College football has officially begun. Bottles are in the recycling bin, leftover hot wings have been polished off, and the anticipation has already shifted from the season opener to Bowl games. So who won? I’m not talking about on the field. ESPN can give you that information. I’d like to explore the digital space.
Online sports conversation is built from a variety of sources. Teams, players, media, conferences, brand sponsors, venues, and event marketers all play important roles in the discussion. For the purposes of this exploration, I’ll narrow our focus so we can understand the influence of prominent conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, MAC, Mountain West, Pac-12, SEC, Sun Belt, WAC, and C-USA just for fun).
To set this up, I optimized key word groups to include each of the conferences official names, nicknames, and football references, and I looked at trending posts from Tuesday, August 28th to Tuesday, September 4th. To keep the data consistent I used a single tool to pull information: Radian6.
I started with the most dedicated content creators: mainstream media (think ESPN and Fox Sports, etc.). Over the course of the one week period, posts varied significantly. The Big Ten owned several peaks, especially late Saturday evening (a key time given the game schedule). Not surprisingly, the MAC spiked during the Ohio Bobcat victory over Penn State Nittany Lions, and the ACC conversation peaked for their Monday night showdown between the Virginia Tech Hokies and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
However, when we shift our view to social channels, specifically Facebook and Twitter, the SEC dominated the conversation. At first glance, SEC fans seem to be unique in that the pride they feel is not exclusive to their team; it also seems to include their region and conference.
When we look closer, however, some could argue that the discussion from the SEC fans is more about affiliation rather than pride. The sentiment around the conversation was primarily neutral, meaning less “I love SEC Football” and more “SEC Football Starts Saturday.” Though some would classify both statements as positive, Radian6 classifies the comments in separate categories due to the context and keywords.
Regardless, this is important for brands to note because virtually all sport properties offer sponsorship opportunities. In order to capitalize on those sponsorship dollars, they need to understand who, how, and when to participate in these social conversations (A plug of personal opinion: I am a huge advocate of monetizing digital and social properties within the sports industry. We are past the age where we throw in a banner ad as free “added value” within the overall sponsorship package).
Finally, how do these digital conversations affect revenue beyond the sponsorship opportunities? Thought I can’t rely on this data exclusively, I can take a look at the posts that have a focus on buying and selling (Note: there are several ways to dive into this information, and the chart below represents only one of those ways). Again, most of the conversation came from the SEC and virtually all of it peaked early Saturday. As I broaden my focus beyond conferences, I expect to see conversations in this arena to primarily center on teams and venues rather than the conferences themselves. After all, mentions of “tickets” and “t-shirts” are usually paired with “Oregon Ducks” rather than “Pac-12.”
So, what can we learn from this information? First and foremost, we should realize we need to delve deeper into the data to draw valid conclusions. Studying only the conferences gives us a very narrow perspective of the overall college football conversation (hint: perhaps this will lead to future blog posts).
Second, content is king, but timing is everything. There are critical points during the week where conferences can activate conversations to promote their own brand, their sponsors’ brands, and their teams’ brands. Developing appropriate messages for pre-game versus game-time discussions is vital, and we should look to understand and map out the differences.
And third, proactively plan for momentum. Ohio’s win over Penn State clearly produced a spike in news and chatter, but unfortunately, it was short-lived. Momentum is a rare and valuable beast that is difficult to predict and often overwhelming when attempting to react to it. All sports entities, from sponsors to teams should proactively formulate a plan to monitor and leverage momentum in real time to build brand engagement and drive revenue.