Posted on Jun 29, 2012 by Tory Barron
Now that the NBA draft is over and we have watched as Arizona snagged the baseball college world series championship and crushed South Carolina’s hopes of a 3-peat, NCAA sports fanatics turn their attention towards one date looming in the near future: August 30. This marks the first game-day of the 2012-2013 Division I college football season. This season promises to be one for the books as it will be the end of an era. The Football Bowl Association and BCS commissioners announced that in 2014 a new playoff system will go into effect for the postseason.
The decision to shift to a four-team playoff has shocked many dedicated fans who recognize the odds of their beloved school being among the top 4 is slim to none (especially for those outside of the SEC.) However, the installation of a new postseason format should not come as a surprise as it has been debated for many years. The substantive debate has been held mostly behind closed doors as opposed to in the public eye. Imagine how different or sooner the outcome may have been if the transition had played out in part through social media channels. What if the fans had an opportunity to voice their apprehensions and concerns? In a playoff format that excludes most teams and doesn’t guarantee entrance to an undefeated team, it’s only natural that some questions have arisen.
Fans: Driving Force Behind the Brands
In this day and age it’s a well-known fact that college sports extend far beyond the field. What is the driving force behind the NCAA? What is the fuel that has kept the engine running all these years? The fans. Without fans there is no revenue brought in through ticket sales, merchandise, vendors, etc. A huge aspect of fan engagement stems from social media and that number is growing exponentially. While social media is built into nearly every contract/sponsorship, that doesn’t mean it’s done well. Without fully understanding social media, it’s impossible to use it in a way that enables an organization to maximize success. There are numerous programs that are engaging in bad practices and thus missing opportunities to engage fans in a meaningful sustained way.
Need to Amp Up Social Media Game
Across the vast sea of college sports (ranging from D1 to D3) it’s clear that the majority of teams have something in common: they need to amp up their social media game. Simply having a twitter identity or a facebook page is no longer sufficient, they need to step out of their comfort zone and innovate! By whole heartedly embracing the powerful machine that is social media, teams/organizations can create and nurture fan loyalty that will LAST.
Through social monitoring tools such as BuzzMgr, we’re able to see what’s working and what’s not. But, in order to be effective, its crucial to take the insights gathered and adjust accordingly. That’s the essence of real time business intelligence. By robustly embracing social media and being bold, organizations can take their success to new heights.
Some Have Upped Their Game:
That’s not to say that all teams are slacking in the social media game. Arizona, Baylor, Michigan, and Colorado (to name a few) are all on the right path. The University of Arizona athletic department sets itself apart through a rewards program they developed called “Social Wildcats” much like the ballyhooed “Baylor Bold” socially driven loyalty program launched last year. This website entices Arizona Wildcat fans to promote their team via social media…and win prizes! Every time a fan retweets a post (@AZAthletics), posts the message of the day, publicly likes or shares something on their Facebook page, uses a particular designated hashtag, checks in at one of their events on Foursquare, or sends a photo to the CrowdCameo during a game, they earn points towards prizes. The grand-prize winner will receive a new Ipad 3 and be granted the opportunity to walk with the team for a home game. If that’s not engagement at its finest, then I don’t know what is.
Another program that blazed a social media trail this past year was the highly traditional University of Michigan. Michigan athletics made a bold statement when they revealed the painting of the “#goblue” hashtag on the field for their spring football inter-squad scrimmage and an ecosystem of social media initiatives to bolster the effort (including a massive in-stadium tweetboard.) Fans were encouraged to use the hashtag on twitter to win prizes and build hype for the upcoming spring event. The strategy was a great success, and as the day of the game approached the buzz shifted (as hoped) greatly from promoting their social media efforts symbolized by the “#goblue” hashtag to the actual football game. The University has already implemented a promising strategy to extend for the upcoming season as well.
A third NCAA organization chose to enlist the aid of social media in a completely different context. The University of Colorado Athletic Department used their growing reach on social media to give back to their fans. In conjunction with the recent wildfires @CUBuffs volunteered to, in the first effort of its kind, tweet official emergency information to help mitigate the disaster (think #sports4good.) Although the initial information fire officials requested was geographically closer to The University of Colorado’s instate rival, Colorado State, the good of Buffs fans drove their innovative action. (Stay posted…there is much more to come on this #sports4good initiative!)
Each of the organizations above are great examples of how college athletic programs can harness the power of social media to establish meaningful relationships with their fans, and become more transparent. Today at 12EST (6/29) my boss, Kathleen Hessert, will be participating in a Google+ Hangout with Arizona Athletics AD Greg Byrne and Pac 12 Commissioner Larry Scott. Hopefully it’ll be an OnAir Hangout so you can see it on YouTube on demand.