Collegiate Content in a World of COVID
Updated: Oct 16, 2020
By Danny Dahms
Even though the world of college sports is currently deprived of fan-filled stadiums and reliable schedules, there is still an aspect of college athletics that should remain unchanged: content creation. Universities across the board, whether it be Toledo in the MAC or Duke in the ACC, should never take their foot off the gas of their content creation.
Now more than ever, people are stuck inside and glued to their screens, which presents schools with the perfect opportunity to better reach campus communities and sponsors alike. On the surface, this logic seems like common sense, yet, there are still many colleges that are completely neglecting this prospect. In order for universities of all sizes to properly market themselves, they must consistently create engaging content and properly promote their most well-rounded student athletes.
I reviewed social media content throughout the month of September, including Facebook, Instagram, and the Twitter accounts of NCAA schools. What I found ran the gamut from video to throwback posts to custom graphics.
Let’s take a look at 15 of these schools from unique NCAA DI conferences and see which are capitalizing on the marketing opportunities that arise through digital media.
Toledo University - MAC
With the return of MACtion, there’s a lot for the Toledo Rockets to be looking forward to, and you can definitely feel that liveliness when browsing through the school’s social media accounts.
● Toledo celebrated the return of MAC football with a hype video of their own, titled “Time for Lift Off.”
● Toledo also produced a great video for National Suicide Prevention month where multiple student athletes tell how “Being a Rocket” means helping others through these tough times.
● The athletic department makes posts talking about what majors their athletes are pursuing and these posts celebrate the academic ambition of the school’s players.
Duke University - ACC
With perhaps a top ten largest fan base in college athletics, it should come as no surprise that the Blue Devils know a thing or two about content creation.
● One of the best college social media accounts out there belongs to Duke Men’s Basketball. Almost daily they post multiple pictures, videos, and other various types of media that showcases their team and their individual athletes. Whether it be to remind fans to wear their masks, to give a sneak peak into the daily lives of their athletes, or to just keep their fans excited for the upcoming season, the Duke Men’s Basketball account has got it covered.
● Every other Duke sports account posts almost as much as some entire universities do. A simple Twitter search of “Duke Athletics” can show you that they have the same amount of mentions and engagements as some professional teams.
● Here’s an example of one of the best voter registration videos I’ve seen from any collegiate account so far.
Loyola University - MVC
The miracle Final Four run of Sister Jean and her Loyola Ramblers was already over two and a half years ago. However, the content creation teams behind the Ramblers social media accounts have done an excellent job at retaining interest in the university and its athletics.
● Most recently, the Ramblers athletic department came up with idea of the #RamblerRun. The run is a “Virtual 5K” where fans and their families can participate from wherever they want and send their experience to the school. The social media team then put together a small video of the highlights that shows how close-knit the Loyola family really is.
● Before the #RamblerRun, the school also used their own athletes to show how they’re preparing for their own runs. They also went one step further and included both videos and articles on exercises to use to prepare for the run.
● The Ramblers are also another school to use a face from their most popular sports team, Coach Moser of the men’s basketball team, to promote the importance of voting.
James Madison University - Colonial
JMU does an excellent job at marketing all of their teams equally and using their athletes to promote the Dukes’ culture.
● Perhaps the most innovative promotional content that I’ve come across in my research so far is courtesy of the JMU content creation team. They’ve created a fully virtual, self-guided tour of every single James Madison athletics facility. With the link titled, “Ever wonder what our student-athletes get to see every day,” this content does an amazing job at giving an insight into campus life for their athletes and showcasing the appeal of the university itself.
● James Madison also does a great job at showing how their student-athletes are handling COVID and the safety measures that they are employing. In only the past two weeks, the Dukes’ main athletics page has posted two videos of their student athletes showing their daily routines and how they’ve adjusted to stay safe during COVID.
● The JMU social media team also creates content that encourages engagement from members outside of the direct James Madison community. Throughout all of September, the JMU athletics department has promoted three separate races that anyone can register for, not just JMU students. The school is also using all of the proceeds from these events to donate towards their JMU Duke Club fundraiser.
Rutgers University - BIG 10
I might be biased since I go here, but over the past month or so, the Rutgers content creation team has stepped up their game. Maybe it was the announcement of the return of Big 10 Football or it was something else, but whatever the reason may be, it’s led to a significant improvement in the most recent posts of all Rutgers social media accounts.
● The best example of this is their “We’re Back” teaser trailer to celebrate the return of college football. The video shows little more than the equipment being prepped and a player running out onto the field, but it is still enough to stir up the excitement of the school’s fans.
● Rutgers has recently created a #KnightsShieldUp mobile campaign that showcases athletes from a wide range of sports donning a mask and encouraging others to do the same.
● The social media team has also created a series called “Slice of Knightlife” which gives full interviews of student athletes on their passions and how Rutgers has helped them.
Yale University - Ivy League
The content creation team at Yale certainly lives up to the “genius” reputation that precedes Ivy League schools. Everything that you would ever look for in a collegiate social media account can be found on the main Bulldogs account. Whether it be introducing you to their student athletes, showing off the beauty of their athletics facilities, or even finding a free boxing class led by the Athletic Director herself, Yale has content for that.
● In only the past couple weeks, there are multiple videos introducing Yale student athletes and showing that they are still united even in a virtual environment. One of these posts is a video featuring the women’s soccer team bringing attention to deaf awareness month, in which all members of the team spell out a message through sign language.
● Another well done video comes from the Yale football team, in which student athlete, Micah Awodiran, speaks on recent legislation that has passed which gives student athletes off on election day.
● The Yale Director of Athletics, Vicky Chun, also created her own video promoting a free boxing class that she would be teaching, which led to her video actually being featured on Connecticut evening news. This coverage is exactly the type of exposure that smaller schools like Yale need and it highlights how successful creating unique content can be for universities.
Monmouth University - MAAC
Monmouth University is faced with the same problem as most other mid-major schools; a lack of exposure. For this reason, it is vital that MU creates their own awareness through their content creation teams and you can definitely tell that the Hawks know this as they creatively drive more engagement.
● Monmouth does a good job at showcasing the good acts of their student athletes in the real world. Here is an example of the athletics department posting multiple pictures of Coach Callahan Jr of the football team donating bone marrow for the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation.
● The MU athletics department frequently creates articles to showcase the versatility of their student athletes, such as this one.
● One of the simplest forms of content that I love to see from athletic teams is #WallpaperWednesday posts. MU is no exception to this and this content benefits them tremendously. The wallpapers themselves are relatively easy to create and for every fan that downloads them, the Hawks receive free publicity.
Gonzaga University - WCC
Without a doubt, the most exciting time of the year to be a Zags fan is basketball season, however, the Gonzaga content creation team does a solid job of retaining fan interest year-round. Still though, for how big of a face the Bulldogs are in one of the major college sports, it would be nice to see more content overall from the school’s athletic accounts.
● One of the most clever fundraising tactics that I’ve come across so far belongs to the Zags’ media team. The school is using men’s basketball head coach, Mark Few, to create personalized Cameo videos where all proceeds will go towards funding Gonzaga athletics during the pandemic.
● The Gonzaga athletic department is also using their platform to promote voter registration. Just recently, the entire golf team registered to vote and the @GonzagaBulldogs Twitter account reposted this with a link to their specially designed Gonzaga voter registration page. This shows fans that the University is keeping up the status quo of being involved in social change.
● One thing I’d like to see more of from the Zags is them using their athletes to promote their brand. The main Gonzaga Twitter account can go weeks without posting regularly and almost the only time they ever promote their athletes is because of their athletic success. The Zags are missing an easy opportunity to use the faces of their school to draw in more potential fans and students.
University of Texas at Austin - Big 12
If you had no prior knowledge of the Longhorns and didn’t want to spend too long on their social media accounts, you would have no way of knowing that there’s any sports teams at the university besides football. Understandably, football is the official pastime of the state of Texas, but the University could still benefit greatly if it showered its other athletics teams with the same type of attention.
● For every ten football related posts, there is only about one post for a different sport. Texas needs to adapt and use the faces of their football team to help promote the other sports at the school. Even if Longhorn football is the main revenue source for their athletics department, it can’t hurt to promote the other teams as well.
● Judging from the Texas social media accounts, it would be hard to tell that the world is in the middle of a pandemic. Aside from the very rare post of an athlete in a mask, there is no mention of the current state of the world anywhere else. The school should create more content based on today’s social climate and they should use their biggest stars, their athletes, to prove that Texas is doing what it can to help create positive change.
● The graphics team at Texas definitely knows what they’re doing. Every piece of art they create is extremely appealing and shares the “burnt orange” theme of the school. They consistently churn out appealing sports edits to keep their accounts active, but if it wasn’t for the quality of their graphic design team, Texas would slip into the Lagging Behind category.
University of South Carolina - SEC
The Gamecocks are another example of a school where you’d be hard pressed to find any content unrelated to their football team. Still though, the production quality and quantity of their frequent football posts are masterfully done and a similar degree of production is also shown in their occasional posts for other athletics at USC, which puts the Gamecocks right in the middle of this list.
● This USC hype video discussing the return of football from COVID is a perfect example of how the production quality of the school’s football content is better than the promotional content of some entire universities.
● The same level of expertise is also shown in how the school puts together content for their other sports, like this women’s soccer video which highlights and shows the faces of the team’s returning players. If USC posted and promoted their other sports like this more often, they’d be one of the higher schools on this list.
● The Gamecocks’ content creation team also put together a solid video calling for students and fans to register to vote. The video featured athletes from across multiple sports which is exactly what the school should be doing more often. The only critique I’d give their video is to include the names and sports of each athlete that speaks for some more free publicity towards the school’s athletics.
East Carolina University - American
By looking at the Pirate’s social media feed, you’d think they also sometimes forget they have other sports besides football. Besides this favoritism for the football team, the people running the athletic department’s account do churn out a healthy amount of content.
● The Pirates are another school that sees the prospect in creating #WallpaperWednesday posts. This is more free publicity for relatively little work.
● Although the ECU content team focuses heavily on their football squad, they still produce high quality promotional material for them. It would be very easy to mistake their introductory video for the team as something made in an actual professional studio.
● Where the Pirates severely lack is in cross-promotional content. Dating back to September 9th on the main @ECUAthletics page, there are only two posts not related to football. The ECU social media team can drastically improve on how they promote their athletics department because only promoting one aspect of the entire school is insufficient marketing. They also need to put names and faces to more of their athletes, as only a few of the posts from this month mention any players by name.
San Diego State University - Mountain West
The Aztecs’ social media team regularly posts content and some of what they post is very well-made and engaging.
● The Aztecs do a solid job at introducing the faces of their athletics teams, such as this video from freshman guard, Kim Villalobos, of the women’s basketball team. The women’s basketball team so far has introduced multiple incoming freshmen, but it couldn’t hurt to also utilize the faces that fans are already familiar with.
● SDSU is another example of a school that does not fully utilize their main athletics page. Smaller accounts like the women’s basketball team outperform the main page content-wise and the main page should in turn promote these smaller accounts. Most casual fans won’t go out of their way to search for the women’s basketball team unless they are first introduced to them via the athletic department themselves.
● The men’s basketball team put together their own video calling for members of the Aztec family to register to vote. The video itself was well-put together and it finally provided an example of the school using their best assets, their athletes, to promote a cause. The women’s basketball team also shares workout videos of their players using masks and practicing social distancing while playing in the gym.
University of Oregon - Pac 12
For a university with one of the biggest basketball and football fanbases in college sports, the lack of content on the Oregon social media pages is very surprising. The main athletics Twitter account for the entire school has only ten posts for the whole month of September. The @GoDucks Instagram account isn’t far behind either, with only 13 posts of their own.
● The Ducks are seemingly guilty of falling behind on content creation while their athletics schedule has been put on pause. The only content shared to their Instagram account for the month of September is old photographs of the football team. They can do a much better job at being inclusive towards the many other athletics teams on campus.
● Smaller accounts belonging to the school have done a better job than their main athletic page, such as the Ducks’ women’s basketball Twitter account. This account creates daily videos and photographs showcasing their athletes, but this still only accomplishes so much when their main hub, with a following of over 697k people, rarely ever posts. This main hub should be used to promote each different sport and there should be a healthy mix of athletes from each team. The school shouldn’t rely on people manually following each team individually when they have a clearly established fanbase on the main GoDucks account.
● The GoDucks content team did do an outstanding job with one of their posts this month; their video calling for help during the west coast wildfires. This video showcased student athletes across all of the Ducks sports teams coming together virtually to ask for donations to the American Red Cross foundation. The school would benefit greatly from having student athletes regularly participate in collaborative content, instead of just reposting stock Oregon Football pictures all the time.
St. John’s University - Big East
SJU is another school that can learn from the other schools higher on this list. While they don’t have the problem of simply not posting enough, I believe their content has some room for improvement.
● The recent St. John’s men and women’s basketball “Dribble for a Cure” event is a perfect example of an event that could’ve been used for strong promotional material. This event was an easy cross-promotional opportunity for the men’s and women’s athletic teams and it also was a great chance to showcase the school’s community involvement, but it was only covered in this article. Simply by showing the athletes involved and getting a quick video of them discussing the event would have provided more free press than any article or linked tweet.
● This is the only post in the entire month of September that showcases any individual athletes on the main Red Storm athletics account. Well-rounded student athletes are the stars of college communities and schools like SJU could tremendously benefit from promoting them more.
● St. John’s has a similar problem to Oregon in that the smaller accounts belonging to the school outperform the main athletics account. Each individual team produces their own more relevant content much more often than the school’s main hub. Here is an example from the SJU volleyball team that shows the faces of some of their athletes and also shows how they are protecting themselves during COVID. A simple retweet from the school’s main account is perfect free publicity and it would direct potential fans and future students towards the school’s other channels.
Weber State University - Big Sky
What puts Weber State in the middle of the pack is that they have a very inconsistent upload schedule. The Wildcats’ main account will sometimes post three or more times in a single day and then disappear for five or more days. The Wildcats could do a very solid job of promoting themselves if they develop a more structured upload schedule.
● The only post in the month of September on the Wildcats’ Twitter account that shows a student’s face is this photo, titled “Meet the Wildcats.” The post does a good job at providing a more human aspect to their student athletes, but this is the only time Weber State did this in all of September.
● Like Saint John’s, WSU was also presented with an opportunity to create more exposure for themselves but they didn’t capitalize on it. Recently, the women’s basketball team all spent a day contributing to a local Habitat for Humanity home, yet there was next to no coverage of the event. All it takes is a few photos and videos to show that the Wildcats are an active member of their community, but instead, the only post referring to the event came from Habitat themselves.
● Overall, WSU could produce more engaging content. Most of their content consists of either a few still images or links to outside articles or podcasts. Neither of these things will create the same type of engagement that quick videos or polls could, thus, the Wildcats are losing out on easy marketing.
What All This Means
In the end, it’s vital for schools to consistently create engaging and appealing content. The schools that successfully show off their student athletes, their university’s culture, and where they stand in the current state of the world, are going to be the ones that generate the most engagement from the right audiences. We must remember that the first form of contact that potential students, student-athletes, or sponsors may have with a school, comes from their social media accounts and alumni and their college communities are also heavily engaged on the sports side. By ignoring this marketing aspect of digital media, a school is also ignoring the chance to grow their brand.
In a time without consistent college sporting events, the best opportunity that schools have to influence and reach sponsors is through their PR and social media teams. This influence can lead directly to improving financial standing in spite of the numerous challenges that COVID 19 has brought. In my opinion, the more human interest, behind-the-scenes, and beyond the game content that a school can provide is what allows for the most connectivity and opportunity to generate revenue through alumni relations and sponsorship, even when crowd size is limited.
Especially for those schools that aren’t playing, now is the time to build the audience, so when the “ask” comes, the dollars may follow.
Each month I will review the activity of 15 schools from a wide variety of conferences. Thanks for reading