With a passionate fan base, brand-building religious affiliation and nationally renowned football program that operates as an independent free of responsibilities to a particular conference, Brigham Young University has a lot to build on from a sports marketing perspective.
But just in time for football season, the school turned a new corner in leveraging its existing advantages with the launch of a new website that combines digital video with social media engagement and gamification activations.
BYU owns the digital video rights to its school sports (and actually has its own TV network), which has given it the ability since last summer to stream a range of live events for fans online via a precursor to the new site,BYUtvSports.com. But adding incentive for fans to engage with content and participate in a more social experience has allowed the school to offer a digital experience that it says is unmatched in college sports.
Mikel Minor, who oversees the school’s broadcast efforts and is a former SportsCenter producer, says BYU’s new digital presence even rivals that of major brands outside the college sports world.
“There are elements of what we’re doing that are very innovative even compared to ESPN,” he told Mashable. “Especially with this gamification and really integrating fans into the dual screen experience, which is what this is all about.”
The site’s “Film Room” section allows fans to search for clips by sport, season or opponent. Its “Game Day” section is a portal to stream live events. A Gigya partnership allows fans to automatically post comments and other actions they leave on the site to their external social networks including Facebook and Twitter.
After registering with the site, users can then set up a profile replete with biographical information much like what’s found in the football and basketball programs of the teams they follow. As they interact with fans and engage with the site, their profiles progress in status from one-star recruit, to student-athlete, to All-American, to having their jersey digitally retired in honor. As one example of how the site builds on BYU’s global appeal in a slick digital package, an interactive globe visualization shows registered users from around world.
BYUtv’s digital media director Ryan Holmes says “thousands and thousands” of fans have signed on for the new gamification layer since it launched last week. Fans are also able to share and upload their own videos shot from games or tailgate parties after signing up.
“The whole idea is to take our own highly produced content and integrate it with fan content,” Holmes toldMashable.
While BYU may be ahead of the digital curve, it’s one of many schools where social media integrations have taken off since last year. In November, Mississippi State was the first college sports team to paint a giant hashtag in its football endzone, and on-field hashtags have since become relatively common. The University of Oregon recently launched a social media command center, the first of its kind in college sports, while Northwestern University launched an online hub for social content, a first in college football.
College football programs have taken well to Facebook in recent years as a way to elicit rah-rah enthusiasm before big games and pump up the fresh hope of a new season. Posts, links and photos tout sellout crowds, hype star players and bestow epic levels of importance upon season openers.
But what if a new season’s optimistic outlook gets deflated with a disappointing first-game loss? A quick look across the national landscape of college football teams on Facebook after the sport‘s opening weekend shows staffs wrestling with how much to acknowledge a loss in the unrelentingly positive world of social media content marketing.
The University of Houston Cougars, for example, led the nation in scoring offense last season but suffered an embarrassing 30-13 loss to tiny Texas State on Saturday. But their Facebook page makes no mention of the game’s outcome, despite a handful of posts beforehand. The University of Pittsburgh Panthers page tells — or doesn’t tell — a similar story.
Moving away from the far end of the stonewalling spectrum, the University of California Golden Bears lost to underdog Nevada this weekend — an especially bitter disappointment for fans given that it was the first game back at a heavily renovated home stadium. The Cal Facebook page’s first postgame update reads, “Thank you to the 63,186 fans who came out strong yesterday for the opening of new Memorial Stadium.” But it does not mention that the opening ended in a loss.
Following a blowout defeat to Alabama, meanwhile, the University of Michigan Wolverines posted a link to a game recap, mentioning the final score in their Facebook post.
Then there’s the case of Syracuse University, which lost a heartbreaking game to visiting Northwestern on Saturday.
A quick postgame update delivered the final score before a silent Sunday. Then on Monday morning — after a post that welcomed both positive and negative comments from fans but asked them to remain respectful — the team shared a video of head coach Doug Marrone talking about the loss. In the 52-second video, a measured and concise Marrone discusses what the team did well, the breakdowns that led to defeat and next week’s game.
“Obviously we’re all unhappy, obviously we’re disappointed,” he tells fans in the clip. “But my message to the team and coaches were, ‘It’s understandable to feel that way, but the one thing we can’t be is discouraged. We have to keep working and moving on.’”
Perhaps that’s the best way to go about it. Fans are used to updates via Facebook, and obviously know about an important loss. Hearing directly from a coach can help the team control the story and make fans feel connected, valued and informed. That’s likely much more valuable from a branding and engagement standpoint than simple radio silence from a team’s main social portal after a disappointing defeat.
How do you think college sports teams should manage their social media presence following a big loss? Give us your take in the comments.