Twitter Turns World Cup Into A 'Global Sports Bar'

The Brazil vs. Germany World Cup semifinal created more Twitter activity than any other recent sporting event. Host Michel Martin learns about how social media has changed the tournament experience.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

You might remember that Twitter and other forms of social media have been a hotbed for discussion about Nigeria's missing girls. Now we move to a different conversation that's taken over social media for the past few weeks. We're talking about World Cup. Argentina beat the Netherlands yesterday to advance to the final where they will face Germany. The Germans dismantled Brazil 7-1 on Tuesday which sparked a social media firestorm. Twitter says the match was the site's most discussed sporting event ever. 35.6 million tweets went out during the game, and I may have had one or two of those. We wanted to get the latest on social media and the tournament so we've asked ESPN senior writer Pablo Torre to speak with us. He was at yesterday's game and he's with us now from Brazil. Thanks so much for joining us once again.

PABLO TORRE: Of course, Michel. How are you doing?

MARTIN: I'm good. Well, better now that I'm speaking to you. So what are people talking about now that we are a few days away from the finals?

TORRE: Well, it's really funny because I'm at these games, I'm physically sitting by these fields, and I'm still on Twitter monitoring everything. This is kind of where the conversation is happening. This is where you sort of get a sense of what the public is interested in. And it tends to be the case - I mean, we can rewind a little bit before we look ahead - to Argentina-Netherlands versus Brazil-Germany. Brazil-Germany was this firestorm with this sort of meme factory because it was the most, you know, most unexpected, most insane game arguably in sports history. And so the conversation reflected that. Yesterday was kind of a lot of memes about people falling asleep. I mean, that was the relative tenor of that game. It was way more boring. Now looking ahead, I mean, Germany-Argentina, you know, I think the conversation is suffering a little bit because Brazil is not there. But I do think you're going to have one of the great superstars of the game - the superstar of the game - of the sport in Lionel Messi who is going to be in that game playing against Germany, the presumptive favorite. So we're going to have some storylines to monitor going ahead.

MARTIN: The Brazilians can't be happy about archrivals Argentina in the finals.

TORRE: No.

MARTIN: Has that been fodder for some discussion?

TORRE: I was just watching TV here - Brazilian television - and there was a segment involving a psychologist and a very sad interview with a child in a mall, and it had to do with Brazil losing but also Argentina. I mean, the international rivalry between those two countries who both - you know, talking to people in Brazil from Argentina, there is a sort of mutual sense of exceptionalism. And I think Brazil in South America, specifically, with regards to soccer - football, specifically - but Brazil to have Argentina make it to the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, the - where they expected and really demanded their team to take them - Brazil's own team to take them. The fact that Argentina, their most hated international rival, is there is going to - that is certainly one constant stream of anger flowing across the Internet and flowing across real life as well as Brazil.

MARTIN: So who are some of the most active players on social media? And what are they - what have they been up to? I know a lot of people in the U.S. are used to following people like LeBron James, for example, maybe Chris Paul, like people who are active in, like, the Players Associations, and stuff like that. But so who are some of the most active players and is it very - is it very individual? I mean, is it the kind of thing where it's just kind of that person's kind of - personal - is like a personal thing that they like to do? Or do the teams encourage this?

TORRE: Yeah. You know, there's an interesting dynamic because I was way more versed in the NBA and those characters you mentioned, and how they approach what we've called and continue to call branding, right? Personal branding. And LeBron - it's funny because LeBron right now, we're monitoring Twitter, seeing - that's where the news is breaking about where he's going to play these coming years. And in soccer - in world football at the elite levels, it is a very similar dynamic that runs parallel. And I think of a couple of examples. Number one was Neymar, who was the superstar Brazilian player who got injured playing against Columbia - had a vertebra fractured by a Colombian player on a tackle. Instead of holding a news conference, instead of talking to reporters, Neymar released, on social media, a video addressing fans. He is much like LeBron James is theorized to be doing - bypassing everybody to connect directly to fans and monetizing his own influences, own popularity. And on the other end of the spectrum is a player Luis Suarez, Uruguay's star player, who was - if you missed this incident - was - basically was caught biting the shoulder of an Italian player, one of many times he's done this in his career. And he had to apologize and he did so - well, at first he refuted the fact that it was an actual bite on social media. And then, he of course admitted to it once he realized, presumably, that everybody had seen teeth hit flesh. So you have these players deal with the most contentious and most intriguing and most compelling storylines directly on social media as opposed to going through guys like me, at this point.

MARTIN: You know, it's interesting, though, that people are saying that it's kind of a two-way street that, for example, we mentioned that the Brazil-Germany game broke Twitter records. The most watched World Cup semifinal game in U.S. history which is interesting because even though the U.S. wasn't in it - and people say well, the U.S. is only interested in matches that the U.S. is in, and that proved not to be the case. But some people think it's in part because of Twitter. What do you think about that?

TORRE: Well, the reason why I think there is some validity there - and I don't - I think we should always caution ourselves and understanding that Twitter still represents a small percentage of the overall human population. However, when you talk about a promotional tool, I mean, Twitter is really, really intertwined with live sporting events. And I'm acutely familiar with this and that's why I'm monitoring - that's why every journalist, really, is monitoring Twitter while they're monitoring the game because you're getting news, you're getting information, you're getting jokes. And really, Twitter feels like a sports bar. It's a global sports bar, for better or for worse. And that's why everybody ends up winding up there even if they know it's probably best to sometimes take a step away from the screen.

MARTIN: So what were some of the funniest memes?

TORRE: Well I think for Brazil, I mean, you had these actually fairly impressive, artistic rhetoric of someone re-imagined the Brazilian flag with a goal that was full of seven soccer balls. I mean, you have these memes. There were blogs that were promoted immediately - sadbrazilians.tumbler.com - which was just a blog of everybody who was crying during these games. It was really, I mean, this (unintelligible) experience is obviously the central focus, as it should be. But in terms of supplements, the Internet gets to sort of hone in on all of these little jokes that you probably end up talking about even more with the people next to you - people you've never even seen before because there is this opportunity for, you know, what we call, in a cliched way, viral content ends up actually just being sort of funny and interesting, and stuff that you may have missed the first time around.

MARTIN: So I'm not going to ask you to predict the winner of the final between Germany and Argentina unless you want you. But I do want to know who has got the better social media game?

TORRE: Oh man, I think, you know, until - until further notice I think we follow sort of the alpha dog strategy here, much like LeBron James at the top of his food chain. Lionel Messi is at the top of soccer. However, Germany - they have some very active players. Lukas Podolski - his username is lukas-podolski.com. I mean, you have guys who are really embracing the kind of social media world. And as for the prediction, I cannot say anything good about Argentina until I leave the borders of this country, so I won't say it through that.

MARTIN: OK. All right. Well, we're going to follow you because you've got mad game.

TORRE: Oh yeah. And follow me, right.

MARTIN: That's right. Exactly. Pablo Torre is a senior writer for ESPN, and one of our regular barbershop contributors with us from Brazil's capital, Brasilia. Pablo, thank you.

TORRE: Thank you, Michel.

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