Sports

Twitter's love/hate relationship with Darren Rovell

The man behind one of the most polarizing Twitter accounts wanted to make one thing clear before Wednesday's Cubs game.

"I am not going away from Twitter," Darren Rovell emphatically told the assembled crowd at Wrigley Field's Captain Morgan Club.

The Northwestern grad and ESPN sports business reporter was in town as a panelist for the Cubs' Social Media Night.

"Social media's a different art if you delve in it and it's part of your living," he told RedEye in an exclusive interview Wednesday. "I think over time I've figured out when to peek in and pop in a stat."

Rovell, who returned to ESPN last summer, has built a reputation as one of the more engaged members of the national media on social media.

His Twitter account, @darrenrovell, boasts more than 380,000 followers, a group he said was able to build largely because he invested the time and energy into paying attention to what complete strangers were saying.

"I subvert my ego," he said. "It's not all about me. I do try and get through [every tweet] a day. Sometimes it's 10- or 15,000. It's what I think the masses want to hear. If it's a question, I can answer it."

He's well aware that his social media style isn't for everyone.

"I try not to get involved in things that will get me fired," he said. "It is very difficult because there's a lot of people trolling you and punching up at you. I've learned over time to walk away from the computer."

When on the computer, he's established a reputation for tweeting random statistics that delve far beyond the box score and the bottom line. That's because he says when a story breaks, he's there to piece it back together into something different.

"I feel like sometimes I have a little bit more time," he said. "Everyone else is rushing to get out that Ryan Dempster is suspended. I have a little bit more time to be like 'he's fined $2,500, he makes 74,000 times a day, that's 3½ percent of his daily in-season pay.' I love that. Every time, I know it's gonna fly. That's the cool part of Twitter."

Sometimes the direction it flies isn't away from him, something he says he's aware of long before he presses send.

"Sometimes I know when I'm gonna put something up, people are gonna say 'oh, this is dumb,' and I'm not doing that to just feed [the trolls]," he said. "I've always put the beer stats and some of the cents per ounce in the ballpark. I know people are gonna love that or hate that."

It's that style and the fact he's willing to dole out credit where due that has earned him a legion of supporters.

"I've kind of turned people into like mini-mes," he said. "If you're walking through a mall and you see something like a jersey with a misspelling, you know I love that, I'll give you credit, I'm like the conduit. It's fulfilling to know that they know what I want, they kind of look for it because I've done it and then I put it out."

He doesn't take detractors too seriously because at the end of the day, they're just strangers behind keyboards.

"I think what people make of me, it's funny because those people don't really know me," he said. "Sometimes it's interesting the reason they dislike me. It seems like over the past year, I even realized that people dislike me because I cover the business of sports, because supposedly I take the passion out by boiling it down to just the hard numbers."

For as passionate as he is about social media, that energy extends to his alma mater. Rovell, who graduated cum laude from Northwestern, is still very much a Wildcats football fan who sees one thing in their future.

"Big Ten champs," he said emphatically.

As a sports business guy at Wrigley Field, Rovell said he stands squarely in the middle on the issue of whether to put a scoreboard in the outfield.

"I'm in favor of a good deal," he said. "I think something can be struck. I think that public sentiment is probably a little bit closer to the rooftop guys than maybe Tom Ricketts would want. I think that very easily changes with a winning team."

Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.

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