Social Media Monitoring Plays Key Role in College Football Coaching Changes

Posted on Dec 03, 2012 by

It’s that time of year.  We eat too much on Thanksgiving.  Spend the holidays with our family.  Watch college football coaches get hired and fired.  Make New Year’s Eve plans.  Wait?  One of those things is not like the other, but if you follow college football it’s right up there on the importance scale.

Gene Chizik was recently fired from Auburn after winning the National Championship 2 years ago.

With the end of each college football season, underperforming coaches get fired while the most promising coaches are often plucked for greener pastures.  Coaches and programs in both are these situations typically bring out the famed passion of college football fans.  This passion often finds its way onto message boards, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.  These platforms and others like Google+ and even Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram should be monitored and researched just like the traditional means of coaching background searches.  Social media monitoring can play a key role in the process for both the university and coach to better understand fan sentiment while also preparing each side for the negative backlash that might be lurking on the internet including potential NCAA violations, claims of player mistreatment and staff difficulties and even rave reviews all round.

Why should athletic departments and coaches monitor online conversation?

To be prepared.  Both sides need to know what they’re getting into and make sure they monitor comprehensively to see what gossip (good and bad) and whispers may be lurking online.  Athletic Departments should ask about the validity of rumors, while coaches should be prepared to respond to these inquiries. Sports Media Challenge and our sister firm, Buzz Manager have been hired by athletic departments and coaches in the throes of the coaching “silly season”. With so much at stake, neither side can afford to be blindsided by an unknown rumor. And equally important is brand perceptions.

Perception is Reality.   When athletic departments consider hiring a new coach it’s logical to see how the coach is received by his current, past, and future fan bases.  Depending on the coach’s history, they may or may not have elevated their image into a more well known personal brand. However, it’s vital for all concerned to understand that brands (institutional or personal) are no longer what you say they are but instead, the brand has morphed into a collection of public perceptions and how that public interacts with that brand.  It often doesn’t matter if a coach is truly a nice guy. If the coach hasn’t won over past fans and put butts in seats; he most likely won’t win over his new fan base either. Selling tickets, fundraising, all important student and faculty backing are all core responsibilities of a coach and in all these areas, likeability matters. Coaches can listen to make sure they are fully aware what fans of his potential new school think of that program and whether they’re willing to take a job with elevated expectations.

Give fans what they want.  Athletic departments need to consider what fans think about potential candidates.  If a school brings in a coach who doesn’t have their initial support then it’s almost impossible to win over that support moving forward.  Once a coach is hired, he would be well-advised to listen to what fans want to see then addressed those desires in his introductory press conference and his first few months at the school. And athletic departments aren’t above using social media to soften up the market and “sell” the coach they desire before solidifying an offer.  If they’re selling you Coach X, the coach better be prepared to amplify that message if for no other reason than negotiating power.  Fan reception whether open arms or a sideway glance can be important on many levels including big donor backing, ticket sales, media scrutiny, sponsor endorsement, student and fan passions etc. In our next blog post we’ll talk about social media and monitoring as it applies to recruiting too.

Find Threats.  We’ve included threats because believe it or not, our BuzzMgr™ monitoring unearthed them for a past client before he even had his welcoming news conference.  As the coach accepted a new, more-prominent position, avid fans from his previous school posted online threats to the coach & his family.  The threats were detected by our BuzzMgr listening tool and were passed along to local authorities who with our help tracked down the perpetrators.  Luckily nothing transpired with these threats, but it was just one sign of the passion that can be monitored as fans are all-too-willing to share their attitudes online.

Potential NCAA violations.  It’s college football.  Therefore the all pervasive NCAA oversight and its many rules are involved.  Violations often first appear online as the fervent fans murmur about potential rule violations they’ve seen or heard about.  The majority of the time these rumors are just that, rumors, but it’s not uncommon for whispers to turn out to be at least partially factual and the program subsequently punished accordingly by the powerful NCAA. Although the sanction system is in the midst of significant changes, Athletic departments can and should monitor for relevant rumors so they aren’t forced to fire a coach or, worse, deal with the ramifications of prohibited actions under his or her watch via years of NCAA sanctions.  Coaches need to make sure they aren’t going into a bad situation which will require them to deal with the sanctions from a previous regime that can hurt their own coaching career.

As always, if you want to see how BuzzMgr can help you with these issues we encourage you to request a demo or reach out to us with questions.  Enjoy the silly season!

Feel free to comment below if you’ve ever come across instances where by simply monitoring conversation a coach or athletic department could have avoided an issue or at least have been able to be more prepared.

  • Anthony

    I find your blog very interesting. I have a passion for sports, specifically football, and have a growing interest in the realm of social media. The idea of monitoring social media when programs are in the midst of hiring a coach never really crept into my mind. I agree that it should be monitored, but I am not so sure that a decision should be made largely because it is what the fans want. It is important to measure what fans think about potential decisions, or possibly candidates, but I do not believe it should be the deciding factor. If that were the deciding factor I think a lot of programs would fail, simply because fans aren’t as knowledgeable as the programs or organization. When you mentioned the idea of social media backlash, I could only help but think of one incident a few years ago, and how social media may have influenced it if it were as big as it is today. That situation was in the summer of 2009 when the Philadelphia Eagles decided to sign Michael Vick to a contract fresh out of prison for running an illegal dog fighting ring. While social media was most definitely around, it was not the power that it is in late 2012. Twitter specifically was not as popular. Your blog makes me wonder if the Eagles would have made that acquisition if they had the social media monitoring back then.

    • Matt Garner

      Anthony – based on our experience with many teams, we feel that fan reaction should be one of multiple decision making factors in a hiring a coach.  Thanks for weighing in and keep on commenting!

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