posted in March 2009 and other athletes soon followed.

TOP 10 MOST FOLLOWED KIWI SPORTS STARS

Ross Taylor @rossltaylor 639k
Sonny Bill Williams @sonnybwilliams 576k
Dan Carter @dancarter 548k
Martin Guptill @martyguptill 203k
Piri Weepu @piriweepu 163k
Cory Jane @coryjane1080 162k
Scott Styris @scottbstyris 115k
Liam Messam @liammessam 106k
Corey Anderson @coreyanderson78 97k
Steven Adams @RealStevenadams 71k
Scott Dixon @scottdixon9 69.7k
Chris Wood @officialcwood 65k
Winston Reid @winstonreid2 60k
Ali Williams @aliwilliams 57k

In that same year, the NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski tweeted a picture of a car on fire in front of him during a race. 'I think a lot of people suddenly realised the power of Twitter after that,' said Trickett.

In the United Kingdom, Twitter really took off during the 2012 London Olympics, when the likes of Jessica Ennis and Tom Daley offered a never-before-seen glimpse into the Team GB camp.


And all records were smashed during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with a total of 672 million posts during the tournament.

'We saw a real outpouring of emotion when Brazil were beaten 7-1 by Germany in that semi-final - a record 35.6m tweets were sent during that game,' added Trickett. 'We couldn't believe our eyes what we saw in that game.'

MOST FOLLOWED SPORTS CLUBS IN THE WORLD
1. Real Madrid (@realmadrid) - 18.6m
2. Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) - 17.1m
3. Barcelona Spanish (@FCBarcelona_es) - 9.42m
4. Manchester United (@ManUtd) - 7.26m
5. Arsenal (@Arsenal) - 7.21m
6. Chelsea (@ChelseaFC) - 6.69m
7. Galatasaray (@GalatasaraySK) - 6.34m
8. Real Madrid English (@realmadriden) - 6.04m
9. Liverpool (@LFC) - 5.53m
10. Barcelona Catalan (@FCBarcelona_cat) - 5.25m

Another demonstration of Twitter's power came with the tragic death of Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes in November 2014.

Paul Taylor, an IT worker and cricket fan who lived in the Sydney suburbs, felt moved to put his bat outside as a simple tribute. He had 14 followers on Twitter when he posted a snap with the hashtag #putoutyourbats.


TWITTER SPORTS RECORDS

# The 2014 World Cup prompted the most tweets about a single sports event - 672m tweets were sent in relation to the tournament.

# During the Brazil vs Germany semi-final match, 35.6m tweets were sent - a record for a single event.

Thanks to the power and reach of the social network, #putoutyourbats became a global phenomenon with Sachin Tendulkar and Viv Richards - as well as the whole Australian team - among a galaxy of sports stars who followed Taylor's example.

In the unpredictable world of sport, you never know what's going to happen next. But chances are you'll find out first on Twitter.

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