Twitter showed this weekend how powerful of a communication tool it is after Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch from a heart attack in the FA Cup match against Tottenham Hotspur. Concerned soccer fans converged on Twitter to share the latest breaking news as well as messages of support from around the globe. For many of us, it was the first place we went to, to find out what was going on and to also feel connected to what was going on — sharing our heartfelt prayers and gasping at the terrible scenes many of us had witnessed either in person or on television.
For those of us who were watching television in the United States on Saturday after Muamba collapsed, Twitter was an even more valuable source for up-to-the-minute information on what was happening. FOX Soccer admirably stayed with the broadcast of the Tottenham against Bolton match until we learned that the game had been abandoned. Keith Costigan then signed off the broadcast by saying “Our thoughts and prayers are with Fabrice Muamba.” But the story wasn’t over. It was only just beginning.
For the next hour or more, many of us were glued to Twitter to find out the latest updates. Was Muamba going to survive?
In the United States, our options outside of Twitter were extremely limited. After FOX Soccer showed an EPL Preview Show as filler until the scheduled Serie A match kicked off, I looked into other options for news sources. BBC Radio Five Live was broadcasting the latest news and updates on what was happening. However, for listeners in the United States, the broadcast was blocked due to rights restrictions because the radio broadcast was supposed to be airing a rugby union game. On the web, the best source of information I found was The Guardian’s minute-by-minute commentary of the match, which had turned into a minute-by-minute update on the latest Muamba news. Reporter Rob Smyth dutifully updated us the latest updates he heard from ESPN, BBC and Sky.
Shortly afterwards, FOX Soccer began running a crawl across the bottom of the screen updating viewers that the Spurs-Bolton match had been abandoned due to Muamba collapsing on the pitch. FOX advised viewers to turn to Sky Sports News, FOX Soccer Report and FOXSoccer.com for updates. However, these avenues were woefully lacking. FOX Soccer Report wasn’t scheduled to be on-air for several hours. The only way we can legally watch Sky Sports News in the United States is when FOX Soccer decides to simulcast it, which they decided not to do. And FOXSoccer.com had a wire story as the main piece about Muamba which had a very brief report of what had happened.
What was quite odd, but seemingly an oversight, is that FOX Soccer didn’t promote its Twitter feed @FOXSoccer, where FOX was most timely with news updates.
Not surprisingly, again, Twitter continued to be our main source of news. Even after the rights restriction announcement was removed from the BBC Radio Five Live broadcast so that US listeners could tune in to live coverage, Twitter was reporting the news far more quickly than live radio was. After I learned around 4:15pm ET through Sky News that the hospital was reporting that Muamba was in a stable condition at the hospital, I tweeted the news, took a deep sigh of relief but then continued to stay with the BBC Radio Five Live broadcast to find out when they would report that Muamba was OK. After five to 10 minutes of listening and without the news being reported by the Beeb, I gave up and went back to Twitter as my main news source.
No one can predict when incidents like these will happen, but when they do, Twitter almost always becomes the premier source of information. The micro-blogging platform has an incredible amount of advantages over traditional media. It doesn’t have a lag time of a journalist or TV reporter interpreting the news, and then preparing it for broadcast (either by writing the story, or getting the camera crew ready to broadcast the update). Plus, Twitter has over 300 million users with far more varied news sources who are pouring updates into the news stream.
Throughout the season, no matter where we live in the world, we feel so much more connected to what is happening in and around soccer in the United Kingdom. Viewers in the United States get to see far more live coverage of English football than do Englishmen themselves. But on days like Saturday where the news goes beyond the referee’s whistle, we’re back to being in a no-mans land, cut off from the direct news sources such as Sky Sports News. Thankfully, Twitter bridges the gap and brings us all together. Without Twitter, the coverage of the Fabrice Muamba news story would have been an entirely different experience for all of us who live outside the United Kingdom. Twitter’s news coverage is something that Internet giants Facebook, Google or Microsoft can’t even come close to replicating.
Needless to say, we continue to hope and pray for Fabrice Muamba’s improved health. I’m proud of the way that the soccer community has rallied around to show support for a talented 23-year-old midfielder. Thanks to Twitter, I think most of us can say that we feel closer to the news.