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Interview With Darren Rovell: Sports Business Man of The Year!

We recently hosted a poll for the top sports social media professional and sports business resource of 2010, and the winner of both went to CNBC’s sports business reporter Darren Rovell!

I was extremely impressed with the amount of dedicated fans Darren actually had when he tweeted out the link to the poll to his nearly 46,000 Twitter followers and had an astounding 1,020 votes almost instantly.  Other nominees had respectable numbers as well but Darren won by a landslide as second place came in at 370 votes.

I’ve been following Darren since his early days on social media and seen him continue to pump out more and more valuable content each and every month on Twitter and on his blog.  I knew he had a big platform to work with from CNBC, but his interaction online was more powerful than any other sports professional I’d seen (especially with his Twitter following/followers number ratio).

I had the opportunity to interview Darren recently and asked him a number of questions around social media in sports, the pros/cons of Twitter for pro athletes, which athletes he likes and the ones that need improvement, his favorite sports brand on Twitter and why they are “doing it right”, how he leverages CNBC and Twitter combined, his thoughts on the biggest trend for social media in sports for years to come, and much more.

Listen to the full audio interview with Darren Rovell by clicking the play button below:

Or download the podcast to listen on your iPod or iPhone

The following is the full transcript of our chat, but I highly recommend listening to the audio, as you pick up more from Darren’s voice in the audio than the transcript (he is a reporter, so his voice sounds cool also )

Darren Rovell
CNBC Sports Business Reporter

Lewis Howes: Welcome everyone!

Today I am with Darren Rovell who is the CNBC Sports Business Reporter.

For anyone listening, if you don’t know Darren, then you probably aren’t a reader of my site, or you’re not in the sports world. Because he is probably one of the most recognized personalities, sports reporters, there is on sports business.

So, it’s pretty much a huge pleasure for me to be talking with him today. And I just want to tell a little bit about his background before we get going.

He’s responsible for both analyzing and reporting on the sports business world on CNBC’s programming, including Squawk Box, Power Lunch and Street Signs.

He’s also interviewed some of the top athletes and personalities, including Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Maria Sharapova, Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, Michael Phelps.

Also coaches like… well, he’s been with Terry Jones, Boston Red Sox owners, NBA Commissioner David Stern and pretty much the list goes on.

If there’s anyone important in the sports world:

• He’s interviewed them
• He knows them
• He knows everything about them
• He knows what they eat for breakfast.

So, Darren, are you there my man?

Darren Rovell: Yes! Let’s get to work Lewis! Let’s talk!

Lewis Howes: (laughter)

Awesome.

Well, we’re doing this interview because you won the Top Sports Social Media Professional of the Year for my site.

So, I wanted to say congratulations for that!

Darren Rovell: Thank you! I’m humbled by that. It’s very exciting.

Lewis Howes: There was over… I think there were over 2,500 within about 5 days and you got… well you tweeted it out and you said something like:

Darren Rovell: (laughter)

Lewis Howes: You tweeted it out… which I was hoping you would, but I wasn’t sure if you would, because I wasn’t sure.

But you tweeted it out, saying like:

“If you like what I do on Twitter, go ahead and vote for me here” with the link.

You didn’t say my name or Sports Network, so I didn’t know this until about an hour afterwards and I saw like a thousand votes for your name.

And I was like, “Oh my gosh! He had to have tweeted this”. So I checked it out and I was like, “Wow!”

Darren Rovell: And then people were telling me that the site didn’t work. You know, and I was like, “No, no, no. You’re just probably hammering it a little bit.” So…

Lewis Howes: Yeah. It was pretty impressive and that’s when I realized that… you know…I knew you had a powerful following on Twitter.

You’ve got about currently 45,000 according to Twittercounter.com. You’ve got some other cool stats on there. I don’t know if you’ve ever checked Twittercounter.com.

Darren Rovell: Oh, I’ve never checked actually.

Lewis Howes: It’s pretty cool and I’ll give you some stats during this interview. But, you’ve got about 45,000 roughly right now.

And I’ve got… personally, I’ve got around 41,000. But I don’t get nearly a fraction of the exposure and the traffic that you get.

So it’s pretty amazing.

We want to talk about how you got that exposure and you get your fans really revved up about the information you present.

You’ve got 13,000 new followers in the last 3 months. So, your following has kind of sky-rocketed. It’s growing exponentially right now, which is impressive also.

I remember when you first were on… probably in the first couple months… you were actually DarrenRovell1.

Now, why did you start off with DarrenRovell1?

Was it because DarrenRovell was taken?

Darren Rovell: Yes. Someone took it, like a fake sports business guy. Someone took it and I guess I didn’t really care.

And then I realized, “Wait a second, I need that one character.” Because Twitter’s 140 characters, but really if you want to be retweeted, it’s really the 115.

Lewis Howes: Exactly!

Darren Rovell: So, I wanted that character back.

And Gary Vaynerchuk, actually, helped me get the “1” off. And it was pretty impressive. Within 24 hours I was back to my DarrenRovell.

And I think it’s invaluable.

• Just because you don’t have to say “1”
• And again it does save you that character.
• Every character matters.

Lewis Howes: Exactly.

Now, why did you start off with DarrenRovell as opposed to @CNBCSportsBiz, or something like that?

Darren Rovell: Ummm…

You know, I think that I just wanted it to be my name. I didn’t really think much about it, to be honest with you.

I realized, I think, in about April ’09 that I had to get on this thing and that it was going to be very important for me.

And then by June I had gotten rid of all my RSS feeds and I had stopped going to the websites.

There had been enough that I could bring to me that, you know, I didn’t have to go to it any more.

And, you know, I ignored all the noise from the detractors who said that this wasn’t a tool for the future. Because, you know what, if this wasn’t the next big thing, then I’d move to the next big thing quicker than I moved to Twitter.

Lewis Howes: (laughter)

Darren Rovell: And, every time one of these studies comes out:

• I don’t care if I’m in the 8% that tweets regularly.
• I don’t care if I’m in the small minority.

Twitter still really works. And the bottom line is:

It’s not a time waster, it’s a time saver for me.

Lewis Howes: Right.

And you’ve gone… you know, I’m looking at some of your stats still on Twittercounter… and your average of tweets a day has increased slowly over the last 3 months.

You know, you weren’t as active early on, obviously, in April ’09. You weren’t that frequent: maybe a couple tweets a day.

Is that right? Were you tweeting a couple tweets a day?

Darren Rovell: Yeah! And now I’ve done more. Yeah, I mean, maybe once or twice a day.

Lewis Howes: Now I see some days, you have 55 tweets.

Like in December, some days you’re… you know, it’s kind of going up. It’s increasing each month a little bit, but more and more you’re tweeting.

Why is it that you’re tweeting more often? Is it because there’s more need?

Darren Rovell: No, no, no. I tested the limit.

I basically found that in the early going people… you know, for me, this is journalism. It’s like taking the canon line.

• Make every shot a power shot.
• Make every tweet a power tweet.
• Make every time something comes into my box, every time I’m on someone’s timeline, I want them to perk up and say, “Ah! Here comes something from Darren Rovell.”

I don’t want: “Here comes another from Darren Rovell.”

Lewis Howes: Right!

Darren Rovell: And so, I think that’s the reason why, I think over time, I have gained…

• I think I know what I’m doing more than I did before.
• I didn’t have as much confidence.
• I think people are less likely to unfollow me.
• I might have 55 tweets in a day, but maybe 20 are really smart.

Lewis Howes: Right. I like it though because it seems like those 20 are…

I like that the 20 that you have are really smart. They’re kind of like headlines. They’re probably really captivating headlines.

There’s one right here that says:

“If you haven’t seen the big fight in lingerie’s football league, click here. Is the league’s biggest moment?”

So, you’re intriguing people, you’re enticing people to click and you’ve got pictures that you’re posting that get thousands of views.

You said that you’ve got one that had 40,000 views with Karl Malone eating a sandwich or something like that. Is that correct?

Darren Rovell: Yeah. I have the…

I got the exclusive of the Nike uniform for the DCS of the Oregon uniform that got 72,000 views.

I got some Under Armour shoes for the Auburn game…

You know I’ve pushed:

Give me an exclusive Twitpic.

That’s the new thing.

And I think both Nike and Under Armour played that game with me. And Under Armour on their shoes got over 120,000 hits on that.

So, you know, I mean, as long as media can go along with me, and understand that that’s as valuable. Now, I have to do my job at CNBC to make sure that it goes back to CNBC and not just my brand thing.

For example today, you know, I broke a story on Tim Tebow not going with Gatorade, but going with FRS Energy Drink. And what I do is:

• I send the article to CNBC.com.
• They work it up.
• I go on air.
• They press the button.
• I come back and put it on Twitter.

Now, there’ve been times where I’ve gone on the air, people do watch CNBC, and they have, kind of de facto, broken it. Because I couldn’t get back to my computer fast enough, or the dot come person didn’t push the button fast enough. That happens.

But I realize that’s just part of the system that I have to abide by.

Lewis Howes: Right.
What other limitations do you have with your tweets, with CNBC? And would you say things differently if you weren’t with the company?

Darren Rovell: Hmm… for the most part:

• I kind of have to be classy.
• I can’t be cursing.
• I can’t do anything I wouldn’t do in a blog.

I’d probably keep my tweets to about 90% business and 10% personal. When I started it was 100% business, and then I realized people do like personal ones if they’re smart.

Lewis Howes: You said you got a picture of you losing weight and you got a lot of views on that. Is that correct?

Darren Rovell: Yeah. For my documentary I said, “I gained 12 pounds, please watch my show, look how fat I got.” And it got 25,000 clicks of me eating a donut in a Dunkin’ Donuts.

So, I think people want to use Twitter to get to know you a little bit. And that has certainly happened.

Lewis Howes: Gotcha. Yeah, I mean the personal side… they want to know who you are.

• They’re watching all the time.
• They’re getting your blog posts, your tweets.

So they want to know more about you obviously, which helps them early on.

So, let’s talk about your favorite athletes on Twitter. And what do you think has made them so successful?

Darren Rovell: Well, I think Shaq’s kind of slowed down, but originally he was one of my favorites.

Lewis Howes: Sure.

Darren Rovell: Obviously, I think Lance Armstrong has done a good job.

I do think, for the most part, it’s really embarrassing. Athletes are just not good on Twitter.

Lewis Howes: OK. For example, who do you recommend for that…

Darren Rovell: Who am I dissing now? Who’s not good?

Lewis Howes: Yeah. (laughter)

Darren Rovell: I probably wouldn’t diss anyone, but I would say for the most part, they use Twitter the wrong way.

Lewis Howes: Gotcha.

Darren Rovell: And when they are good, it’s not them.

So, you know, I have a hard time… you know…

• I started to get excited about Tiger, and then, you know, there’s a let down.

• I started to get excited about LeBron and it’s been OK. You know.

Lewis Howes: He’s been posting some videos and pictures and kind of working out behind the scenes. Correct?

Darren Rovell: Yeah, yeah yeah. That’s good.

Now there is a situation that’s interesting where, you know LeBron is now following me. OK?

So, it’s interesting… how do you not let that change you?

Lewis Howes: Right.

Darren Rovell: And that’s a tough challenge because, you know, think about me being on TV and knowing that a particular athlete that I’m talking about is watching me. I mean, that’s almost like the LeBron thing.

So, I have Andy Roddick, Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, Lance Armstrong… those guys following me, and it’s kind of like… Every time I think I might be tweeting too much I think of those guys and I want to keep their follow.

And, you know, am I clouding… are they going to say, “Ah, we got to get rid this Rovell guy”?

But I think it does help because I think it also leads to their respect. Because now they look at everything, or at least they’re seeing everything I’m doing. And I’m almost forced to because it goes in their timeline.

You know, I think I might be closer with a couple more athletes because they respect what I do.

Lewis Howes: Sure, and just to give, I guess, the listeners a reason why you’d want them to follow you, is it because… or continue to follow you:

• Is it because, so you can become one of the exclusive insiders when you interview them?
• Or they’re just… is it better to be friends with these guys when you’re doing interviews?
• What’s the main reason for that?

Darren Rovell: Why do I want Roddick and all those guys to continue to follow me?

Lewis Howes: Yeah.

Darren Rovell: Well, because, again I think I’m closer to them. I think that I can… maybe I can…

So, before the Knicks game I direct messaged LeBron. And he had a whole thing which I really actually liked, that he got ribbed for:

“What bag should I bring to the game?”

And I wanted to know what brand of bag it was. And I direct messaged him and he told me the brand.

Lewis Howes: Wow!

Darren Rovell: And I said, “Good luck tonight”. And he said, “Thanks, man.”

Now, that’s direct message.

• I don’t know LeBron’s email.
• And I don’t know his cell phone.

But because he’s following me, and I’m following him, maybe the next time, I’ll say, “Hey LeBron, any way we could meet up at half court like 20 minutes before the game and see if we could just have the 2 minute thing”.

I think that’s important. It’s just a way to contact these guys.

Lewis Howes: Wow!

That’s like instant access. That’s unbelievable.

Darren Rovell: Yeah! Exactly.

Lewis Howes: And it’s not like they’re giving you their cell phone number, all these guys. So, it’s to have access to them.

Darren Rovell: No, no.

But he respects me enough that he follows me. It’s really him and I think, you know, you communicate with these people.

You know, when I spoke to Kobe two weeks ago in New Jersey, you know I gave his agent Rob the heads up that I’ll be there. But that’s all I can do.

If Kobe was on Twitter, you know I don’t have his cell; I don’t have his email… I waited around in the locker room and waited, and waited, and waited. And luckily I got him, but you know, I could almost kind of text him, if I had the access to direct message him.

Lewis Howes: Right. That’s pretty cool.

What’s your favorite sports brand on Twitter? And how are they doing it right in your mind?

Either sports brand, or team, or property.

Darren Rovell: StubHub does an amazing job.

I mean, well they recognized that their people loved their data. So they feed me tons of stuff and they do a very good job. People like information.

Nike does good. You know, I asked them to send me the Kobe VI shoe today to take a picture of it. Nike does a very nice job.

Again, embarrassing though. Again, embarrassing. Teams are still not there.

The Jets with Matt Higgins and what he’s put together… I mean, I know you interviewed him over the past four months. He has fallen in love with Twitter, learned it and done an incredible job with the “one push button” to follow the team. I think that’s very smart. And he gives access to brands that the Jets are involved with to that as a value added. I’m very impressed with what they’ve done.

But for the most part, sports teams, sports brands, everyone still needs a whole lot of help.

Lewis Howes: What do you think has taken athletes and sports teams or brands so long to use social media and Twitter in their marketing mix?

Darren Rovell: The environment isn’t bad enough.

Lewis Howes: What do you mean?

Darren Rovell: Well, they’re used to their old ways. And they still think they can get away with their old ways.

Who are the teams… who’s the most active?

I mean, the most active are guys like Ian Poulter who is on the edge of being famous. I mean, he is obviously across the pond.

Or Stewart Cink.

Those guys have a reason to go for relevancy.

If you’re already there… the New York Yankees, Tiger Woods… they don’t have drive to continue to build their brand unfortunately in this space. Because it’s almost like it’s not needed, or it’s not necessary. I think necessity pulls these guys in.

And that’s why in my predictions for this up-coming year, I think that the social media coordinator is the best job that will open up on sports teams.

I know you do a lot with what the future is and how young people can get jobs in sports. And I don’t think that’s going to be on a job posting. You have to show how you do it. And I think a lot of people will get that job if their good.

Guys like Ben Malcolmson who’s at the Seahawks.

Lewis Howes: That was actually my next question.

What do you see as the biggest trend in terms of social media in sports?

In I guess next year, and the in the next 3-5 years?

So, you say social media manager for teams for next year. But what about the following years? What do you think?

Darren Rovell: The next 5 years is, you know:

• Giving the power over to the fan.
• Opening everything up.

You know the Big 10 just had a logo and division name crisis because they waited for the fan reaction after they had an ad firm come up with them.

I’m sorry ad firms, but that’s not the future.

The future is the wisdom of crowds.

The future is they decide. And maybe in some cases that will not be the right decision. Because then the Big 10 will have two divisions, Ohio State and Michigan.

But you know, at the end of the day, people are going to decide. So five years from now:

• I would be disappointed if I got my schedule for the New York Mets and they told me every promotion.
• I would want, as the fan, to try to have a contest for 3 or 4 promotions for me to do it.

Now, I’m not going to take the job away from the promotions guy, but, you know, I think the fans have power.

And what I’ve learned on Twitter is the crowd is smarter than me.

So when I do headline contests which is kind of one of those things I’ve come up after a big, usually win, “write the headline”. And I get 300 submissions and in 2 minutes the crowd on Twitter and my followers has come up with a better headline than the New York Post will come up with the next day.

It’s almost disappointing.

So, I think teams and people have to get rid of their egos and learn to cede control over to the crowds.

Lewis Howes: Got you.

I know you’ve got to get on air in a few minutes, so I’ll ask a couple of last questions and we’ll wrap things up.

Let’s talk about athletes and teams profiting with their social media with their sponsors.

• Do you feel like they’re getting the most out of sponsors?
• Or do you think the athletes and teams with the millions and millions of fans following them online could be leveraging that more to increase sponsorship dollars?

Darren Rovell: I don’t know if there’s a direct ROI. I’m not sure about that.

But it is certainly a value added. And, again, not that many people are seeing the value added. It’s a throw-in.

I’m certainly interested to see what the Sun has just did which is offering a social media package as part of a one game suite package and then giving access to Twitter and Facebook to their fans as an entrée to future sponsorship.

Or is that stupid? Is that giving too much? Why does someone who never had the relationship deserve access to your customers?

So, you know, I think there are a lot of things and I hope that teams and athletes are testing these things and not just being…

Can you hear me?

Lewis Howes: Yes, sorry about that, I just lost you for a quick second.

Darren Rovell: OK.

Lewis Howes: So, let’s go into the next thing really quick.

Last two questions.

How has Twitter and social media, or athletes and brands connecting directly to their fans impacted the sports industry as a whole?

Darren Rovell: Again, I think it’s getting closer.

I think it’s ultimately about getting closer. I think it’s about the fans getting further and further from the athlete and it being tougher for more fans to want to get to these athletes and to experience what they experience.

And at the same time feel close. A fan feels like they own a piece of the team even though they don’t. And sometimes fans are crazier than the owners.

And I think the worse thing is that if you have a good team but, you know, the fans don’t really know the guys. Admittedly over the past 15 years we as fans don’t really know the guys. Admittedly over the past 15 years we as fans have been pushed further and further away from the playing field.

Lewis Howes: Got you.

So last question, or last question and a half…

What challenges do you face as a reporter with the news being broadcast instantly from athletes now?

Darren Rovell: The challenges aren’t as great as I though they would be.

You know, in the mid- to late-90’s broadband direct came out. It was all about these athletes having their own websites and they would put the news out.

And what would happen to journalism? And that didn’t materialize.

And I think for the most part, athletes are not interested in putting their own news out on a daily basis.

I’m more worried about people who get rumors and post them as fact. And then maybe that comes true. And then someone like me is saying, “Well, I needed two sources.” I have to think about constantly the brand that I’ve built at CNBC and they don’t.

And I’ve really got to watch it on Twitter because, you know, someone would say, “ESPN radio was reporting that Magic Johnson wants to own a team in Los Angeles and he wants to partner, blah, blah, blah. He’s going to buy the Jaguars and move to LA.” And I direct message that person and say, “Is that what they’re reporting?” And the guy says, “That’s what my friend said.”

So imagine if I RT’d that. You know.

I had the unfortunate circumstance of RT’ing something once that was false and it was attributed to me and I will forever learn about that.

Lewis Howes: So, what’s in store for you in the next year, or years to come, with CNBC or beyond?

Darren Rovell: Yeah. Just keep going at it. You know. That’s really the theme.

• Just keep going at it.
• Keep being a force in all forms of media.
• Try to keep pace with this crazy world.

Lewis Howes: Awesome stuff.

Where can people find you online besides Twitter which is @DarrenRovell?

Darren Rovell: Yeah.

DarrenRovell.com is the quick link to my blog.

On Twitter it’s just @DarrenRovell.

I don’t use Facebook. I use it for personal reasons, but not for work. I haven’t done the hook up thing with Twitter and Facebook.

But it’s great to be in this world. It’s very exciting.

And thank you for the honor. Thank you.

Lewis Howes: Yeah. I was just going to say, congrats for being the Top Sports Social Media Professional 2010. And thanks for the interview. And we’ll see you on Twitter.

Darren Rovell: You got it!

Thank you Lewis.

Lewis Howes: Thanks my friend.

###

Did you enjoy the interview with Darren?  What was your favorite part of his responses?  Please share this interview with your friends on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, and post your thoughts in the comment section below.

I want to give a shout out to the other top recipients for the sports social media professional of the year award.  Rounding out the top 5 after Darren in the votes were:

2. Brian Gainor (Partnership Activation)

3. Scott Phelps (Pittsburgh Steelers)

4. Jim Bankoff (SB Nation)

5. Sam Taggart (New York Jets, New Jersey Nets, Vayner Media)

Congrats on all that you do and I look forward to seeing all of your work in 2011 and the years to come!

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