NFL Owners on Twitter? Colts’ Jim Irsay Takes Fan Engagement to a New Level

Photo courtesy of Jim Irsay's Twitter page

Peyton Manning was struggling. Two consecutive games with 4 interceptions. He and the Colts fought through a cruel series of injuries in the 2010 season, but it seemed that the “next man up” philosophy was out of men. The team seemed to be out of weapons, and the only choice was for Peyton Manning to throw the ball. With a nonexistent running game, with an inordinate amount of throws, there are bound to be picks.

Though a bad streak for Manning still yielded overall numbers comparable to some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, panic began to set in in the world of sports. What was wrong with Peyton Manning? Was the masterful Manning finally beginning to show the signs of age?  

Just when fans and media alike were in a feeding frenzy looking for blame and answers, a larger than life presence took to the world of social media. 

Colts owner Jim Irsay joined Twitter on December 1. On that date, the Colts record was 6-5, soon to 6-6. The Colts had just lost a heartbreaking and perplexing game to the San Diego Chargers and had lost 3 out of their last 4 games. This is the same team that appeared in the Super Bowl last season. The supposed Super Bowl curse, that causes teams that lose the Super Bowl to have a difficult season the following year, seemed to be in full effect. With a whirlwind of energy and pockets full of money, Jim Irsay created a Twitter account and began entertaining the Twitterverse with cryptic updates. He was the NFL owner's version of @kanyewest. Some messages were clearly Joni Mitchell lyrics, but others were impossible to decipher. Was the man really this random? The notion of  team owners as nothing more than stodgy old men in suits was obliterated within his first day of tweeting. He even began weighing in on gossip in and around the NFL, seemingly taking a stab at Rex Ryan and his wife’s “private matter” with this tweet on December 22:

 @JimIrsay: I know it's a sin but I have a crush on Sara Palins feet....

The team owner even tweets the Colts practice and injury reports. Aren’t there people to do this for him? The people of his people, even? What in the world?

Jim Irsay’s presence on Twitter has caused quite a stir. In the record time of one day, his account was verified. Then there were the giveaways. Tickets to Colts home games and cold hard cash, awarded by elaborate scavenger hunts around Indy, or a clues sporadically issued via Twitter. The ante was upped immediately following Pro Bowl selections. A free trip for two for a fan to Hawaii to the ProBowl for whomever could decipher the following clue: 

@JimIrsay: U will B asked a riddle once, even if U have 4 wrong guesses, keep going;zero points for wrong guesses: might B Cartoon characters! 

Stumped? Thankfully, Irsay was there to help. I’m guessing the answers didn’t come pouring in, so he provided this nudge:

@JimIrsay: For instance,"U will B asked" a riddle,was the riddle..get the number right in the four word answer N your almost there/RiddlesIgnoreObvious

 The answer was one hundred forty characters. But of course. Someone, somehow, got it. 

The Colts owner topped even himself by doing what seems to be a first in Twitter history, at least for an NFL team. A giveaway of a Toyota Prius stuffed with $4,000. All you had to do was tweet Irsay with the number of balls stuffed in the car (the total was 701).


At the beginning of the New Year the Colts have now their last 4 games, finished the regular season with a record of 10-6 and, despite having to battle each and every game, are in the playoffs as AFC Division champions. These facts didn’t seem even remotely possible a month ago. Can this end of season success be attributed to Irsay’s joining of a popular social medium? Absolutely not. But the excitement his presence on Twitter helped created within the Colts fanbase, during the week, on game days and within Lucas Oil Stadium, certainly didn’t hurt.

Jim Irsay’s presence on Twitter has created a fascinating option  for successful uses of social media by sports organizatio. While Irsay doesn’t respond directly with the over 19,000 followers he has gained in a month (using the usual @ reply system, though he does acknowledge some winners via Tweets in his timeline), he is engaging with his followers by requesting that they reply to him, stay tuned for continual contests, or participate in activies around Indianapolis to display their loyalty to the Colts. This active participation has intensified the loyalty and enthusiasm of the fans participating in Irsay’s contests. 

Though Twitter typically only provides users with 140 characters to make their case, sports organizations and personalities are proving that this limit by no means restricts marketing aims and goals. One hundred forty characters indeed, Mr. Irsay.

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