Trending up: Colleges find new digital outreach a huge virtual success with fans
Fans can’t go to college events right now, so the schools are taking their events to them.
Schools are producing online virtual tailgates, awards shows, concerts and meet-and-greets with coaches, creating digital content like never before to fill the void during the coronavirus pandemic.
The power and huge reach of this new approach was evident when Texas produced a daylong series of events and videos on May 1 tagged #MyTexas Tailgate, generating 50 million impressions that day with the hashtag trending on Twitter by 11 a.m.
Some of the off-the-wall content included diving coach Matt Scoggin providing commentary of a football game and baseball coach David Pierce shooting a video from home about his superstitions, something for which baseball coaches and players are notorious.
More than 100 videos were shot specifically for #MyTexas Tailgate representing all of the Longhorns’ sports, and 20 musical acts submitted videos of song performances, which helped Texas create a Longhorns City Limits virtual concert. With the exception of the content that was submitted, all of the programming and editing was done in-house by the Longhorns’ team of five videographers over the course of two weeks.
Drew Martin, Texas’ executive senior associate athletic director who coordinated the effort, said the content ran across close to 50 social channels, spanning university, team and coaches accounts.
“We started out talking about what we should do to replace the spring football game and then we decided to involve all of the sports and make it for everyone,” said Martin, who added that 20 sponsors took part.
Game days might be sacred in college football — that’s where schools make most of their money on media rights, ticket sales and donations — but blue-chip schools with massive fan bases like Georgia, Nebraska, Penn State, Texas and many others have utilized their reach on social to engage with millions more fans than the ones typically in stadiums on Saturdays.
“When you’ve got all those channels uniting, that’s a pretty big bullhorn from which to shout,” said Georgia Assistant AD Mike Bilbow, who oversees digital production. “It really has become a great way to get the word out and just stay in touch with the fan base.”
Georgia is one of several schools using virtual content to replace its spring football game, which typically draws in excess of 50,000 red-clad fans but was canceled last month because of the virus.
To take its place, the Bulldogs produced their own virtual “G-Day” — the name of the spring game — by syncing the SEC Network replay of Georgia vs. Notre Dame in 2019 with analysis from football coach Kirby Smart and announcer Scott Howard. Smart and Howard were on Facebook Live providing insight on each play.
Over the course of the day, Georgia’s team, athletic department and university social channels were running complementary content, such as game highlights and workouts with strength coach Scott Sinclair, tagged #VirtualGDay.
Bulldogs corporate partner Piedmont Healthcare title sponsored virtual G-Day, which generated more than a million impressions, 89% of which came from mobile.
In most cases, sponsors who already had bought into the spring game rolled those buys into the virtual content, so it was not an additional expense for them to be involved.
Nebraska’s virtual spring game was presented by First National Bank, the Cornhuskers’ official partner in that category, and featured much of the usual game-day pageantry such as performances by the school’s marching band.
Nebraska created 29 posts for its social channels and wound up with more than 3 million impressions for the week leading up to the virtual spring game.
Outside of the realm of spring football, Texas Tech held a virtual concert with three musical acts performing for the Red Raiders’ Facebook and Twitter channels on April 30.
The “Wreck ’Em” Tour is normally the name of Texas Tech’s spring tour, in which AD Kirby Hocutt and coaches visit with booster groups around the state.
With the pandemic-induced shutdown, Tech reimagined the tour into a night of musical acts — all three performers were country singers who went to Texas Tech — and video messages from Hocutt and the football, baseball and men’s basketball coaches.
Tech’s senior associate AD, Robert Giovannetti, said the Raiders also are looking to bring back former athletes to give commentary on classic games.
“These events allow fans to connect wherever they are,” said Jack Patterson, a Learfield IMG College vice president who works with many of the company’s 200 college clients on digital and social media initiatives. “Spring games are a mostly local event and what these virtual productions have done is to allow these fan bases to participate in something that they would have never normally gone to. So when you see millions of impressions, it simply shows how much fans are looking for content and ways to engage.”
Georgia’s Bilbow credited CBS’s replay of the 2019 Masters with Jim Nantz and winner Tiger Woods for inspiring a new wave of content that doesn’t require the highest standards of production.
“There used to be a sense that, ‘Oh, we can’t do that because that’s not really broadcast quality,’” Bilbow said. “But when we saw Jim Nantz and Tiger on laptop cameras, that was a breakthrough.
“Fans just want to hear from the people they’re cheering for.”