SocialSocial Media Rules for Athletes

Social Media Rules for Athletes

Social media is here to stay, whether or not brands want to deal with it. Here's how the regulation vs. deregulation social media debate is playing out for athletes in the 2012 Olympics, National Football League, and mixed-martial arts.

London Olympics 2012Although the 2012 Olympic games are more than a year away, social media preparations are certainly in order. Recently the International Olympic Committee released an advisory document to athletes encouraging them to use social media – but with restrictions. This comes after the social media blunders at the last Olympic Games in Vancouver.

Athletes who fail to follow the rules are in jeopardy of having their accreditation withdrawn, their online activities shut down, and legal actions taken for damages.

So what’s off limits for 2012 Olympians? A few things:

  • Restrictions on the ability to advertise or use social media for commercial uses.
  • Promotion of brands, products, and services are not permitted.
  • Athletes should tweet and post updates in first-person accounts, not in the format of a journalist.
  • Athletes and accredited persons are restricted from producing and distributing video and audio from any events.
  • In the spirit of good sportsmanship, athletes are not allowed to make comment of their competitors performance.
  • Vulgar and obscene words or images are not allowed. Athletes are encouraged to use social media in a dignified way that shows good taste.


The IOC certainly isn’t the first to encourage athletes to use social media, but are early adopters of official social media rules and regulations for the content of athletes status updates. They certainly aren’t leaving anything to chance.

nfl-logoThe NFL has yet to implement any official rules limiting the content of athlete’s status update.

Similar to the NBA, the NFL has restrictions on the usage of PDAs and mobile devices before, during and after the game but not what is contained within those updates. Fines in both the NFL and NBA are doled out when an athlete steps out of bounds, regardless of the lack of official regulations.

Some speculate that the NFL labor negotiations may present the opportunity for officials to start regulating the content of athlete’s updates, but so far nada.


ufc-logoDeregulation is certainly the name of the game when it comes to the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Strikeforce. UFC President Dana White announced last month his intentions to start giving out bonuses to UFC and Strikeforce fighters who capitalize on Twitter. A whopping $240,000 in bonuses will be given out every year to select fighters for growing their Twitter followers.

White understands the impact that Twitter can have on growing his brand and the mixed martial arts industry. While a popular sport, there is still much room to grow for the industry. The buzz created with social media is alluring for the UFC, and it’s not surprising that they are taking this stance – what do they have to lose? For their growing brands even bad press could be good press.

Which is Better?

Sorry to disappoint, but this debate won’t ever be won. Determining whether social media regulation or deregulation is better for athletes (or even employees) has to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Some brands, like the UFC, aren’t worried about bad press and see the advantages of having a loose reign on their athlete’s social media activities. Other brands are worried that history will repeat itself with athletes tweeting inappropriately.

Will the UFC’s deregulation stance change once an athlete steps outside the bounds like previous examples in the Olympics, NBA and NFL? Probably.

Will organizations release restrictions with the passing years of non-incidence? Probably.

We’re only in the beginning stages of determining what is customary in the space of social media usage. One thing is certain, however: social media is here to stay – whether brands want to deal with it or not.

What is your take on the regulation/deregulation debate?


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