There will be no names on the backs of the Philadelphia Wings' jerseys when the team hosts the Buffalo Bandits at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center. But that doesn't mean you won't be able to recognize them. They'll be making history as the first North American professional sports team to put Twitter handles - the user names for people who use the popular social networking website - on their shirts.
"This breaks down a barrier between fans and players," said Wings player Max Seibald, who has more than 3,500 Twitter followers. "NLL players are known for their accessibility, and this is just another way we're encouraging fan interaction."
The jerseys will be auctioned off after the game, with proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society.
The precedent the Wings franchise is setting could influence other professional sports teams, said Dustin Godsey, the Wells Fargo Center's director of marketing.
"Social media is becoming more prevalent in sports marketing plans," Godsey said. "We knew it hadn't been done before and that there were even some questions about whether it was a good idea - should we really be encouraging our players to tweet?"
Some university administrators don't think so. Schools such as Villanova have hired Varsity Monitor, a social media monitoring company founded in 2010, to track players' Facebook and Twitter activities.
"Athletes represent both themselves and the team and must act in a way - both off-line and online - that reflects positively," said Sam Carnahan, Varsity Monitor CEO.
He said social media have created "unprecedented access" to the players for fans, which can create more loyalty and fan engagement with the organization. But it can also create issues with fans and athletes, too.
Villanova sophomore Samuel Ellison, who runs on the track team, said he first opposed the agreement but changed his mind.
"Imagine if Tim Tebow had a picture of him drinking underage come out when he was in college. It'd be a big deal," Ellison said. "At first I was against it, but this is preparing us for the real world - you can't show yourself in a negative light when you're representing something bigger than yourself."
Godsey said that the Wings coaching staff will handle whether players' tweets are appropriate and determine protocol for Twitter violations.
Head coach Johnny Mouradian doesn't expect that to be a problem. But first he'll have to learn how to use the site. Mouradian said that the marketing department explained the site to the team during the preseason, but that it's been difficult for him to adapt.
"I fell off the radar and I'll need some more coaching on that," Mouradian said with a laugh. "But in all seriousness, this is an excellent opportunity for our players to continue branding themselves. It opens them up to the fans as people. And that's a good thing for the game."
Still, Mouradian noted that online fan interaction is positive only if it connects with face-to-face interaction. It's not unusual to see Wings players talking with friends and family at P.J. Whelihan's Pub after home games.
Seibald said that he hopes other leagues will follow the NLL and increase fan interaction.
"Hopefully you start to see it in other sports," he said. "But remember that the Wings did it first."
Talk about the Wings in a live chat Friday at 1 p.m.