They say big things come in small packages, and Darren Sproles, running back for the New Orleans Saints is no exception.  One of the most consistent RBs in the League, week after week Sproles makes the big plays that not only contribute to his team’s success, but score major points for his loyal fantasy football supporters.

Unfortunately, fantasy affection is about where his fan base ends, as Sproles does not have a Twitter account or an outlet where he can grow his fan base. Sure, Twitter requires a little bit of time and attention, but what Darren doesn’t realize is that the benefits of Twitter can help him turn his fantasy fans into real fans, which ultimately can mean money in his pocket.

Increasingly, we are seeing a correlation between an athlete’s Twitter size and both his/her merchandise sales and endorsement opportunities. This is no coincidence. In fact, there is a scientific reason explaining the relation.

Studies show that sites such as Twitter and Facebook actually make fans feel like they have a personal relationship with the people they follow. When fans read an athlete’s tweets and posts every day, a phenomenon called the “mere exposure effect” occurs. This phenomenon simply means that people become more attached to things they are familiar with, and actually begin to prefer it.

Mere exposure suggests that the reason you tend to like a song better after hearing it a couple of times is the same reason why those athletes who pop up on your Twitter feed more often quickly become your favorites – because you know them.  So for athletes, the exposure they receive on Twitter over time can create fan affinity, which translates to increased revenue from merchandise bought by these fans.

Twitter followers also give an athlete the appearance of being well liked by the general public.  Sponsors are attracted to athletes with substantial followings, because fans who feel connected to an athlete are more likely to be influenced by their actions or product suggestions.  That is exactly what brands are counting on, and why Twitter numbers can convert to dollar signs.

When players like Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco invest their time into social media, they have an ultimate goal in mind – to grow their fan base and increase their endorsement value.  When a guy like Sproles forfeits the opportunity to do the same for himself, he chooses to lose the off-the-field game before it even starts.

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