Although college campuses are largely empty during the summer months, many of the employees who help universities run smoothly are busy preparing for the 2015-2016 school year. In addition to professors revising their syllabi and maintenance workers caring for the school grounds and buildings, administrators charged with maximizing attendance at sporting events are busy strategizing for the upcoming season. For many universities, college football has become a fundamental aspect of their identity and revenue.
Millions of students, alumni, and football fans trek to football stadiums across the country to watch their favorite college teams, purchasing tickets, concessions, and fan paraphernalia along the way. A major source of revenue, many universities have taken to social media to increase attendance at football games. With this versatile tool, they have developed a myriad of strategies for increasing engagement online in the hopes of achieving a lucrative ROI, higher ticket sales. In addition to official Twitter and Facebook Pages, universities have invested in online sports channels, podcasts, and digital media guides. Although many of these strategies rely on similar tactics, their success varies. Crimson Hexagon’s ForSight allows for an in-depth analysis of the strategies are increasing engagement and filling stadiums and those that are not.
On October 4th, 2014, Stanford University and the University of Notre Dame met in South Bend, Indiana to play a highly-anticipated football game. Although the Fighting Irish beat the Cardinals 17-14, the winner of the online engagement contest is not so obvious at first glance. In addition to tactical differences on the field, Stanford and Notre Dame took two distinct online strategies to increase fan engagement. Stanford created Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube pages as well as the Cardinal Channel, a new website that offers online pre-game streaming. Notre Dame keeps fans engaged through a desktop communicator, a text messaging service, and a weekly podcast hosted by the director of athletics, Jack Swarbrick. Looking at the universities’ social media strategies and Twitter data from roughly 2 weeks prior to and after the big match-up, clear distinctions in Twitter conversation appear.
— TheCardinalChannel (@CardinalChannel) October 6, 2014
Based on volume alone, it appears as though Notre Dame is the clear winner, earning almost 280k Tweets compared to Stanford’s 126k Tweets. Explanations for this gap in volume include use of the teams’ Twitter Handles and Hashtags. Notre Dame’s official Twitter Handle, @ndfootball, received 11k+ Mentions while Stanford’s, @Stanfordfball, only received 2.5k Mentions. Similarly, team-specific hashtags were used almost exclusively by Notre Dame fans and included #goirish (30k+) and #fightingirish (2.5k+). Taking a closer look at audience demographics and interests also provides valuable insights. Tweets with identifiable age show a dramatic difference between the Stanford and Notre Dame Twitter audiences. While nearly 25k Notre Dame fans fall between the ages of 18-24, only 6k Stanford fans fall into this age range. Although currently students are not likely to be lucrative donors just yet, they are highly engaged in social media and able to provide teams with valuable earned media that may promote team loyalty and attract fans to games. Affinities also highlight audience differences that suggest Notre Dame’s strategy is attracting more college-aged football fans. The Notre Dame audience has a strong affinity for college sports. It is 2 times more interested in Louisiana State University, Ohio State University, sports news, and college basketball than the Stanford audience. In contrast, the Stanford audience has strong affinities for business and technology. Stanford fans are 240 times more interested in Silicon Valley, 90 times more interested in innovation, 8 times more interested in entrepreneurship, and 4 times more interested in software development than the Notre Dame audience. While these audiences are distinct, interests in basketball, baseball, college football, and colleges and universities are about the same for both audiences. When universities face financial hardship, increasing attendance at sporting events is often a lucrative solution. College football culture has been strengthened through numerous social media strategies that keep fans engaged and increase ticket sales. However, some strategies offer greater ROI than others. While the score was close on the field, Notre Dame dominated Stanford online. Tapping into online conversation with social media analytics helps to identify which strategies work and which ones do not. Thus, in-depth analysis can help universities increase ticket sales by studying engagement and developing a social media strategy that will pay off on game day.