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Old 06-06-2011, 08:40 PM
fred tissue
 
Default Rooney's hair plugs Twitter fans into new world of image management


England striker's tweet of scalp operation scores as highly with marketers as football followers

A misspelt, blow-by-blow account of a hair transplant operation may not be the most obvious harbinger of a shift in the relationship between modern sports stars, fans and the media.

But Wayne Rooney's unveiling of his newly-replenished head of hair on Twitter is being heralded by experts as the latest example of football players, in particular, using the service to burnish their image by communicating directly with their fans and bypassing the media.

While Rooney and his fellow Manchester United players Rio Ferdinand (1.15 million followers) and Michael Owen (434,530) have become avid users of Twitter, the same site was largely responsible for the situation where a privacy injunction taken out by teammate Ryan Giggs became untenable.

That does not seem to have put off Rooney, who has had a rollercoaster relationship with the tabloid press, and is increasingly using Twitter to feed his 784,000-plus followers the sort of asides that would normally fill the next day's gossip columns.

On Monday he delivered on a promise to his Twitter army to post a picture of his scalp following a hair transplant operation that he tweeted about over the weekend, adding that he was "delighted" with the result. "Hi all there's my head. It will take a few months to grow. Still a bit bloody to. But that's all normal," he tweeted.

The forum of Twitter also appears to have become an extension of the dressing room, with Ferdinand gently chiding his teammate: "Can't wait to see you in the mirror after training styling your locks with loads a products ala ronaldo!"

It was Ferdinand who reportedly persuaded Rooney to sign up to Twitter. The defender is seen as the model to follow for sports stars and their agents who hope to use it to engage with fans and soften their image, following a path also set by the likes of Andy Murray and Ian Poulter.

Sports sponsorship experts said Twitter had opened up a new avenue for stars keen to reach out to fans but also, perhaps tellingly, for the brands that endorse them.

"It is in its infancy at the moment. It has opened up a very interesting new area. If you take someone who endorses Rooney, you will take the point of view that the kind of people who follow Rooney are the people you want to talk to," said Tim Crow, chief executive of sponsorship consultancy Synergy.

"It opens up a very different relationship to the one you'd have had a few years ago. It has completely changed the dynamic. Wayne is a really good example. He actually comes across as really likable. The fans we talk to feel that even though they are still at a distance, with footballers they feel like the barriers come down a bit and they feel a bit closer to them."

Not everyone is on board with the theory that Twitter breaks down barriers between players and fans. Sir Alex Ferguson has said he doesn't understand his players' obsession with Twitter, branding it a waste of time.

"I don't know why anybody can be bothered with that kind of stuff. How do you find the time to do that? There are a million things you can do in your life without that," he said. "Get yourself down to the library and read a book. Seriously."
Owen Gibson

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